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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

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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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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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 »

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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 »

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

The OSU Symphony Orchestra will conclude the 2018-19 season with Schubert's monumental and majestic Symphony No. 9 in C ("The Great"). The concert opens with The European Anthem,...

Cost: General Admission: $10; Students & Seniors: $7

Where:
Oklahoma State University Department of Music
132 Seretean Ctr
Stillwater, OK  74078
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Sponsor: Oklahoma State University Department of Music
Telephone: 405.744.6133
Contact Name: Dr. Thomas Dickey
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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

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

Potbelly Sandwich Shop is giving back to the local neighborhood with Feed Your Smile, a fundraiser supporting Concordia Life Care Community.  Show this flyer on your smartphone or...

Cost: Free

Where:
Potbelly Sandwich Shop
8500 N Rockwell Ave
OKC, OK  73132
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Sponsor: Potbelly Sandwich Shop
Telephone: 405-792-5112
Contact Name: Katy Fabrie
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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

RexFest will feature an interactive art exhibit called a luminarium created by Architects of Air. From April 25-28, visitors can walk through the inflatable sculpture, which disperses light and...

Cost: $8 for kids; $10 for adults; $30 for families of four

Where:
Together Square
400 W Sheridan Avenue
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Delta Dental

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

Show More...
Show Less...

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

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

RexFest will feature an interactive art exhibit called a luminarium created by Architects of Air. From April 25-28, visitors can walk through the inflatable sculpture, which disperses light and...

Cost: $8 for kids; $10 for adults; $30 for families of four

Where:
Together Square
400 W Sheridan Avenue
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Delta Dental

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A Sporting Chance will host the 25th annual Track and Field Meet at Branson Junior High in Branson, Missouri. A Sporting Chance provides year-round sports and recreation programs designed for those...

Where:
Branson Junior High
263 Buccaneer Boulevard
Branson, MO  65616
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Sponsor: A Sporting Chance
Telephone: 404-314-2188
Contact Name: Hannah Schachinger

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Shop over 200 vendors at this indoor event with everything from vintage furniture, retro and mid-century decor to handmade goods, antiques, industrial finds and architectural salvage!

Cost: $5 at the door, 13 and under free

Where:
Heritage Place
2829 S. MacArthur
Oklahoma City, OK  73128
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Sponsor: Junk Hippy
Contact Name: Kristen Grandi
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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

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

RexFest will feature an interactive art exhibit called a luminarium created by Architects of Air. From April 25-28, visitors can walk through the inflatable sculpture, which disperses light and...

Cost: $8 for kids; $10 for adults; $30 for families of four

Where:
Together Square
400 W Sheridan Avenue
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Delta Dental

More information

This one-day festival is rooted in the printing of large-scale woodblocks carved by local Oklahoma artists. We bring in a 5-ton steamroller and print pre-carved blocks throughout the day on Tyvek...

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
Contact Name: Evan
Website »

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Andy Alligator's is celebrating teachers! On Saturday and Sunday, teachers with a valid ID will receive a FREE All-Day Pass and $5 off for each family member! An All-Day Pass includes...

Cost: Teachers receive a FREE All-Day Pass; family members get $5 off

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
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Get a sample of the nightlife of Spain at Tulsa Botanic Garden's "Viva La Vida." The Garden is bringing star chef Jamie Bissonnette (Toro restaurants in Boston, NYC, Bangkok and...

Cost: $250

Where:
Tulsa Botanic Garden
3900 Tulsa Botanic Dr
Tulsa, OK  74127
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Sponsor: Tulsa Botanic Garden
Telephone: 918-289-0330
Contact Name: Lori Hutson
Website »

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2nd annual gathering of "The Big Lebowksi" fans at The Dude Abides OKC All Oklahoma City Urban Achievers, Abiders and Coen Brothers fans are invited to join us at Fassler Hall OKC and...

Cost: Free, contests have entry fee

Where:
Fassler Hall
421 NW 10th
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
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Sponsor: Revolve Productions
Telephone: 405.810.6977
Contact Name: Tobi Coleman
Website »

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