Biographical Sketch of Katherine Vrooman King

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Katherine Vrooman King, 1864-1933

By Susanne Caro, librarian, North Dakota State University, North Dakota

Secretary of the Direct Legislation League, Treasurer of the North Dakota State Equal Suffrage Association, member Women's Christian Temperance Union

Katherine (Kittie) Maria Vrooman was born in Jan 12, 1864 in Guangzhou (Canton), China. Her father, Rev. Daniel Vrooman, attended Western Reserve University and her mother, Marie Wilberforce Alvord graduated from Oberlin. Rev. Vrooman was a Presbyterian missionary and took Marie to Guangzhou in 1859. Marie started and taught at girl boarding school in Guangzhou, just a few years after unrest there had led to the mission being robbed, burned down, and the missionaries including Rev. Vrooman, fleeing. Maria died in San Francisco when Katherine was three. Daniel continued to work as a vice-counsul for the U.S. Department of State in China and a missionary to Chinese Christians in Australia. It is likely that Katherine was sent to live with her mother's sister as the 1870 Census lists six-year-old Katherine living with Mark and Ada (Alvord) Estabrook on a farm in Franklin, Michigan.

An article about Katherine from 1903 mentions that she and her father traveled around the country, living in six different states and that she was a teacher by the age of 16. She did not neglect her own education, attending several schools between 1878 and 1883. She was enrolled in the music, and the preparatory department at Carleton College, where her aunt Ada taught literature and writing, from 1878-1879 (Northfield, Minnesota). She attended Olivet College (Olivet, Michigan) in 1882 where she took academic courses, won 2nd prize for excellence in composition, and was in the Michigan Conservatory of Music. In 1883 she was teaching in Manistee, Michigan.

She married Royal Fairfield King in 1886 in Battle Creek, Michigan. He was thirty-two, she was twenty-two. The couple lived in Minneapolis for a few years before moving to Pierre, South Dakota where they lived till at least 1893. Her daughter Katherine was born there in 1892. While in Pierre, the couple purchased property and Katherine sang in public performances. The family moved to North Dakota around 1893. In 1895 they lived in Grand Forks where her daughter, Frances, was born in 1896 but they would continue to move around the state.

By 1900 Katherine was active with the suffrage movement, acting as the treasurer in 1900 for the North Dakota State Equal Suffrage Association. She attended the group's annual convention in Lakota and was elected the recording secretary for 1901. In that year she wrote:

"The question oft times presents itself in the insuring mind, as to how long this country will rest content to put the major part of its enormous school tax for the education of its girls, and yet excuse them from the common duties of citizenship. Our high schools graduate from five to seven girls for every boy; now, if an educational qualification has any arguments in its favor, the extra girls ought not to be represented, or misrepresented, by inferior men."

Active with the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), she read "Penal Reformatory Work," at the WTCU convention at Devils Lake in 1900. Prison reform was one of her interests. In1904 she was the WCTU State Superintendent of Penal and Reformatory Work and soliciting book and magazine donations for Burleigh County Jail.

Another area of interest for Katherine was the Direct Legislation League. Although listed as the secretary for the League, she was also the founder of the North Dakota branch of the organization. She wrote in multiple North Dakota papers between 1899-1911 to encourage membership and to pass a constitutional amendment for direct legislation. In 1901 she was nominated for the executive committee of the National Direct Legislation League. She was working on this effort for a number of years, writing brief reports for Wetmore's Weekly and other papers.

The bill, written by Lars A. Ueland of Edgele, was introduced by Senator Plain in 1903. For Katherine this effort was linked to supporting suffrage. She wrote "Lovers of law and real liberty strove hard to secure a Constitutional Amendment making possible direct legislation through Optional Referendum and Initiative. This would inevitably abolish the disreputable influence of the lobby, and insure prompt action with regard to such loudly demanded reforms as woman suffrage, primary election reform, equitable taxation of corporations profiting by public utilities, etc. ... Woman suffrage will not eliminate the evil, though tending to mitigate, as it would make the legislators finally responsible to the whole adult citizenship, instead of to the less mortal half as now."

