Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Rosa Lee (Dunn) Harris, 1866-1959
By Sierra Smith, student, University of Oklahoma
Rosa L. Dunn was born August 10, 1866 in Choctaw County, Alabama to Dr. W. M. and Selina Dunn. Her mother was a member of the Choctaw Tribe and her father was white. He studied medicine in Georgia before moving to Alabama and marrying Selina. Together they had seven children. Unfortunately, the two eldest children died before the family made the trek westward to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) in 1877.
Rosa married Jonas R. Harris on June 28, 1886. Harris was a white New Yorker born on August 11, 1839 and he was enrolled into the Choctaw Nation by intermarriage on September 25, 1902. The couple lived in Atoka, Indian Territory then moved to Nebraska before settling in Chickasha City, Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory. They had a daughter, Neta, and three sons, Edwin, Pershmataha, and Alfred. Jonas worked as a real estate agent and Rosa was a teacher. She was one of the first to attend classes at the Oklahoma College for Women. After the death of her husband in September 1907, the same year as Oklahoma statehood, Harris moved to Norman, Oklahoma where she was housemother for Chi Omega social sorority. Women's education was high on her list of priorities and she could be found lobbying the state legislature for a girls' industrial school. Later, she was a housemother at an Oklahoma State University fraternity.
Harris was active in numerous women's clubs including The New Century Club, Sorosis Club, Chickasha City Federation Women's Club, and the Indian Territory as well as the Oklahoma Federation of Women's Clubs where she served as vice president and parliamentarian. Also, she was a worthy matron of the Order of the Eastern Star.
Harris was intelligent and regarded very highly in her native community. As a member of one of the Five Civilized Tribes, she stood out to the white community as advanced and progressive. As she inched closer into the white society, she was used as an example to other native people of how the ideal Indian woman should appear and behave. Harris was often portrayed as an assimilation success story. She would use her social rank and influence to fight for women's education and suffrage in Oklahoma, particularly for Indian women's right to vote. Harris served as president of the Indian Women's Woman Suffrage League of Indian Territory.
Once a widow, Harris found herself devoting more time to the women's suffrage cause. In 1909 she served as secretary of the Equal Suffrage Association (eventually integrated into what became the Oklahoma Women's Suffrage Association). She stated at one of the club meetings that signing a petition for referendum on the women's suffrage question is not only an endorsement, "it merely acknowledges one of the fundamental principles of democracy, namely, the right of all people to decide all important questions." As the Oklahoma Women's Suffrage Association grew, one of the "unique features" of the Association was the Indian women's department of which Harris was chair. She participated in local and state conventions and held meetings in her home.
Little about her later years of life is known. After a long illness, Harris died in Oklahoma City on April 5, 1959. She was 92 years of age. Harris is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Chickasha, Oklahoma alongside her husband.
Chickasha Daily Express (Chickasha, Indian Territory), 25 October 1900 and 25 October 1905; The Coalgate Record-Register (Coalgate, Oklahoma), 20 October 1960 and 3 November 1960; The Guthrie Daily Leader (Guthrie, Oklahoma), 23 April 1909; Lawton Constitution-Democrat (Lawton, Oklahoma), 15 April 1909; Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), 7 April 1959; "Rosa Harris" U.S. Find-A-Grave, 1600s - Current, Ancestry.com, accessed 30 April 2020; U.S. Federal Census, 1900, Chickasaw, Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory; Applications for Enrollment of the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914, Choctaw, Choctaw by Blood, 1-148, 106 (Harris, Rosa L.) page 7; U.S. Federal Census, 1940, Verdigris, Rogers County, Oklahoma; U.S. Federal Census, 1910, Grady County, Oklahoma; U.S. Federal Census, 1930, Claremore, Rogers County, Oklahoma; U.S. Federal Census, 1900, Chickasha City, Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory (Oklahoma); The Chickasha Daily Express (Chickasha, Oklahoma), 7 April 1959; The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), 7 April 1959; Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Land Allotment Jackets for Five Civilized Tribes, 1884-1934, Ancestry.com, accessed on 3 May 2020; U.S. Federal Census, 1940, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma County, Oklahoma.