Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Katherine Pierce, 1887- ?
By Karen Gibson, Independent Historian, and Linda Wilson, Independent Historian
When the suffrage movement began in Oklahoma Territory in 1890, Katherine Pierce was three-years-old. Born in Nebraska, it is not known when she arrived in Oklahoma or under what circumstances. Perhaps her parents (whose names are unknown) were pioneers. Regardless, Pierce was living and working in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, by her early twenties.
In 1910, Pierce was a twenty-three-year-old lodger living in Oklahoma City. She initially worked as a stenographer and traveled throughout the new state for her work. From approximately 1913 to 1915, she worked for the Oklahoma state senate at the capitol. She had various titles, including senate journal clerk and first assistant secretary of the senate. Her salary in 1915 was thirty-five dollars per week.
On August 1, 1915, Pierce secured employment as secretary to the university president at the State School, a preparatory school, at Tonkawa, Oklahoma. Her duties included serving as registrar. Two years later, she served as secretary to E. E. Oberholtzer, superintendent of Tulsa schools.
While Pierce worked in the Oklahoma state government, women's suffrage was often debated. She became increasingly involved with the Oklahoma Woman's Suffrage Association, a NAWSA chapter, during this time. By 1920, she no longer worked in state government, but served as a secretary for a gas and electric company.
In 1917, Oklahoma suffragists lobbied the state legislature for an amendment supporting women's right to vote. On November 5, 1918, voters approved State Question 97 by a vote of 106,909 to 81,481. Oklahoma was the twenty-first state to grant women the right to vote. Pierce reported that Oklahoma's passage of the state suffrage amendment was helped greatly by NAWSA's publicity director Marjorie Shuler and her work with the state's newspapers.
In 1919, a ratification committee was formed with Pierce chosen as chairperson. After the U.S. Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment in June 1919, three-fourths (or thirty-six) of the states had to ratify it. She helped ensure the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in the state legislature. She and other members of the Oklahoma Woman's Suffrage Association spoke with legislators about ratification of the federal amendment. Pierce announced in September 1919, "If Oklahoma ratified the suffrage amendment this fall, women will vote in the presidential election next year." On February 28, 1920, Oklahoma was the thirty-third state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment.
In addition to her suffrage work in Oklahoma, Pierce traveled to Iowa to help with their suffrage efforts. In March 1919, she represented Oklahoma at the National Jubilee Convention (the last NAWSA convention) held in St. Louis, Missouri. Katherine was a leader in the transition of the state and national suffrage associations toward becoming the League of Women Voters. She served as temporary secretary for the national League of Women Voters. A newspaper article featuring stories on prominent suffragists, stated that "The chairman of the Oklahoma staff suffrage committee, Mis Katherine Pierce of Oklahoma City, is the youngest state chairman in the national association. She is a successful business woman and a political worker of unusual ability."
In June 1920, Katherine Pierce represented Oklahoma at the Emergency Work Program, arranged by NAWSA. Held in Hartford, Connecticut, suffragists from across the United States worked with Connecticut suffragists to gain ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment by that state's legislature. However, their campaign was unsuccessful and Tennessee became the thirty-sixth state to ratify on August 18, 1920.
Pierce, assisted by Oklahoma Woman's Suffrage Association President Adelia C. Stephens, wrote the history of the Oklahoma suffrage movement from 1900 to 1920, that was published in volume six of The History of Woman Suffrage. Oklahoma suffragist Aloysius Larch-Miller had begun writing the history before her untimely death due to pneumonia on February 2, 1920, because she ignored doctor's orders in order to publicly debate Attorney General S. P. Freeling, who was opposed to calling a special legislative session to consider ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. At that time Larch-Miller was serving as secretary of the Ratification Committee. In August 1920 Pierce praised the construction of a memorial to Larch-Miller. In 2020, in commemoration of the centennial of women's suffrage, the memorial was rededicated.
