Biographical Sketch of Sarah Elizabeth (Kessinger) Redfield

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Sarah Elizabeth (Kessinger) Redfield, 1865-1945

By Linda D. Wilson, Independent Historian, and Joan Sirigir, student, Michigan State University

Oklahoma suffragist Sarah Elizabeth (Kessinger) Redfield was born on September 26, 1865, in Hillsboro, Montgomery County, Illinois. Her parents were Solomon Frank and Susan Jane (Nail) Kessinger. On October 2, 1884, Sarah Elizabeth Kessinger married James Albert Redfield in Montgomery County, Illinois. They had four children; three lived to adulthood. By 1900 they had moved from Illinois to St. Louis, Missouri. In 1906 they had a farm near Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory, where they hosted an ice cream social for a large gathering of friends and neighbors on July 11 that year. At various times Sarah Redfield worked as a writer, an assistant editor of the Hillsboro Journal newspaper, and head salesperson for the Jones Cash store in Hillsboro. The Kessinger family held annual reunions, and Sarah was elected family historian.

Their arrival in Oklahoma Territory occurred when the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention was in session. Oklahoma entered the union as the forty-sixth state on November 16, 1907. Although women from Oklahoma and Indian territories actively petitioned for suffrage from 1890 to 1907, the measure was defeated at statehood. Consequently, the suffrage movement in Oklahoma continued through 1920. Oklahoma women gained suffrage on November 5, 1918. On February 28, 1920, the Oklahoma legislature ratified the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The only published account of "Mrs. Elizabeth Redfield" being involved in the suffrage movement occurred in 1909. Oklahoma suffragists sought the ballot through the initiative and referendum. Ida Porter Boyer led a state-wide campaign that secured 38,586 signatures on a petition to be sent to the legislature by November 1909. Redfield, Adelia Stevens, Anna Laskey, Julia Woodworth, Addie Wilcox, and others ably assisted in collecting signatures.

By 1910 the Redfields had moved to Malaga, New Mexico, where James Redfield worked as a truck farmer. Their son Jimmie attended the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque. Their daughter Fredericka stayed in Guthrie and married Harry Koch in May 1912. In 1920 Sarah and James Redfield were living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. James Redfield and son Carl worked in sales for the A. Nash Tailoring Company. The Redfield's son Jimmie, wife, and baby girl were also residing in Philadelphia.

While living in Philadelphia, Sarah Redfield served on the city council. At one of the meetings, she was asked for her advice regarding the "'Ordinance for the suppression of fireworks.'" On another occasion, she remarked to the council's law committee that in her opinion women should not be called ladies. Redfield said that the term was "undemocratic and creates a class difference which should be wiped from the election records of the city . . .." She explained further that "'I have lived in the West, . . . and in states like Oklahoma and Illinois. I think they are more democratic in their ideas than you are in the East. I worked for suffrage for twelve years before we achieved the franchise, and now that we have it we can do nothing better than strive to raise political standards and maintain true democracy. We have to eliminate class distinctions among women as men do in politics, and get away from petty things.'" Although Sarah Redfield stated she worked for women's suffrage for twelve years, there are no extant newspaper accounts other than her involvement in 1909 in Oklahoma.

Sarah Redfield made several trips from Philadelphia to Guthrie, Oklahoma, to visit her daughter Fredricka Koch. On one occasion, she presented a paper entitled "Club Work as I Find it in Philadelphia" to Guthrie's Business and Professional Women's Club that met in the Ione Hotel in July 1925.

By 1930 Sarah and James Redfield had moved from Pennsylvania to his home state of Missouri and where their son Carl lived. Apparently, they quietly lived out their lives on the son's farm, with occasional visits from other family members. In October 1944 they celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary. Sarah Elizabeth Redfield died on October 8, 1945, and was buried in the Sparta IOOF Cemetery in Sparta, Missouri. James Albert Redfield lived to be ninety-nine years old, dying on December 16, 1957. He was buried in the same cemetery.

SOURCES: Certificate of Death, for James A. Redfield, Phoenixville, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, accessed on on September 9, 2020. Christian County Republican (Ozark, MO), August 30, 1931; October 25, 1934; July 21, 1938; August 24 and October 5, 1944; October 11, 1945. Enid Daily Eagle (Enid, OK), April 20, 1909. Illinois, Marriage Index, 1860-1920, for James A. Redfield and Sarah Elizabeth Kessinger, accessed on on September 9, 2020. Industrial Democrat (Oklahoma City, OK), September 10, 1910. Logan County News (Crescent, OK), July 20, 1906; September 17, 1915; June 9 and September 29, 1916; and March 22, 1917. Oklahoma City Daily Pointer (Oklahoma City, OK), March 10, 1909. Oklahoma Leader (Guthrie, OK), May 23, 1918. Oklahoma State Register (Guthrie, OK), March 10, 1921; July 9 and August 20, 1925. Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), March 1, 1921. Springfield Leader and Press, (Springfield, MO), October 31, 1944. Springfield Press (Springfield, MO), August 24, 1932. U.S. Census, 1880, Hillsboro, Montgomery County, Illinois. U.S. Census, 1900, St. Louis, St. Louis (Independent City), Missouri. U.S. Census, 1910, Malaga, Eddy County, New Mexico. U.S. Census, 1920, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania. U.S. Censuses, 1930 and 1940, Lead Hill, Christian County, Missouri. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current, for James Albert Redfield and Sarah Elizabeth (Kessinger) Redfield, accessed on on September 9, 2020.

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