Known as "the Mother of Prohibition," Abbie B. Hillerman led the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in Oklahoma. Born of Quaker parents Lucinda Mendenhall and Phineas Rich in 1856 near Kokomo, Indiana, Abbie Rich moved to Kansas in 1873. At Kansas State University she earned an education degree and trained at the state normal college in Emporia. Following graduation she taught at local schools and began her first temperance work in Seward County, Kansas, where she served as WCTU county president. She married attorney Phineas P. Hillerman, and they had two daughters and one son.
The family moved to Chandler, Oklahoma Territory, in 1890 before settling in Stillwater a decade later. In Stillwater she organized the first local union and became its president. In 1900 the territorial WCTU elected Hillerman corresponding secretary, and from 1903 until statehood in 1907 she served as president.
During the 1906 Constitutional Convention she and the "white ribboners" campaigned from a Guthrie office for prohibition by sending petition forms and letters to local unions, churches, schools, and colleges across the Twin Territories. Hillerman carried more than five thousand petitions to the convention and delivered 110 speeches in eighty-four days before the general committees. She also arranged for the first public hearing before the Liquor Traffic Committee. Her efforts helped contribute to Oklahoma's becoming the only state admitted with prohibition in its constitution.
After attending the September 1908 Oklahoma WCTU meeting and the convention in Denver, Hillerman served as the national WCTU representative to the Panama Canal Zone. Returning to Sapulpa, Oklahoma, to do fieldwork, she also served from 1910 to 1911 as vice president of the state WCTU, formed after the two territorial unions merged in 1908. After serving as Oklahoma's delegate to the WCTU world convention in Scotland, she served as state president from 1911 to 1919.
Hillerman recommended state legislation such as an anti-cigarette bill and a bill raising the age of consent. In 1915 she presented the Scientific Temperance Instruction Law before the Prohibition Committee. The bill passed and required that the effects of alcohol on the human body be taught in state schools and institutions.
Hillerman also participated in relief efforts during World War I. In 1917 Herbert Hoover, U.S. Food Administrator, asked her to speak throughout the nation about the importance of food conservation, and she served as state delegate to the Taft Peace League Meeting in Oklahoma City. She declined reelection as state president in 1920 after returning from a WCTU world convention in London, England. However, she continued fieldwork, became state WCTU honorary president, and received a member emeritus status on the National Executive Committee for her fifteen-year service on the board. By 1925, after having attended all forty-five territorial and state WCTU conventions, she had written History of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union of Indian Territory, Oklahoma Territory, and State of Oklahoma: 1888-1925. In 1938 she was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. She lived in Tulsa when elected president of its chapter in 1932, a position she held until her death on July 12, 1945.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Ruth Bordin, Woman and Temperance: The Quest for Power and Liberty: 1873-1900 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1981). Jimmie Lewis Franklin, Born Sober: Prohibition in Oklahoma, 1907-1959 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971). Abbie B. Hillerman, History of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union of Indian Territory, Oklahoma Territory, and State of Oklahoma: 1888-1925 (Sapulpa, Okla.: Jennings Printing and Stationary Co., 1925).
Tally D. Fugate
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