Eric Standridge is a historian and author that focuses on Oklahoma's history, with an emphasis on LeFlore County and Poteau, Oklahoma.
Since Poteau was first established, historically, it has been known as a very progressive and vibrant city. During the late 1800's, many notorious outlaws and famous U.S. Marshals visited the early town. Those included people such as Belle Starr and Ed "Coon" Ratterree. In the 1910's, Poteau was one of the only towns in the area to have three banks, an opera house, and two theaters. In the age of segregation, Poteau was known as "Little Dixie". It took a local veterinarian, Dr. John Montgomery, to change that. With his leadership, Poteau became the first town in Oklahoma to be integrated, beginning the tide for desegregation all across the state.
This story deals with another episode showcasing Poteau's progressive side. Not many know that Poteau was also the home of Oklahoma's first woman mayor.
State Senator, D. A. Shaw
The story of Nora Shaw begins with Poteau's former mayor, Judge D.A. Shaw. Shaw was born near Waldron, Arkansas. In 1895, he moved to Texas where he studied law as a student under the tutelage of Col. K. Leggett. He moved to Oklahoma at statehood in 1907, then finally came to Poteau in the early 1910's. In 1915, he was elected County Judge and served for two terms.
From 1914 to 1919 he was editor of the LeFlore County Sun.
During World War I, he was active as an organizer for Red Cross and War Bond Sales. He was quite the orator. At one gathering in 1917, he had around 5,000 people spellbound during a speech on the war.
In the early 1920's, he hosted many of Poteau's singing conventions, which drew in hundreds of people from four neighboring states. In fact, he wrote many of the classic gospel songs that are still sung today.
He was elected as the 22nd mayor of Poteau. He served in 1925 and 1926, when death overtook him at age 52. Just before his death in 1926 at the state election, he was elected as State Senator. He died on the day that he was to take the oath of office.
On August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was signed into law by Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby. This amendment guaranteed that all American women have the right to vote. Achieving this milestone required a lengthy and difficult struggle. Beginning in the mid-19th century, several generations of woman suffrage supporters lectured, wrote, marched, lobbied, and practiced civil disobedience to achieve what many Americans considered a radical change of the Constitution.
Even before this, Oklahoma had been ahead of the rest of the nation. On November 5, 1918, Oklahoma voters approved State Question 97, which extended suffrage to women. A ratification committee, chaired by Katherine Pierce of Oklahoma City, helped ensure passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in the state legislature. When Oklahoma ratified the Nineteenth Amendment on February 28, 1920, the Oklahoma Woman's Suffrage Association disbanded and the state's League of Women Voters formed.
First Lady of Poteau
Throughout the 1920's, women had played an important role in state affairs, but Oklahoma never had a woman mayor until Nora Shaw was elected in Poteau. Or was it Mamie Foster from Wyandotte?
It all depends on if the legalities are considered or not.
Following D. A. Shaw's death, Ms. Nora Shaw was appointed to serve out the remaining term of her late husband. She was then elected as the 23rd mayor of Poteau. She served during part of 1926, then in 1927, she was elected as Poteau's first woman mayor. For the most part, she continued carrying out D. A. Shaw's objectives, and accomplished most of what he set out to do. During an age where women were still fighting for equal rights, this is quite an accomplishment, and a testament to how progressive Poteau was during those times.
Mamie Foster was Wyandotte’s mayor from 1922 to 1927, which would have been five years prior to the election of Nora Shaw. However, there's a hitch. In 1922, the town of Wyandotte wasn't technically a town. In 1966, as it planned a rural water district, the town could not find any record of incorporation. Incorporation didn't come until April of that year.
Since Poteau was incorporated in 1898, that would make Nora Shaw first legal female mayor in Oklahoma.
© 2017 Eric Standridge