Biographical Sketch of Olive B. (Smith) Ray

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Olive B. (Smith) Ray, 1872-1941

By Cameron Hayes
Student, Michigan State University

Olive B. Smith was born in Missouri on May 30, 1872 to Captain Benjamin B. Smith and Susan A. Mix Smith. She was one of six children. The family moved from Missouri in 1891 to Oklahoma Territory (Oklahoma) where Olive's father was appointed the first County Attorney in Woodward, Woodward County. On January 20, 1895, Olive married Judge Robert J. Ray in Winfield, Kansas. Robert was a prominent attorney, then judge, and founding politician in Oklahoma Territory. The couple lived in Woodward and welcomed a son, Robert Kenneth Ray, on December 14, 1898.

The family moved to Lawton, Oklahoma in 1901 and became Influential residents in the city's early days. Ray was actively involved with various women's clubs and organizations. She chaired the local Council of National Defense, was a member of the Entre Nous and Shakespeare Clubs of Lawton, led food drives for the local Red Cross, served on the Hospitality House Committee of Lawton, and was parliamentarian of the Oklahoma State Federations of Women's Clubs. Ray was also a member of the Oklahoma Woman Suffrage Association, a NAWSA chapter. She lobbied the legislature, which approved a woman suffrage amendment in 1917, putting the issue on the statewide ballot in 1918. After the successful campaign in 1918, Ray served as chairwoman of the Comanche County Suffrage Committee for Oklahoma's Ratification Committee. She often led delegates to lobby Governor James B. A. Robertson, who opposed the Nineteenth Amendment citing state's rights. They petitioned him to call a special legislative session to pass the federal amendment, but Robertson refused. Ray stuck with the suffrage movement even when many Oklahomans commented that women's focus should be on war work only during World War I. She fought for women's suffrage until the federal amendment was ratified in 1920. After the amendment's passage, she taught the first course in Lawton about women and politics. The purpose of the course was not to instruct women to support a particular candidate or party, but rather to get them interested in the issues of the day and encourage them to go to the polls and vote.

Ray's husband died on June 2, 1931. Now a widow, she followed her husband's path, working as an attorney; she had completed three years of college and passed the Oklahoma Bar Exam in 1921. She also stayed active in women's clubs and even participated in the Democratic Women's Club state conference. Ray died in Lawton on August 21, 1941. She was 69 years old. She was buried alongside her husband in Highland Cemetery in Lawton, Oklahoma.

Sources:

The Beaver Democrat (Beaver, Oklahoma), 24 October 1918; Joseph Bradfield Thorburn, A Standard History of Oklahoma, Vol. 3 (American Historical Society, 1916), 1233-1234; "Judge Robert J. Ray" U. S. Find-A-Grave, Accessed on 10 May 2020; "Olive Ray" U. S. Find-A-Grave, Accessed on 10 May 2020; "Robert Kenneth Ray" U. S. Find-A-Grave, Accessed on 10 May 2020; Victor E. Harlow, Makers of Government in Oklahoma (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Harlow's Publishing Company, 1930), 855; The Poteau News (Poteau, Oklahoma), 24 November 1921; The Woodward News Bulletin (Woodward, Oklahoma), 2 January 1914; The Frederick Leader (Frederick, Oklahoma), 7 May 1915; Muskogee Times Democrat (Muskogee, Oklahoma), 16 January 1919; The Tulsa Democrat (Tulsa, Oklahoma), 29 September 1918; The Lawton News (Lawton, Oklahoma), 21 January 1919; U. S. Federal Census, 1900-1940, Woodward, Comanche County, Oklahoma; Democratic Leader (Tahlequah, Oklahoma), 21 September 1922; Harlow's Weekly (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), 18 June 1920; The Enid Events (Enid, Oklahoma), 23 January 1919; The Claremore Progress (Claremore, Oklahoma), 11 September 1919; Ida Husted Harper, ed., The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 6 (National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922), 533 and 536. [LINK]

back to top