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A Lady Among Leaders

The first female mayor of a major American city



 



Patience Francelia Sewell Latting led a life of superlatives. The first – and, thus far, only – woman to be elected mayor of Oklahoma City, she served three consecutive four-year terms beginning in 1971.
 

The pioneering politician was born in Texhoma on Aug. 27, 1918, to banker Frank Asa Sewell and his wife Leila Mae Yates Sewell. She graduated from Oklahoma City’s Classen High School; was awarded her undergraduate degree in mathematics from the University of Oklahoma, where she was named Outstanding Senior Woman; and in 1938 earned her Master’s degree in economics and statistics from Columbia University in New York City, where she worked as a researcher for Chase Manhattan.

On the eve of World War II, she returned to Oklahoma, married lawyer and oilman Trimble Latting and soon had four children. As their family grew, she became involved in civic and education groups. She used her background in statistics to help draw new boundaries for the state’s legislative districts, ending the underrepresentation of the state’s urban counties.

In 1967, Latting became the first woman to be elected to the Oklahoma City Council, representing Ward 2. Four years later, she became Oklahoma City’s first woman mayor.


THE CLAIM: Patience Sewell Latting, mayor of Oklahoma City from 1971-83, was the first woman to head the government of an American city of more than 350,000 people.

SOURCE: The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, published by the Oklahoma History Center.

FACT CHECK: False. It was a pioneering achievement in OKC history, but not the nation’s. On March 9, 1926, the city of Seattle – then with an estimated population of 365,000 – voted into office its first woman mayor. Her name was Bertha Knight Landes.
 

The youngest of nine children of Charles Sanford Knight, a veteran of the Union Army, and his wife, Cordelia Cutter, Bertha Knight was born in Massachusetts on Oct. 19, 1868. She would go on to earn a degree in history and political science from the University of Indiana and teach at Classical High School in Worchester before marrying Henry Landes. The newlyweds moved to the West Coast in 1895, when he was offered a job as professor of geology at the University of Washington.

As their children grew, she became more involved in women’s civic clubs, including the League of Women Voters and the Women’s University Club. Praised for her leadership as head of the Seattle Federation of Women’s Clubs, she was urged to run for office.

When asked in 1922 to comment on his wife’s campaign for City Council, Landes remarked: “It’s simply the natural enlargement of her sphere. Keeping house and raising a family are woman’s logical tasks, and in principle, there’s no difference between running one home and a hundred thousand.”

She won the election and became, with Kathryn Miracle, one of the first two women elected to Seattle’s city council. As council president in 1924, she used her temporary powers – while Mayor Edwin Brown was out of town – to fire Seattle Police Chief William Severyns, accusing his department of collusion with bootleggers and gamblers. Declaring herself acting chief, she ordered a crackdown on vice in a town that had become known for corruption.

Alerted by telegram, Mayor Brown hurried home to cancel her order. Emboldened, she challenged him in the next election, campaigning on a slogan of “Municipal Housekeeping” and vowing to end corruption in City Hall. She won by 6,000 votes, in an election that featured record turnout.


Looking back on her scandal-free term, Ross Reynolds, author of Once Upon a Time in Seattle, notes: “She wanted to cut out the worst elements about the hypocrisy and crookedness and especially the police force. For two years, she ran probably the best city administration that’s ever been run in Seattle. She wouldn’t appoint her political supporters to good jobs. She would get technical people qualified to do the work.”

Having a woman in the city’s highest office, however, rankled some who missed Seattle’s rough-and-tumble reputation and chafed at the idea of a woman in charge.

In a 1994 biography of Landes, published by University of Oklahoma Press, author Sandra Haarsager chronicles Landes’ work as a reformer and her re-election loss to a British-born theater operator named Frank Edwards, a political unknown backed by a campaign war chest. The biographer notes Edwards refused to debate Mayor Landes on the grounds that it would be “manifestly hard” for a man to debate “a hostile or infuriate woman” and to answer “the questions that are encased in your pent-up bosom.” She lost re-election by 19,000 votes.

After the election, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran a photograph of the victorious Edwards looming over his wife with the caption illustrating the restoration of order as the new mayor “receives the first signal of his success – an acknowledging curtsy of obeisance from his wife.”

But the new mayor did not last long. A 1931 recall petition against Edwards that required 25,000 signatures gathered more than 200,000. In a special election, he was recalled by a vote of 125,000 to 15,000.

Landes was hopeful, but realistic, about the future: “Women now wield considerable power along political lines, and I believe each succeeding year for some time to come will find them wielding that power more effectively. But … at present, men in general are not ready to yield to women the privilege and right of holding high political office.”

