Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Katharine Ammon Morton, 1878-1956
By Heather Grevatt, Associate Professor, Librarian, Boise State University, Boise, ID
A Public Official in Support of National Suffrage
Katharine Morton née Ammon, was born October 4, 1878 in Brown County, Kansas. Sources disagree about her birth year, but her headstone bears 1878. Her parents were Andrew Ammon and Luella Bell Ammon of Michigan and Ohio respectively. Andrew Ammon was a farmer and grain merchant. In written records, Luella is in turn recorded as Louella or Louise, however her headstone at the Ammon family plot in Hiawatha, Kansas bears "Luella." Similarly, in her youth, Katharine is at times recorded as Kate or Katy and the family name is sometimes transcribed as "Aurmon." It should be noted her name uses the "a" and not "e" spelling, though it is routinely misspelled in newspapers. The 1895 Kansas census places her as the third of six children, with older siblings Irene and Ralph and younger siblings Robert, Geneva (sometimes Jennie), and Donald.
In 1901, Katharine left Kansas to attend Northwestern University. While there she joined the Illinois Epsilon chapter of Gamma Beta Phi. Though it is unclear if she officially graduated, in 1903 she moved to Cheyenne and began teaching seventh and eighth grade English. On December 5, 1905, Katharine married Robert Alexander Morton in Jackson County, Missouri. Robert worked for the United States railway mail service and lived in Cheyenne. There is no record that the couple ever had children.
While it has been reported that she was always active in women's clubs, Katharine began to rise to particular prominence in 1913 when she became president of the Wyoming Federation of Women's Clubs. In 1914, as part of a Red Cross campaign to raise money for war victims in Belgium, Katharine conducted a state-wide campaign in Wyoming, raising $6,000. Similarly, in 1916 she conducted a campaign selling Red Cross seals and earned a pennant for Wyoming by having more sales per capita than any other state. She was appointed by Governor Houx as the only female member of the Wyoming State Council of National Defense, serving as secretary, as well as secretary of the Wyoming Public Health Association. She was employed in these various capacities until 1918.
In October of 1918, Katharine announced her candidacy for Superintendent of Public Instruction of Wyoming, running on the Republican ticket. Republicans, including Katharine, swept the election that year. Though Katharine would appear in newspapers annually at election time, in 1926 a particularly amusing sentiment about female candidates was credited to her. In regard to dances after political meetings during campaign season, she was reported to say, "...the woman candidate has to dance with every man...it is good politics." Katharine would serve as Superintendent until 1935 and was frequently lauded for her efforts to raise additional funding for education in Wyoming.
Because Wyoming had already secured women's right to vote before Katharine relocated there, her involvement in suffrage was exclusively directed at the national movement. In her capacity as President of the Federation of Women's Clubs and later as Superintendent of Public Instruction, she was a regular speaker at events in support of suffrage. In 1916, Alice Paul, founder of the National Woman's Party wrote to Katharine asking for her support and assistance in assuring all Wyoming chapters of the Congressional Union change their names to reflect the change to National Woman's Party. In 1917 she served as chair of the Good Citizenship committee of the Wyoming League of Women Voters. Though her campaign articles reference that she was not overly partisan, she did not appear to shy away from speaking on political topics. She was particularly unimpressed by the Wilson administration and said so during a speech at the Women's Republican Club in 1920. Though her level of involvement is unclear, Katharine was most certainly part of a contingent of Wyoming women who petitioned the state government to ratify the 19th amendment. In addition, she authored a history of women's suffrage in the state for the 1940 Annals of Wyoming.
After leaving her long-held position as Superintendent, Katharine remained civically active. During World War II she served as chairwoman of the state salvage committee, helping to coordinate women's activities related to the recovery of scrap metal, rubber, and other necessary war materials. She was a member of the Order of the Eastern Star, Presbyterian church, and was credited with originating the Wyoming state spelling bee as well as serving as the pronouncer for many years.
Katharine died June 2, 1956 after a long illness. She was survived by her husband Robert, several siblings, and nieces and nephews. She is perhaps best described by a biographical piece written when she stepped down as president of the Federation of Women's Clubs: "she has proved herself wonderfully capable, marvelously human, and of a rare and generous spirit. She has that unusual gift for friendship which draws all men to her, and her gentleness is indeed strength."
Photographs of Katharine are available throughout Wyoming newspapers during her years as Superintendent of Public Instruction as well as in her obituary in the June 3, 1956 edition of the Wyoming State Tribune.
Alice Paul to Mrs. Robert A. Morton, July 3, 1916, NWPP, reel 1
Barbee, Lindsey ed. "Katharine Ammon Morton (Epsilon)." The Crescent 18, no. 4 (1918): 378, accessed February 25, 2022, http://www.gpbarchives.org/1918/
Beach, Cora M. Women of Wyoming. Casper, WY: S. E. Boyer & Company, 1927.
"Committees Named by Women's Republican Club to Aid Drive for Success of Campaign Here." Casper Daily Tribune 4, no.304 (1920): 1, accessed March 18, 2022 https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072160/1920-10-04/ed-1/seq-1/
Erwin, Marie H. Wyoming History Blue Book. Denver, CO: Bradford-Robinson Print. Co., 1946.
"Former State School Head Dies Today." Wyoming State Tribune 62, no. 134 (1956): 2.
"Kansas State Census, 1895", database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QL8V-7JMP : 12 March 2020), Andrew Ammon, 1895.
Katharine A. Morton, grave marker, Beth El Cemetery, Cheyenne, Laramie County, Wyoming, digital image, s.v. "Katharine A. Morton" Findagrave.com
Larson, T.A. Wyoming: A Bicentennial History, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1977.
Larson, T.A. Wyoming's War Years. Laramie, WY: The University of Wyoming, 1954.
"Missouri, County Marriage, Naturalization, and Court Records, 1800-1991," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-8971-9WPR?cc=2060668&wc=Z3G2-DP8%3A352319201%2C353104601 : 18 September 2021), Jackson > Marriage applications 1905-1906 no 32525-34870 > image 1108 of 2440; Missouri State Archives, Jefferson City.
Morton, Katharine A. "A Historical Review of Woman Suffrage." Annals of Wyoming 12, no.1 (1940): 21-32.
"Public Health Board Elects its Officers." Wyoming Tribune 23, no. 243 (1917): 7, accessed March 18, 2022 Wyoming Digital Newspaper Collection.
"Social and Personal." Brown County World 39, no. 39 (1901): 1, accessed March 23, 2022 https://kansashistoricalopencontent.newspapers.com/image/80392954/?terms=Katherine%20ammon&match=1
"Trade Dances for Votes." The Philippine Republic 3, no. 6 (1926): 17, accessed March 4, 2022 https://hdl.handle.net/2027/miun.acc6198.1926.006
"Women Ask Special Session to Ratify U.S. Suffrage." Casper Daily Tribune 4, no. 31 (1919): 9, accessed March 23, 2022 https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072160/1919-11-15/ed-1/seq-1/
"Women Voters League to Meet in Cheyenne." Casper Daily Tribune 4, no. 14 (1919): 2, accessed March 23, 2022 https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072160/1919-10-28/ed-1/seq-2/