Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mrs. Julia Dunham, 1844-1924

By Elizabeth Thomas, Piper Reese, and Makayla Swanson, Oklahoma State University

Julia Saunders was born sometime around 1844 in Michigan, the exact city is unknown. She was born to Maunda Sherwood of Ohio and "Saunders" (no first name listed) of Vermont. Little information is available about Dunham prior to her February 1866 marriage to Manley (sometimes spelled Manly) Dunham. The couple likely made their home in or near Union City, Michigan, since this is the location of the wedding ceremony. A year later, the Dunhams welcomed their first child, Myrtle. By the year 1900, she had birthed eight children, though only four survived into adulthood. Their family was a working-class one as Julia Dunham worked as a housekeeper and her husband made his living as a farm laborer.

Around 1888 the Dunhams' oldest son, Arthur, was appointed station agent of the Santa Fe Depot in the still sparsely populated Oklahoma City. The same year, the Dunhams moved to Indian Territory to make their home in Oklahoma City. It is likely that by this point, Dunham and her husband were already estranged, as the record of her move lists only her and her children moving into the small apartments adjoining the station. We do know that in 1894, her husband Manly had remarried and had a daughter, Joy. It is likely that the split between Julia and Manly led to her enthusiastic work as a suffragist in Oklahoma City.

When Oklahoma City was first being formed, women were able to cast votes to aid the formation of the crude young form of municipal government. Mrs. Dunham was able to cast her vote for Captain Couch, the first mayor of Oklahoma City. In December of 1904, the OTESA united with women from Oklahoma and Native territories to form the Twin Territorial Woman Suffrage Association. A couple of years later the Twin Territorial Woman Suffrage Association was dissolved and absorbed into the Oklahoma Women's Suffrage Association. Mrs. Julia Dunham was a highly active member of the Oklahoma Territory Equal Suffrage Association (OTESA); she was elected the state corresponding secretary. The OTESA was founded in the mid-1890's by Laura A. Gregg, a member of the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA); the group worked heavily in Guthrie, at the site of the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention. Dunham was with them in Guthrie in 1906-1907 as the group attempted to lobby for women's suffrage to be included in the state constitution. They were denied at the convention, and then later at two state legislatures, but continued to fight.

Suffrage lobbying in Oklahoma began in the 1890's when the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) allied with women in NAWSA. They began organizing clubs and meetings in different towns and made Guthrie, OK the association's headquarters. She was listed as an officer, though her exact position is unknown. As part of her involvement, Dunham, with the help of her daughter Junia, helped organize parlor meetings and led round table discussions for members and friends of the club.

Women initially won partial suffrage--the right to vote in school elections--in the 1907 constitution. Then, in 1918 a statewide referendum passed a more general woman suffrage amendment. Finally, Oklahoma ratified the 19th Amendment in February 1920.

Just four years after the fight for women's suffrage was won, Mrs. Dunham passed away on January 19, 1924. Nevertheless, her work made an impact on her daughter Junia, who followed in her mother's footsteps in the fight for women's rights. Mrs. Dunham seemed to have a great impact on her town, as she was known to several newspapers as the "Mother of Oklahoma City" It is probable that she was well known in the area, as a 1949 article of the Oklahoman recalled her passing 25 years later.


Certificate of Marriage, Manly Dunham to Julia Saunders, 22 Feb 1866, Union City, Branch, Michigan. Film No. 000930797.

Year: 1900; Census Place: Oklahoma, Oklahoma, Oklahoma; Page: 5; Enumeration District: 0168; FHL microfilm: 1241340

Year: 1870; Census Place: Batavia, Branch, Michigan; Roll: M593_665; Page: 24A; Family History Library Film: 552164

Her children and their birth years are as following: Myrtle (1867): Kansas State Historical Society; Topeka, Kansas; 1885 Kansas Territory Census; Roll: KS1885_83; Line: 29, Arthur (1870): Kansas State Historical Society; Topeka, Kansas; 1885 Kansas Territory Census; Roll: KS1885_83; Line: 30, Gar (1871):Ibid, Lulu (1873), Pepe (1874): Ibid, Junia (1880): Year: 1900; Census Place: Oklahoma, Oklahoma, Oklahoma; Page: 6; Enumeration District: 0168; FHL microfilm: 1241340, J. Van: Kansas State Historical Society; Topeka, Kansas; 1885 Kansas Territory Census; Roll: KS1885_83; Line: 29 and one additional child who eludes record.

"Vanguards of Liberty," Industrial Democrat (Oklahoma City, OK,. Feb. 26, 1910

Year: 1900; Census Place: Center, Benton, Indiana; Page: 6; Enumeration District: 0003; FHL microfilm 1240360

Ira D. Mullinax, "Woman Suffrage in Oklahoma," Sturm's Oklahoma Magazine 11 (November 1910).

Bill Corbett, "Suffrage Amendment," The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture,

"Oklahoma Suffragettes to Invoke Referendum" 05/24/1909

Tally D. Fugate, "Oklahoma Woman's Suffrage Association," The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture,

The History of Woman Suffrage, Volume VI, Part 14. [LINK]

Susie E. Boles, "News in Society," Oklahoma City Daily Pointer (Oklahoma City, OK), May 26, 1910.

Certificate of Death: Julia Dunham. Filed: 22 Jan 1924. State of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State Board of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics. File No. 17597. Informant: A.W. Dunham, Galveston, TX.

"Vanguards of Liberty," Industrial Democrat (Oklahoma City, OK,. Feb. 26, 1910.

Good Morning, 25 Years Ago" Oklahoman. (Oklahoma City, OK), January 19, 1949

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