Monday, January 10, 2011

A Woman as Oklahoma Governor: From Prohibited to Sworn In

2001: Me with Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin and
BPW State President Ruth Hendy,
promoting equal pay for women. 
Today, Oklahoma is swearing in Mary Fallin as the first woman governor in our over 100-year history. News coverage frequently mentions this first. There has been no mention of the fact that women were prohibited from the office of governor for a third of that history.

Oklahoma's 1907 Constitution included a specific prohibition on women in all major of state offices.
Norma Frazier Wheaton and Jewell Russell Mann, Tulsa attorneys, spearheaded legislation to amend the Oklahoma Constitution and grant women the right to hold state offices including the offices of governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, auditor and attorney general. State Question 302, addressing the qualifications for elective officers and allowing women to run for office, was adopted in a 1942 general election thanks to their tireless efforts.
Source: Oklahoma Bar Association
Governor Fallin previously served as Oklahoma's first female lieutenant governor, another of the prohibited offices for women. It's an auspicious day.

But I'm surprised at the lack of mention of the earlier ban on women in office. Does it not make the accomplishment that much more impressive?

There is little mention of the ban in any of our Oklahoma history online. At the Oklahoma Historical Society website, I searched the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, probably the definitive publicly available reference on the subject, and found only a single reference to this. It's in the entry on the League of Women Voters.
Three issues of primary concern to the Oklahoma league were the passage of national legislation for the health care of women and infants during and after childbirth, an eight-hour work day for women, and a state constitutional amendment allowing women to hold state office.
There are no mentions whatsoever of the ban in the main entries about women. The entry on Women omits it entirely. The Women and Work entry mentions women in politics, but skips over the whole ban on serving in office. It does include a reference to early speculation about women as governor.
As women advanced in politics, a February 1923 Daily Oklahoman article headlined, “Will a Woman Ever Be Governor of Oklahoma?” The paper predicted that in the near future a woman would grace the governor’s office.
Remember, the Constitutional prohibition on women in that office was not lifted until 19 years after that article was written.

The entry about the Governor's Commission on the Status of Women also omits it. There isn't even a mention in the entry on the Business and Professional Women, which is where I learned this piece of Oklahoma history.

Incidentally, even after the ban women in the highest state office was repealed in 1942, Oklahoma women couldn't serve on juries until 1951. But that's another story.

Congratulations to Mary Fallin and to Oklahoma. Let's celebrate this new chapter in our state history, without forgetting about our past.

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