She died in 1943, not long after her 75th birthday. Washingtonians would go on to elect Catherine May as the first woman to represent their state in the U.S. Congress in 1958. In 1977, Washington voters backed Dixy Lee Ray – who campaigned on the slogan “Little Lady Takes On Big Boys” – as their first woman governor. Patty Murray was voted into the U.S. Senate in 1992 and has been reelected four times; Washington’s junior senator, Maria Cantwell, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2000 and re-elected twice since. When Gov.
Christine O’Grady Gregoire was sworn into office in 2005, Washington became the first state in the nation with three women serving as governor and senators.

As America’s first big-city mayor, Landes tested the waters for her successors, including Patience Sewell Latting. In an article published 90 years ago in the Woman Citizen, Landes summed up her enthusiasm for women in public office: “To be in some degree a guiding force in the destiny of a city, to help lay the foundation stones for making it good and great, to aid in advancing the political position of women, to be the person to whom men and women and children look for protection against lawlessness, to spread the political philosophy that the city is only a larger home – I find it richly worthwhile!”


Editor’s note: Oklahoma is rich with history, lore and fun facts, but some of them aren’t quite factual. In this series, M.J. Alexander hunts for the accuracy – or lack thereof – behind some of our state’s stories.

 

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Calendar

April 2019

Meet all the Princesses at The Oklahoma City Fairytale Ball. This magical event is full of memorable moments you won't want to miss! Dance with Cinderella; read with Rapunzel; share sweet...

Cost: $25-$60

Where:
La Bella
6701 W Wilshire Blvd
Oklahoma City, OK  73132
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Sponsor: Pretty Princess Parties & Project Princess
Telephone: 405-777-2411
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Cost: Free

Where:
Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
1 Nature Place
McKinney, TX  75069
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Sponsor: Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
Telephone: 972.562.5566
Contact Name: Stephanie Jennings
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Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
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Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
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Saviour is a pop-classical oratorio which takes its audience from creation through resurrection and is a picture of God pursuing His people. Its unique and powerful music will showcase the Voices...

Cost: Free

Where:
Crossings Community Church - OKC Campus
14600 North Portland Avenue
Oklahoma City, OK  73134
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Sponsor: Crossings Community Church
Telephone: 405-302-1258
Contact Name: Lori Bunyar
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Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

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Oklahoma City, OK  73111
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The Annual Mentorship Exhibition features pieces from Oklahoma City high school students that visit the Artspace studio each month. Throughout the duration of the program, the students engage with...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
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Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

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Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
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Sit down with the Mod Quad Collective creatives for a fun afternoon of bunny making! Come and go. Tickets on our website.

Cost: $15 per person

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
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Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
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Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

The Annual Mentorship Exhibition features pieces from Oklahoma City high school students that visit the Artspace studio each month. Throughout the duration of the program, the students engage with...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
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Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
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Oklahoma City Community College's Paul W. Sechrist Signature Lecture Series will feature David Grann, the New York Times bestselling author of Killers of the Flower Moon. This lecture is free...

Cost: Free

Where:
OCCC Visual and Performing Arts Center Theater
7777 S May Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73159
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Sponsor: Oklahoma City Community College
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Grab a friend and join us as we celebrate the launch of our 2019 Summer Collection.  Hosted with influencers Aubrey @thedandyliar, Jen @houseofkubes, and OKC's local rental clothier,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kendra Scott
5810 N Classen Blvd #2
Oklahoma City, OK  73118
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Sponsor: Kendra Scott
Telephone: 405.241.4203
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The National Summit on Homeland Security Law, 2019, in collaboration with the American College of Environmental Lawyers (ACOEL), is bringing to you two days of programming presented by homeland...

Cost: $0-$125

Where:
Oklahoma City University School of Law
800 N Harvey Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
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Sponsor: Oklahoma City University School of Law
Telephone: 405-208-6300
Contact Name: Allison Rabon
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Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

The Annual Mentorship Exhibition features pieces from Oklahoma City high school students that visit the Artspace studio each month. Throughout the duration of the program, the students engage with...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
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As a local business, amshot typically focuses on IT services and software development, but our team is also passionate about supporting the local art community. With this in mind, we created...

Cost: $5

Where:
amshot
428 Dean A McGee Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
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Sponsor: amshot
Telephone: 405.594.7642
Contact Name: Lexi Belvis
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  Verbode Urban Core Artists: Local art show to benefit The Homeless Alliance opens at Verbode on April 18 A new art show, Verbode Urban Core Artists, will benefit The Homeless...

