By Tally D. Fugate
WCTU activist, suffragist with NAWSA and NWP
Oklahoma suffragist Kate Chapman Stafford was born in Missouri in 1873 to Henry and Lucille Chapman. Raised with her four siblings in Coldwater, Kansas, there she met local newspaper man Irvin H. Stafford and married in Wichita, Kansas, in 1893. Pursuing business investments, Irvin claimed property in the Cherokee Strip Land Run and he moved the prospering family to Oklahoma Territory in 1894. After Oklahoma’s statehood, the secretary of state appointed Kate a notary public for Beaver County on December 20, 1907.
However, Kate’s public foray was overshadowed in 1908 by Irvin’s infidelity and desertion of his family. On November 30, she filed for divorce in Logan County’s district court in Guthrie. Eventually granted custody of their six children, she received half of his property and investments as a means of financial support. By 1912, Kate lived in Oklahoma City supplementing income through oil well prospects and by demonstrating new food products.
Influenced by personal experience and new-found independence, Kate’s activities increased in reform organizations, women’s clubs, and Methodist church groups. By 1914, she served as recording secretary of the local Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, participating and often winning medals in oratory competitions on prohibition. Later, Kate was a founding member and vice president of Oklahoma City’s War Mothers of America Club.
Also, in 1914, Kate joined the Oklahoma Women’s Suffrage Association, a NAWSA chapter, and attended local, state, and regional conventions as recording secretary. When the National Woman’s Party (NWP) established an Oklahoma City branch in 1916, she became its most vocal recruit.
Kate traveled from Oklahoma City to Washington, D.C. in November 1917 to protest the treatment of suffragists, demanding women’s free speech and political prisoner status. She “believe[d] that women must have the right to help in the reconstruction of the world for the next generation.” On November 10 she was one of forty-one arrested for picketing in front of the White House. She helped carry a gold banner that read “Mr. President, in your message to Congress, urge the passage of the federal amendment enfranchising women.”
For refusing to pay the twenty-five dollar fine for allegedly obstructing traffic, on November 12 Kate was sentenced to thirty days in Occoquan Prison, a Virginia workhouse. She survived the “Night of Terror,” though she was struck by the Superintendent when she asked for political rights. He “threw [his] hands in [her] face and said he wanted to hear no more of that nonsense.” She began a four-day hunger strike. The state’s NWP chapter showed support by electing her secretary (in absentia) and demanded her release. On November 27, government authorities released the suffragists; she had served fourteen days.
On December 9, 1917, Kate was one of ninety-seven guests-of-honor attending a jubilee dinner held in Washington, D.C. during the NWP National Convention. She shared a touching story of prison and received a commemorative silver “prison pin” from Alice Paul. Upon her return to Oklahoma City, the state legislature still had not endorsed the submission of women’s suffrage for a statewide referencdum. She publicly threatened Governor Robert L. Williams with receiving the same siege of picketing at the State Capitol as President Woodrow Wilson withstood.
An eloquent orator, Kate spoke at engagements across Oklahoma explaining why she picketed the White House, recounting her experiences and addressing women about the vote’s importance. Employed by Southwestern Bell Telephone Company in Oklahoma City from 1920 to 1930, she remained an active reform worker for women and children’s issues until her death in Oklahoma City on March 11, 1934.
1. Irvin H. Stafford’s brother was Roy E. Stafford, historically well-known editor of The Oklahoman; 1920 U. S. Federal Census, Oklahoma County, Oklahoma; Wichita (KS) Daily Eagle, 6 December 1893; Medicine Lodge (KS) Cresset, 8 December 1893; Barbour County (KS) Index, 13 December 1893. Annual Report of the Secretary of State of Oklahoma, November 16, 1907 to November 30, 1911 (Guthrie, OK: Leader Printing, 1910), 202; Guthrie (OK) Daily Leader, 27 November 1908.
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2. 1920 U.S. Federal Census, Oklahoma County, Oklahoma; Shawnee (OK) News, 30 November 1908; Barbour County Index, 2 December 1908; Daily Ardmoreite (Ardmore, OK), 31 July 1917; The Oklahoman, 14 March 1934; Guthrie Daily Leader, 27 November 1908.
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4. The Oklahoma City Times, 12 December 1916; Guthrie Daily Leader, 13 December 1916; “Detailed Chronology National Woman’s Party History,” American Memory Project, at https://www.loc.gov/collections/static/women-of-protest/images/detchron.pdf (accessed 22 February 2016).
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5. “Forty-One Suffrage Pickets Answer the Attempt of the Democratic Administration to Crush Suffrage,” The Suffragist, 5:95 (1917), 6-7; Doris Stevens, Jailed for Freedom (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1920), 193 and 215; Daily Ardmoreite, 11 November 1917; Tulsa (OK) Daily World, 11 November 1917; The Oklahoman, 12 November 1917, 14 March 1934; Kate Stafford affidavit, November 28, 1917, in National Woman’s Suffrage Party Papers: The Suffrage Years, 1913-1920 (Series II, Reel 53, microfilm, Microfilming Corporation of America, 1981).
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6. “Forty-One Suffrage Pickets,” 6-7. Stevens, Jailed for Freedom, 22-23; Inez Haynes Gillmore, The Story of the Woman’s Party (New York: Harcourt and Brace, 1921), 251; The Oklahoman, 15 November 1917, 16 December 1917, 14 March 1934; New York Times, 11, 13, 28 November 1917; Daily Ardmoreite, 11 November 1917; The Oklahoman, 15 November 1917, 14 March 1934; Kate Stafford affidavit, November 28, 1917; “Whittaker v. Brannon et al.,” United States Circuit Court of Appeals Reports, Volume 165. (St Paul: West Publishing, 1919), 6-9; Linda G. Ford, Iron-Jawed Angels: The Suffrage Militancy of the National Woman’s Party, 1912-1920 (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1991), 201.
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7. The Oklahoman, 10, 16 December 1917; New York Times, 11, 13 November 1917; “A Jubilee Dinner for the Pickets,” The Suffragist 5:99 (1917), 10-11. Harlow’s Weekly 20:7 (18 February 1921); 11. Stevens, Jailed for Freedom, 28.
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