4 trailblazing women attained distinction

Roseanne McKee
Kay Little of “Kay’s Little Adventures” spoke at the Bartlesville Area History Museum recently about notable Oklahoma women. Roseanne McKee/Journal-Capital

This week is the final in a four-part series about notable Oklahoma women based on a presentation by Kay Little of Kay’s Little Adventures June 28 at the Bartlesville Area History Museum. This week’s column focuses on four such women.

Elizabeth Little Collins

We begin with Elizabeth Little Collins.

Kay Little said, “I had the privilege of meeting her when I worked [at the museum]. I’ve been asked if I’m kin to her because her maiden name was Little but I’m not kin to any Littles around here.”

She was born in 1922 in Ramona where her father was a pioneer rancher. She graduated from Ramona High School in 1940 and attended Bartlesville Junior College for a semester before entering St. John’s Hospital School of Nursing in Tulsa. “She enjoyed that training very much but was a little scared of the sisters, the nuns who worked there,” Little said.

When the attack on Pearl Harbor happened, Collins was still in nursing school and quickly enrolled in the cadet nurse corps, volunteering for overseas duty.

“She went to army training at Camp Rucker in Dalton, Ala. Her drill instructor was a very bashful lieutenant named Fred Collins. She ended up marrying him … after they got back from the war,” Little explained.

Collins landed in France where she saw lots of devastation from the war and ended up at Camp Lucky Strike, a tent city, Little said.

As a ward nurse, “she took care of patients, dispensing medication, in an evacuation hospital, which was for those who would either go back to their units within three days or go to the field hospital,” she said.

After the war, they were very excited to see the Statue of Liberty, Little said. Upon arrival, they were given sandwiches and milk, which they consumed a lot of since they had not had them in a long time, Little said.

Reflecting on her life, Collins said she wanted to be remembered as someone who cared about the welfare of other people, that she tried to make this a better place, and as a good friend, Little said.

Collins was honored by the Ramona Chamber of Commerce in 2009 for her tireless work for the city.

“When she died in 2015, many people paid their respects and began telling stories about her,” Little said.

Joe Todd did the interview with her, which was the source of some of Little’s information about Collins.

The Rogers Sisters

The Rogers sisters, Lula and Blanche, were next in Little’s presentation.

Their father, William Grant Rogers was growing up a mile and a half north of Bartlesville along the Caney River. When he was only a few years old, his parents died. Nelson Carr finished raising him. When he grew up, he married Lilly Washington. He eventually became a U.S. Marshal under Judge Parker. Rogers and Lilly had seven children. Two of their children were Lula and Blanche Rogers.

“They would help their father when he would go after the bootleggers in this area,” Little said.

In 1913 they were the only female deputy enforcement officers.

“They received their commissions in 1913, but they had already been riding with their father,” she said.

The Daily Oklahoman said of them, “these Dewey Indian girls have performed their duties with bravery … demonstrated on many occasions … and these two have probably captured more than 50 bootleggers. …” Little said.

The sisters were uniquely qualified to search female bootleggers who hid bottles of liquor inside their skirts.

Despite their stellar service, the sisters were not reappointed as officers because the new marshal and the president thought it was not appropriate since they were female.

“They only did it to help their father, but once they got a taste of the excitement, they really enjoyed it,” Little said. “They returned to the simple life.”

Lula got married, had a child but died at the age of 25.

Blanche never married, but became a librarian.

“The girls, their father and several other siblings are buried in Dewey,” Little said.

Roberta Lawson

Little concluded her presentation with her favorite of the Oklahoma women, Roberta Campbell Lawson.

Lawson was born October 1878 in Indian Territory.

“Her mother was the daughter of Charles Journeycake, who was the Chief of the Delaware and a Baptist preacher. Her father was a prosperous, white, cattleman. There were no schools in the territory so she had private tutors. She completed her education at Harden College in Mexico, Mo., where she studied music and literature.

“The most important part of her education that she received was from her grandfather, Charles Journeycake. She learned the Delaware chants, the legends and Bible stories,” Little said.

Charles Journeycake’s organ is at the Nowata Historical Society Museum.

“If you sat next to Roberta in church, you had to listen,” she said. This made sense because her grandfather was the preacher.

Journeycake helped start two churches, including Silver Lake Baptist. He lived in Nowata but came over to the Bartlesville area to get churches started with other pastors.

Roberta was asked to name the town of Nowata. She called it Noweta, which means welcome, but it was misspelled and became Nowata.

When she was a child on the way to church, Roberta encountered another girl, who was barefooted. Roberta gave the girl her shoes and the two went on to church, Little said.

She married Eugene Lawson, an attorney in Nowata, who was also involved in banking and oil.

Roberta was very involved in women’s clubs, the community and church.

“She sought to achieve a spiritual balance between her Native American heritage and the modern world,” Little said.

She became very involved in GFWC, General Federation of Women’s Clubs in Nowata, the state and the nation.

Even though she was the best-liked woman in Oklahoma, according to an article written about her in 1922, at the national level there was some controversy about her being national president because she was Native American, Little said. Nonetheless, Lawson went on to win the nomination, and she was named the first national president who was Native American.

Her GFWC national theme was education.

She and her husband moved to Tulsa eventually and became involved in the community and the Tulsa Historical Society, where Lawson is listed in the Hall of Fame.

Little also found an article in which Lawson spoke to the freshman Nowata class about jazz music.

In the school newsletter someone had written that jazz was derived from Native American music. Lawson couldn’t have disagreed more.

“She let them know that jazz music was in no way related to Native American music. In fact, she wanted it banned,” Little said.

Lawson died Dec. 31, 1940, and she is buried in Memorial Park Cemetery in Tulsa.

Little said she hopes to have a separate presentation just about Lawson and the Journeycake family next year.

A special thanks to Kay Little for her research and dedication.