From 1919 to 1920, Pierce served as president of the Business Women's Club in Oklahoma City. She resigned her position in October 1920, because she was moving to Chicago, to work at the democratic headquarters. Extant records do not reveal facts about the remainder of her life or her death date.
SOURCES: Bill Corbett, "Suffrage Amendment," The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.oklahomahistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=SU002. Enid (Oklahoma) Daily News, March 29, 1919. "Ex-School Secretary of Tulsa at Equal Suffrage Convention," Tulsa-Democrat (Tulsa, OK), March 27, 1919. Tally Fugate, "Oklahoma Woman's Suffrage Association," The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.oklahomahistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry/=OK089. Harlow's Weekly (Oklahoma City, OK), Vol. 9, No. 5 (July 31, 1915): 44; Vol. 18, No.23 (June 11, 1920): 14; and Vol. 19, No. 17 (October 29, 1920):7. Ida Husted Harper, ed., The History of Woman Suffrage, 1900-1920, Vol. 6 (NY: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922): 520, 531, and 536. "Hold Land Sales Monday," Oklahoma State Capital (Guthrie, OK), January 9, 1910. "Indiana Suffrage Leader Has Rights to First Distinction at National Jubilee Convention Being Held in St. Louis," Richmond (Indiana) Palladium, March 26, 1919. Louise Boyd James, "Woman's Suffrage, Oklahoma Style, 1890-1918," in Melvina K. Thurman, ed., Women in Oklahoma: A Century of Change (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1982), 182--198. "Katherine Pierce Again Named Head of Business Women," Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, OK), May 21, 1920. "Katherine Pierce to "Suff" Meeting," Oklahoma City (Oklahoma) Times, February 17, 1919. "Katherine Pierce to Write Suffrage History," Oklahoma City (Oklahoma) Times, April 8, 1920. Lawton (Oklahoma) Constitution, January 3, 1917. "Lessee Buys First Tract," New-State Tribune (Muskogee, OK), December 16, 1909. "Lessees Bid for Homes," Enid (Oklahoma) Events, March 3, 1910. "Miss Pierce Commends the Idea of a Suitable Memorial for Aloysius Larch-Miller, Martyr to Suffrage," Shawnee (Oklahoma) Morning News, August 22, 1920. "Miss Pierce Gets Appointment," Guthrie (Oklahoma) Daily Leader, August 2, 1915. Muskogee (Oklahoma) Times-Democrat, September 6, 1919. "Notes of the Session," Canadian Valley News (Jones City, OK), January 1, 1915. "Notes of the Session," Hitchcock (Oklahoma) Clarion, January 14, 1915. Oklahoma City (Oklahoma) Times, November 19, 1920. "Oklahoma Women Voters Petition Legislature," Cherokee County Democrat (Tahlequah, OK), September 10, 1919. Ponca City (Oklahoma) News, June 10, 1919. Suzanne H. Schrems, "League of Women Voters," The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=LE001. Suzanne H. Schrems, Who's Rocking the Cradle? Women Pioneers of Oklahoma Politics (Norman, OK: Horse Creek Publications, 2004). "Special Emergency Week in Connecticut," Woman Citizen 4, No. 44 (May 22, 1920): 1306-1307. "Special Session Begins Monday," Ponca City (Oklahoma) News, February 20, 1920. Star-Gazette (Sallisaw, OK), August 6, 1915. Tulsa (Oklahoma) Daily World, February 23, 1917. "Suff Convention in Final Stage; Form New League," Oklahoma Leader (Oklahoma City, OK), April 5, 1919. Tulsa (Oklahoma) Democrat, July 28 and September 14, 1917. U.S. Census, 1910 and 1920, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma County, Oklahoma. "Where the Money Goes," Chandler (Oklahoma) News-Publicist, October 24, 1913. Linda D. Wilson, "Aloysius Larch-Miller," https://www.oklahomahistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry/=LA040. "Women Need Ratification by Oklahoma," Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, OK), September 6, 1919. Louise M. Young, In the Public Interest: The League of Women Voters, 1920-1970 (NY: Greenwood Press, 1989).