The bill went to committee which Katherine attended. She "had a good argument with one member of brains furnishing the necessary opposition to bring out the good points." The bill passed the senate but was defeated in the house, which Katherine felt was due to "the threat that if it carried, they would do away with prohibition." The bill was introduced again in 1907 by Lars Ueland, was passed, referred to the next legislative session which killed, replaced, amended, and new language drafted in 1909 resulting in five different amendments to be voted on in the following legislature. This process was the result of the state requiring that each measure be agreed to by two successive legislatures which would then pick one to put forward for a popular vote. Direct legislation was eventually passed in 1915; a ballot measure for women's suffrage that same year was not passed.

Katherine was not living in North Dakota at the time the bill she promoted and debated was finally made a law. In 1910 the family was living in San Jose, California where Royal was listed in the census as a dairy farmer. By 1914 they had moved to Yelm, Washington where they would eventually settle.

Katherine had five children, Austin (1890-1944), Katharine Ada King Smith (1892-1921), Frances Estabrook King Smith (1895-1971), Hannah Fairfield (1897-1946), John Chester (1898-1927), and Franklin Ralph King (1903-1972). She died, at age 69, March 14, 1933, in Yelm, Washington.


The Missionary herald, American Board of Commissioners. 1859 (9); Jan., 1860 (10); Jan., 1861 (9); Feb., 1862 (48).

"Deaths." Gold Hill daily news, (Gold Hill, Nev.), Sept. 01, 1866. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Register of the Department of State. 1872. (17);view=1up;seq=23; Missionary Review, 2, no.1 (May, 1879):171.;view=1up;seq=611

1870 Census; Census Place: Franklin, Lenawee, Michigan; Roll: M593_685; Page: 258B; Family History Library Film: 552184

"Personalities in D.L. Work." The Direct Legislation Record 11, no. 2 (June, 1903): 40.;view=1up;seq=128

Catalog of Carleton College for the academic year 1878-1879 4, no 11.

General Catalogue, Olivet College 1882-1883, 11, 24, 34, 44.

The Carletonia (April 1, 1883): 15.

Michigan Department of Community Health, Division of Vital Records and Health Statistics; Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952; Film: 31; Film Description: 1886 Alcona - 1886 Lapeer

"Thank-Offerings." The Home Missionary 66 no. 7 (November 1893): 388.;view=1up;seq=430

Pierre weekly free press. (Pierre, S.D.), April 28, 1892. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

"A Rich Entertainment." Pierre weekly free press. (Pierre, S.D.), Feb. 19, 1891. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

"The Musical Treat." Pierre weekly free press. (Pierre, S.D.), Feb. 26, 1891. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Katherine King, "Prize Essay Contest" The Direct Legislation Record 6 no. 58 (December, 1899): 86.

"The City." Bismarck daily tribune. (Bismarck, N.D.), Oct. 29, 1901. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

"North Dakota W.C.T.U." The Bowbells tribune. (Bowbells, Ward Co., N.D.), Sept. 28, 1900. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

"Meeting of the Item Club." Bismarck daily tribune. (Bismarck, Dakota [N.D.]), Jan. 08. 1903. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Susan B Anthony and Ida Husted Harper, History of Woman Suffrage Volume IV, (Rochester, NY 1902), 548.

"Officers of the State Equal Suffrage association" Bismarck daily tribune. (Bismarck, Dakota [N.D.]), Sept. 28, 1900. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Proceedings of the Thirty-third Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. First Baptist Church, (Minneapolis, Minn. 1897-1901), 87.;q1=North%20Dakota%20Equal%20Suffrage%20Association

King, Katherine "Who Ought to Vote." The daily morning journal and courier. (New Haven, Conn.), Oct. 15, 1901. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

back to top