Meet our Matriarch: Feisty Alice Robertson

A real pioneer, Alice Mary Robertson (1854-1931) is TU’s matriarch. Daughter of Presbyterian missionaries to the Creek Nation in Indian Lands, Arkansas, and born there herself, Alice staunchly advocated education for Native Americans. In 1885, she became president and chief fund-raiser for the Presbyterian School for Girls. Nine years later, her educational passion evolved into the coeducational Henry Kendall College.

Brave and outspoken, Robertson invested considerable energy and intellect in helping society. Her canteen for World War I soldiers became the first Red Cross chapter in Muskogee. Colonel Theodore Roosevelt personally noticed her efforts and, after he became president, appointed her Muskogee’s first Postmistress.

Congresswoman Alice Mary RobertsonTireless and apparently resistant to aging, Robertson was the second woman ever elected to Congress in a hard-fought battle against the incumbent just after she, herself, had earned the right to vote through the 19th amendment.

She was 67, an elderly woman by early 20th century standards. Paradoxically, the hard-hitting Congresswoman strongly opposed feminist groups and voted against bills that would have assisted maternity and childcare initiatives. Losing a second term in Congress to her predecessor, the unfaltering Robertson returned to Muskogee to work for the Veterans Hospital and the Oklahoma Historical Society.

In her later years, this adventurous missionary daughter became quite an entrepreneur and humanitarian. She used the dairy products from her working farm to supply a cafeteria she operated, but then fed lots of soldiers and their families for free.

Fortunately for TU, Mary Alice Robertson bequeathed her extensive personal library and family memorabilia to McFarlin Library. These include her grandfather’s and parents’ translations of the Bible into Creek.

Congresswoman Alice Robertson “Taking her Ford car and loading it with good things from her restaurant, candies, cigarettes, post cards and chewing gum...(she) set forth to be on time for every regular or special train that might carry a soldier. At first a strange spectacle, it was not long before the fame of Miss Alice extended to all the southwestern training camps and passing troops began to look forward to Muskogee and to the motherly woman who would greet them…”

From Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 10, No. 1 March, 1932
THE HON. ALICE M. ROBERTSON
by Grant Foreman

Visit http://www.lib.utulsa.edu/speccoll/collections/robertsonalice for more stories and photos of this valiant pioneer.