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Women of the Oklahoma Legislature

Welcome to the Women of the Oklahoma Legislature Oral History Project

In 2006, Professor/Oral History Librarian Tanya Finchum embarked on a project to capture and record information about women who have served or are currently serving in the Oklahoma Legislature. This website, launched in February 2009, is a culmination of her work and includes transcripts, audio excerpts, and memorabilia collected as a result of interview efforts.

Between the years of 1907 and 2008 only 77 women have been elected to the Oklahoma Legislature. As of February 2009, 46 of these remarkable women have shared their stories as part of the Women of the Oklahoma Legislature Oral History Project. Gathering oral histories provides opportunity to pursue answers to questions left silent in what little archival materials exist for these women. Taken individually, these interviews reflect the careers and interests of the legislators; taken collectively they constitute a narrative of the role of women in the Oklahoma Legislature over time.

The Oklahoma Oral History Research Program at the OSU Library invites you to explore this website and meet the women who have played an important role in Oklahoma politics.

About the Collection

The Women of the Oklahoma Legislature Oral History Project endeavors to fill gaps in information regarding women who have served or are serving in the Oklahoma state legislature by recording the experiences of these women in their own voices. Between the years of 1907 and 2008, only 77 women have been elected to the Oklahoma state legislature, with the 77th woman being elected November 2008.

In 1920 the first two women were elected, one to the Senate and one to the House of Representatives. These two pioneering women paved the way for future women to be viewed as legitimate contenders for legislative seats. The remainder of the 1920s saw six more women add their names in the history book for Oklahoma women legislators. During the 1930s no women were elected to serve in the Oklahoma legislature, perhaps due to the struggling economy at the time and again in the 1950s no women were elected to serve. The 1940s saw three women elected to the House and none to the Senate. The 1960s saw five women legislators elected with one of them being the first African-American woman to be elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Moving into the 1970s and continuing on through the present the voices of women have been heard in the Oklahoma legislature but not in proportion to their numbers in the population. The majority of women legislators have been members of the Democratic Party and most have served in the House of Representatives.

When asked what is the bigger obstacle to serving gender, age, or geography most narrators responded that geography and stage of life appear to be the larger factors in the number of women entering this political arena. The urban areas of Oklahoma City and Tulsa and, to some extent, Norman, have produced more women legislators than rural areas. While these women have arrived at the Capitol by various paths, many come as educators, lawyers, and government service workers. Listening to the stories of women who served in different decades illuminates how some things have changed and how others remain the same. Commonly mentioned was the need for warm clothing during sessions because the temperature in the chambers is geared for men in three-piece suits. Experiences on the campaign trail are shared by many of the narrators and offer insight into various strategies and common themes. Commitment to serve constituents in their districts, the people of the state of Oklahoma, and the citizens of the United States to the best of their abilities is the primary characteristic of these "Women of the Oklahoma Legislature."

Oklahoma Women Legislators-Geographical Distribution by Seat

Oklahoma Oral History Research Program
207 Edmon Low Library
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078
Phone: 405-744-7685

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