[Narrator 1:] Kate Barnard, a little woman who barely filled a size 3 dress, walked tall in Oklahoma's early history. In a time when women could not even vote, she out polled the first governor of the state in her bid for election to the Office of Charities and Corrections. With a determination from her Irish ancestry, she championed the cause of little children who drifted hungry, cold, uncared for, unloved. Kate Barnard, she swayed the mind of an entire state and became part of Oklahoma's colorful past.
[Narrator 2:]They came to Oklahoma from many nations. Newcomers to a new land, looking for better opportunities, a chance to begin again and what remains is their heritage. A rich heritage, that has become the Oklahoma image.
[Narrator 1:] Kate Barnard was lonely as a child. Her mother died before Kate was two years old and when she was ten, her father left her with friends so he could make the run into Oklahoma to file a homestead claim. When she finally joined him, she experienced the terrible hardships pioneers faced in the new land. Eventually, she moved to Oklahoma City where she saw crowded, pest-ridden homes holding thin, frightened children. She was so saddened and appalled at this that she had to speak out in their behalf.
[Woman's voice:] One day a young girl, who had been brutalized by a gang of boys, came to me for help. I held her trembling hand as we entered the police court for the trial. Court was held in a dirty, crowded basement room filled with drunks and prostitutes, with the stench of tobacco smoke and foul language. I was furious to see children in this environment and I asked the people of Oklahoma City, "Does it take a prophet to tell you we need a children's court?"
[Narrator 1:] Kate got her Juvenile Court. Then she turned her attention to the primitive state of jails. She argued that jails were for people who had been accused, not convicted of a crime and these people should be housed and treated properly. With the help of the mayor, she was able to get some of the worst pest-ridden institutions shut down. Oklahoma had no prison and Kate found out that most of the state's convicted men where kept deep in the shafts of a Kansas coal mine. She went to Kansas and told a startled Kansas prison board that she had come on the authority of a million and a half Oklahoma citizens to investigate their penitentiary.
[Woman's voice:] It was horrible. There were punishment chambers and boxes called "cribs" where men were tied up and locked inside total darkness. Here in this hole in the ground were 60 boys under 17 years of age, from Oklahoma!
[Narrator 1:] Kate got custody of these boys and brought them home. On the train that night, in the midst of a terrible blizzard, they were actually singing, happy at the prospect of building their own prison at McAlester.
[Narrator 1:] Kate Barnard was only a tiny woman in delicate health but armed with a 20th century mind, she dealt with frontier politians who didn't even think women should vote. Before ill health caught up with her, she was able to expose the graft and corruption which had deprived Indian orphans of two million dollars. She restored the money to the children and tried to prosecute the guilty men but the state legislature thought this was going too far. They cut off all funds to her Charities and Corrections Department. She died in 1930, bitter and disullusioned but she wrote her last hope in her will.
[Woman's voice:] I bequeath the example of my public life to the youth of the world, praying they may dedicate their own lives to securing justice for the poor of their generation as I did mine.
[Narrator 1:] Kate Barnard, no one ever quite filled her high button shoes. She was called Oklahoma Kate and she was an important force in the heritage of the state.
[Narrator 2:] This program was produced by the Oklahoma Image Project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and brought to you as a public service by this station. Oklahoma Image is sponsored by the Oklahoma Department of Libraries and the Oklahoma Library Association.
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Part of the Oklahoma Image Statewide Humanities Project, Promoting Newcomers to a New Land book series.
Copyright of this digital resource, Oklahoma Department of Libraries, 2009. For further information regarding use please consult the Rights and Permissions page, http://www.crossroads.odl.state.ok.us/shell/rights.php or contact the holding institution of the digital resource.