Oklahoman Alice Mary Robertson – America’s Second Congresswoman
Alice Mary Robertson. Courtesy Oklahoma State Senate Historical Preservation Fund, Inc.
and the artist, Oklahoman Mike Wimmer.
Scion of Oklahoma’s legendary Worcester bloodline, Alice Mary Robertson carried forward its grand works. Daughter and granddaughter of famed missionaries William and Ann Eliza Worcester Robertson and Samuel Worcester, respectively, she was born in Indian Territory in 1854—years before the War Between the States—at Tullahassee Mission in the Creek Nation.
She graduated near the top of her class at Elmira College in New York, then worked for six years at the U.S. Indian Office in Washington, D.C., before teaching at both Tullahassee and the famed Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. She established a Christian mission to the Creeks, supervised Creek schools from 1900-1904, ran the Native girls’ boarding school that became Tulsa University, and was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt as America’s first female Class A Post Office Postmaster in Muskogee, where she served for nearly a decade.
Prominent Oklahoma historian Bob Burke memorably described Robertson’s impassioned support of the American soldier: “‘Miss Alice’ was always known for her assistance to America's soldiers. She helped recruit troops for Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War of 1898 and personally prepared a field kit, with sewing necessities and a small Bible, for each soldier who left for the war. When fifteen thousand troops passed through Muskogee in 1916 en route to the Mexican border to pursue Pancho Villa, she met the trains and provided the men with sandwiches, cake, and milk. The ingredients had been grown on her farm, named Sawokla (the farm's name was taken from a Creek-language word meaning ‘gathering place’). She continued to assist America's fighting men when the United States entered World War I in 1917.”
Alice Mary Robertson presiding over the U.S. House of Representatives on June 20, 1921, the first woman ever to do so.
At age sixty-six, fretting about the morals of an America emerging from a brutal and colossal world war, she declared, “I am a Christian, I am an American, I am a Republican,” and won election in 1920 in the heavily-Democratic 2nd Congressional District as the state’s first congresswoman and the nation’s second. “After her election she announced that she would concentrate on promoting legislation to better the lives of Indians, women, farmers, soldiers, and working people,” according to Burke.
Defeated in her 1922 re-election bid, Alice Mary Robertson subsequently served at the Veterans’ Hospital in Muskogee by appointment of President Warren G. Harding, and as a research assistant for the Oklahoma Historical Society. Subsisting on the paltry salaries of those positions, the trailblazing former Congresswoman spent her later years in near poverty and died in 1931.