MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Columns

July 1, 2012

Patriotism, hospitality won votes for Robertson

— Alice Robertson had a reputation for hospitality at her beloved home on Agency Hill that she called Sawokla. She said this Creek word meant “gathering place,” and she made sure her home was exactly that. So she readily welcomed a group of Republican leaders who paid a call at her farm. Their mission was to convince her to run for Congress. She later wrote that she had been astonished when they asked that she consider running against Democrat W.W. Hastings in the 1920 election.

Women had just received the vote through a Constitutional amendment and were anxious to elect their own to office. There was no better known or better qualified Republican woman in the Third District (now the Second District) of Oklahoma than Alice Robertson.

Though skeptical at first of any hope for success, Alice finally agreed to make a run for Congress. Having been born in Indian Territory in 1854, and having worked for years in education and business, she had gained a reputation as a patriotic public servant. By age 66, she had seen and participated in nearly every aspect of Indian Territory history and politics.

But it wasn’t her political experience that won the election for Alice Robertson. It was her untiring hospitality. Her campaign slogan was “I am a woman. I am a Christian. I am a Republican.” But it could just as easily have been, “The coffee’s always on,” for Miss Alice had probably poured more cups of coffee than anyone in Muskogee. When an early morning fire in 1899 destroyed much of the downtown area, Alice kept a steady supply of hot coffee coming to the tired and cold firefighters working to contain the blaze.

Intensely patriotic, Alice had worked tirelessly in support of troops being sent to Cuba in the Spanish-American War. Many of those young men had been her students at Henry Kendall College, a school she had helped to establish. She was on hand to see them off as they boarded the Katy train in Muskogee.

Her reputation for assisting these Rough Riders won her the respect of their commander, Teddy Roosevelt. When he later became president, he appointed Alice as postmaster in Muskogee. After she left that post in 1913, Robertson bought her dairy farm on Agency Hill and opened a cafeteria in Muskogee, also called Sawokla.

Then, during World War I, as thousands of doughboys passed through Muskogee on the way to training bases in Texas, Alice and a young African American man named Harry who worked for her would load up her Ford with food and a huge pot of hot coffee and take it to the troops at the train station.

Alice and a crew of Red Cross volunteers met every troop train that passed through Muskogee. She also allowed soldiers and their families to eat for free in her cafeteria. Her compassion and generous hospitality were not forgotten by the voters when they went to the polls in November of 1920. They elected Alice Robertson to Congress as only the second woman in the United States to hold that position and the first woman to represent Oklahoma.

Reach Jonita Mullins at jonita.mullins@gmail.com.

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