Cost: Free

Where:
Verbode Urban Core Artists
415 North Broadway, Suite 101
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
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Sponsor: Verbode, Valor Bank, Hive Design Team
Telephone: 405.604.7947
Contact Name: Christie Owen
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Michael Sims established The Lawrence Lithography Workshop in 1979 in Lawrence, Kansas, as a contract printing and teaching facility for local and regional artists. He will show a collection of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
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Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
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In anticipation of the 2019 grand opening of The McKnight Center for the Performing Arts, New York Philharmonic Principal Trumpet Christopher Martin will join the Oklahoma State University Wind...

Cost: $10

Where:
Seretean Center
132 Seretean Center
Stillwater, OK  74078
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Sponsor: McKnight Center for the Performing Arts
Telephone: 405-744-9999
Contact Name: Katy Fabrie
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Just in time for tax season, Carpenter Square Theatre presents “Death Tax,” Lucas Hnath’s darkly comic tale about death and taxes and how we live with both.  ...

Cost: $5-$25

Where:
Carpenter Square Theatre
800 W. Main
Oklahoma City, OK  73106
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Sponsor: Carpenter Square Theatre
Telephone: 405-232-6500
Contact Name: Rhonda M. Clark
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Together with Elk Valley Brewing Co, we're bringing you a new VHS series here in Oklahoma City. Welcome to 'VHS GRINDHOUSE'! These screenings will be presented in glorious VHS...

Cost: Free

Where:
Elk Valley Brewery
1210 N. Hudson Avenue
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
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Sponsor: VHSANDCHILL
Telephone: 405-503-0050
Contact Name: Sean Peel
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The Annual Mentorship Exhibition features pieces from Oklahoma City high school students that visit the Artspace studio each month. Throughout the duration of the program, the students engage with...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

The National Summit on Homeland Security Law, 2019, in collaboration with the American College of Environmental Lawyers (ACOEL), is bringing to you two days of programming presented by homeland...

Cost: $0-$125

Where:
Oklahoma City University School of Law
800 N Harvey Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma City University School of Law
Telephone: 405-208-6300
Contact Name: Allison Rabon
Website »

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

Skirvin Jazz Club is an immersive live music experience at the historic Skirvin Hotel in downtown Oklahoma City. We transform The Park Avenue Grill a swinging jazz club. We stage the band...

Cost: Free

Where:
Park Avenue Grill @ The Skirvin Hotel
1 Park Avenue
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
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Sponsor: OkSessions
Telephone: 405.694.8843
Contact Name: Christian Pearson
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Just in time for tax season, Carpenter Square Theatre presents “Death Tax,” Lucas Hnath’s darkly comic tale about death and taxes and how we live with both.  ...

Cost: $5-$25

Where:
Carpenter Square Theatre
800 W. Main
Oklahoma City, OK  73106
View map »


Sponsor: Carpenter Square Theatre
Telephone: 405-232-6500
Contact Name: Rhonda M. Clark
Website »

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Show More...
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The Annual Mentorship Exhibition features pieces from Oklahoma City high school students that visit the Artspace studio each month. Throughout the duration of the program, the students engage with...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

Easter egg hunts will be held at 11 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m. for children ages 11 and under. Everyone is invited to meet and take pictures with the Easter Bunny! Egg hunts are free with regular Farm...

Cost: 11.50

Where:
Orr Family Farm
14400 S. Western Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK  73170
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Telephone: 405.799.3276
Contact Name: Lauren Daughety

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Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

Celebrate Easter with a trip to Andy Alligator’s Fun Park! On Saturday and Sunday, get $5 off an All-Day Pass with our Eggcellent Easter Special. All-Day Passes include Go-Karts,...

Cost: $23.95

Where:
Andy Alligator's Fun Park & Water Park
3300 Market Pl
Norman, OK  73072
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America’s largest interactive comedy murder mystery dinner show is now playing at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel. At The Dinner Detective, you’ll tackle a challenging crime while you...

Cost: $59.95

Where:
The Skirvin Hilton
1 Park Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
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Sponsor: The Dinner Detective
Telephone: 866.496.0535
Website »

More information

Just in time for tax season, Carpenter Square Theatre presents “Death Tax,” Lucas Hnath’s darkly comic tale about death and taxes and how we live with both.  ...

Cost: $5-$25

Where:
Carpenter Square Theatre
800 W. Main
Oklahoma City, OK  73106
View map »


Sponsor: Carpenter Square Theatre
Telephone: 405-232-6500
Contact Name: Rhonda M. Clark
Website »

More information

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