Long before Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin represented the state in U.S. Congress, another woman left her own indelible mark on the state and the nation: Oklahoma’s first female member of Congress, Alice Mary Robertson.
Robertson, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1921 to 1923, was only the second female in American history to be elected to Congress, yet this was only one of Robertson’s myriad accomplishments.
A champion of Native American rights and education, Robertson was also the first female to work in the Indian Office in Washington, D.C., during the 1870s; the first woman to serve as supervisor for Creek Schools in Indian Territory, shortly before Oklahoma achieved statehood; and the first female postmaster to preside over a first-class post office.
She was responsible for the chartering of the University of Tulsa, the establishment of a V.A. medical center in Muskogee and the improvement of infrastructure throughout Oklahoma. Even after her death in 1931, she continued to be a pioneer: due to her services during the Spanish-American War, she was buried as a veteran of the conflict.
“Robertson never allowed expectations of her gender to stand in the way of her aspirations, accomplishing a great deal even by our modern standard,” says Deah Caldwell, author of “Antisuffragist. Antifeminist! Pro-women? The Anomalous Alice Mary Robertson.”
And yet, while Robertson led the way for so many women in the state and across the nation, she was harried by accusations of anti-feminism throughout her congressional career.
“Local politicians usually attached women’s suffrage to measures they needed to get passed,” notes Caldwell. “Most women during this period lacked a higher education, causing highly educated women like Robertson to vote against suffrage so others would not cast an uneducated vote.
“Looking at Robertson’s lifestyle and accomplishments before her congressional run in 1920, she fulfilled many of the characteristics of a New Woman, an image attached to many of the self-proclaimed feminists,” Caldwell continues. “Robertson, however, lived it.”