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The woman suffrage movement first emerged in Oklahoma Territory in 1890 when the Women's Christian Temperance Union lobbied territorial lawmakers to obtain the right to vote in school elections. In 1895 Laura A. Gregg, a National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) organizer, came to Oklahoma Territory to generate a grassroots effort for universal suffrage. Margaret Rees of Guthrie became president of the Oklahoma Territory Equal Suffrage Association, and in 1897 and 1899 the suffragists obtained the introduction of voting-rights bills in the territorial legislature. Both measures failed. In December 1904 women from Oklahoma and Indian territories united to form the Twin Territorial Woman Suffrage Association. By 1906 the Oklahoma Woman Suffrage Association formed, with Kate Biggers as president.

The Oklahoma Constitutional Convention of 1906 provided the next opportunity for voting-rights activists. Led by Dr. Frances Woods of Oklahoma City and Laura Gregg, suffragists secured influential supporters such as Robert L. Owen and Peter Hanraty. William H. Murray, president of the convention, led a powerful opposition. He objected to granting women the franchise, because he believed it would undermine the traditional role of women as homemakers and extend the vote to African American women. As a result, the constitution granted women the right to vote only in school elections.

In 1916 women voters in several states apparently provided Pres. Woodrow Wilson with a margin of victory, and Oklahoma Democratic Party leaders became avid supporters of equal suffrage. Prior to 1916 Blanche Lucas of Oklahoma City and Myrtle McDougal of Sapulpa served in the Woman's National Wilson and Marshall League, which campaigned for Wilson's election. In March 1917 state legislators passed a resolution authorizing a referendum on universal woman suffrage. During World War I many women worked diligently to support the war effort, demonstrating to politicians and the voting public their patriotism, loyalty, and dedication. Personal canvasses, published appeals, and a visit to the state by Carrie Chapman Catt, president of NAWSA, aided suffragists despite a ban on public meetings due to an influenza epidemic. Oklahoma women opposing women's suffrage organized the Oklahoma Anti-Suffrage Association with Sallie Sturgeon as president in 1918. However, on November 5, 1918, Oklahoma voters ratified a universal woman suffrage amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution by 106,909 to 81,481 votes. Oklahoma became the twenty-first state to grant women the right to vote.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 17 March 1917, 4 and 5 November 1918. Harlow's Weekly (Oklahoma City), 2 November 1912. Louise Boyd James, "Woman's Suffrage, Oklahoma Style, 1890-1918," in Women in Oklahoma: A Century of Change, ed. Melvena Thurman (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1982). Joe S. Morris, comp., Primary and General Election Laws of the State of Oklahoma (Oklahoma City: Harlow Publishing Co., 1917). National American Woman Suffrage Association, Victory: How Women Won It: A Centennial Symposium, 1840-1940 (New York: H. W. Wilson Co., 1940). Oklahoma Elections: Statehood to Present (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma State Election Board, 1988). James R. Wright, Jr., "The Assiduous Wedge: Woman Suffrage and the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 51 (Winter 1973-74).

Bill Corbett

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