Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890 - 1920
Biography of Abbie B. Rich Hillerman, 1856 - 1945
By Linda D. Wilson, Independent Historian
Oklahoma suffragist Abbie B. (Rich) Hillerman, the daughter of Lucinda Mendenhall and Phineas Rich, was born near Kokomo, Indiana, on November 20, 1856. In 1873 Abbie Rich moved to Kansas where she earned an education degree at the Kansas State University and trained at the state normal college in Emporia. She taught at local schools and began temperance work in Seward County, Kansas. Abbie Rich married attorney Phineas P. Hillerman in 1879. They had three children.
In 1890 the Hillerman family moved to Chandler, Oklahoma Territory. Ten years later they settled in Stillwater, where she organized and served as the president of the first local Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). In 1900 the Oklahoma Territory WCTU elected Hillerman as corresponding secretary. She served as president from 1903 to 1907.
Women involved in temperance work knew that their chance to change the prohibition laws would require them to have a vote and a voice in politics. Therefore, many WCTU workers joined the ranks of the suffragists and entered the fray to gain the ballot. In conjunction with her temperance work and lectures, Abbie Hillerman gave lectures that discussed the need for women's suffrage. In February 1912 she is quoted as stating, "The men all over the state [Oklahoma] are ready to support the women in securing equal suffrage when the women convince them by their seriousness and activity that they want suffrage." In December 1917, Hillerman attended the WCTU annual national convention in Washington, D.C., and heard the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association Carrie Chapman Catt speak.
After returning from the convention, Hillerman actively worked to help Oklahoma women gain the ballot. In January 1918 she served as an advisory member of the Oklahoma Suffragists' Campaign Committee, working to obtain women's signatures on petitions. In June that year she and other women representing various women's clubs attended a luncheon in Oklahoma City, with the purpose of gaining signatures on the suffrage petition to be presented to the state legislature in the fall. Oklahoma women gained suffrage on November 5, 1918, when Oklahoma voters approved a state constitutional amendment by a vote of 106,909 to 81,481.
Abbie Hillerman participated in World War I relief work, attended forty-five WCTU conventions held in Oklahoma, and wrote the History of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union of Indian Territory, Oklahoma Territory, and State of Oklahoma: 1888-1935. Recognized for her exemplary work, she was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1938. By 1930 Hillerman lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she died on July 12, 1945. She was buried beside her husband in Rose Hill Memorial Park, in Tulsa.
Sources: Bill Corbett, "Suffrage Amendment," The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=SU002. Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, OK), November 5, 1918, and July 13, 1945. Tally D. Fugate, "Hillerman, Abbie B. Rich," The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=HI007. Ida Husted Harper, ed., History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 6 (NY: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922). Kansas State Census, 1875, Lawrence, Douglas County, Kansas. Kansas State Census, 1885, Emporia, Lyon County, Kansas. Morning Tulsa (OK) Daily World, October 24, 1920. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1820-1957, accessed on Ancestry.com on August 13, 2019. Oklahoma City (OK) Times, June 6, 1918. OK2Explore.health.ok.gov, accessed on August 13, 2019. Sapulpa (OK) Herald, December 17, 1917. U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007, accessed on Ancestry.com on August 13, 2019. U.S. Census, 1860, Monroe, Howard County, Indiana. U.S. Census, 1880, Emporia, Lyon County, Kansas. U.S. Census, 1900, Stillwater, Payne County, Oklahoma. U.S. Census, 1930 and 1940, Tulsa, Tulsa County, Oklahoma. U.S. Find A Grave, Abbie B. Hillerman and Phineas P. Hillerman, accessed on Ancestry.com on August 13, 2019. Wichita (KS) Daily Eagle, February 15, 1912.