Women who made their mark on Oklahoma

Roseanne McKee

Kay Little, owner of Kay’s Little Adventures, gave a presentation recently at the Bartlesville Area History Museum about notable Oklahoma women. This week’s column will highlight the lives of several of these women during Little’s presentation.

Rachel Caroline Eaton, called Hallie by her friends and family, was part Cherokee and loved her country. She attended a seminary school for women in Tulsa where classes were taught in English only, Little said. She co-founded a branch of the YWCA and was a devout Christian. The seminary school burned her senior year and she was devastated and records destroyed, Little said. An audience member shared that the school burned in 1902 and they moved the school to Oklahoma City while it was being rebuilt.

“She was determined to preserve Cherokee history after that,” Little said. “Her book of Cherokee history was used in the schools for many, many years and in 1930 she wrote an essay for the General Federation of Women’s Clubs titled, “The Legend of the Battle of Claremore Mound Oklahoma.” It was published in GFWC’s booklet in 1930.

Eaton was married for a short time with no children, Little said. After her divorce, she remained single and dedicated herself to education, writing and several club memberships.

She also wrote a history of the Cherokee people, which was not published during her life, Little said.

“On her deathbed she made her nephew to promise to have it printed. Unfortunately, no one would publish it, but I understand some of her descendants are working on getting it published now.”

Another notable Oklahoma woman was Wilma Mankiller, the daughter of a full-blood Cherokee father and a European mother. She adopted the ways of the Cherokee, Little said.

“At the age of 17 she had two daughters and she divorced in 1977,” Little said.

Mankiller returned to Oklahoma to help her people and got an entry-level job at the Cherokee Nation.

The film “The Cherokee Word for Water” describes the Bell Water Project that launched her career and began her friendship with Charlie Soap, who she later married.

In 1983 she was elected the Deputy Chief of the Cherokee Nation and in 1985 she was elected as the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee.

“She chose not to run again in ‘95 because of health issues. She did face a lot of obstacles while in office, as you can imagine, because it was a male-dominated field and a lot of people were just not sure what to think of a woman chief.

“Over the course of her three terms, she reinvigorated the Cherokee Nation. Through many projects she had the men and women to work together to help the tribe, …” Little said. “She died in 2010 of cancer.”

Recently, Little learned about another Oklahoma woman named Mirabeau Lamar Cole Looney, who preferred to be called Lamar.

“She was born in 1871 in Alabama. She was named for the second president of the Sovereign Republic of Texas. Her father was a lawyer. She grew up reading his law books and in 1891 she married and with her husband moved to the southwest territory of Oklahoma. This was before statehood,” Little said.

Her husband died suddenly, and Looney had to find a way to support, and finish raising, their five children, who were all below the age of 10 at the time.

Her husband had been postmaster and so Looney took his place. Looney also gave music lessons in her home.

“But, she sold her musical instruments to purchase farming equipment and filed a claim on some farmland. Her 10-year-old son helped plant the first crop.

“She eventually moved to town so her children could attend better schools. … She fought for the schools to get better throughout the years.

“In 1912 she was elected as the Registrar of Deeds for the Harmon County and was later elected as the Harmon Treasurer.

“In 1916 she was elected as the Harmon County Clerk — all of this before women were able to vote,” Little said.

“During her campaign, she would use her middle name, Lamar, because it was a masculine name and she figured this would be a successful tactic for getting into office — and I guess it worked,” Little explained.

“She was a progressive Democrat who fought for the women’s right to vote and hold public offices. She also was passionate about increasing funding for rural schools as she had seen first hand what needed to be done,” Little said. “She was practical, was always searching for ways to save taxpayers’ money.”

Looney died on Sept. 3, 1935 due to heart disease, Little said.

“Her casket was placed in the capitol rotunda. … and flags were flown at half mast in her honor. Her portrait now hangs on the fourth floor at the Oklahoma state capitol. After the first legislative session, the men who served with her presented her with a nice leather handbag and the media reported the favorable impression she had made as a member of the senate meant much for the whole state,” Little said.

Read next week’s column to read about other memorable Oklahoma women described in Little’s presentation.