A Life on Fire
Oklahoma's Kate Barnard
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
318 Pages | 6 x 9 | 13 b&w illus., 1 map
As a champion of the poor, workers, children, the imprisoned, and the mentally ill, Barnard advocated for compulsory education, prison reform, improved mental health treatment, and laws against child labor. Before statehood, she stumped across the Twin Territories to unite farmers and miners into a powerful political alliance. She also helped write Oklahoma’s Progressive constitution, creating what some heralded as “a new kind of state.”
But then she took on the so-called “Indian Question.” Defending Native orphans against a conspiracy of graft that reached from Oklahoma to Washington, D.C., she uncovered corrupt authorities and legal guardians stealing oil, gas, and timber rights from Native Americans’ federal allotments. In retaliation, legislators and grafters closed ranks and defunded her state office. Broken in health and heart, she left public office and died a recluse. She remains, however, a riveting figure in Oklahoma history, a fearless activist on behalf of the weak and helpless.
“Kate Barnard was a very impressive woman who found her way to advance the cause of Oklahoma Native Americans, women, and the oppressed.”—Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear, Principal Chief of the Osage Nation.
“Kate Barnard was a woman before her time. She was a leader to the disadvantaged of her era and a true warrior woman.”—Carmelita Wamego Skeeter, CEO of the Indian Health Care Resource Center of Tulsa
“Masterfully told, Connie Cronley’s popular biography of Kate Barnard will inspire a new generation to learn about the oratory, advocacy, and tenacity of Oklahoma’s first Commissioner of Charities and Corrections.”—Patricia Loughlin, author of Hidden Treasures of the American West: Muriel H. Wright, Angie Debo, and Alice Marriott
“An insightful biography of social reform activist Kate Barnard, Life on Fire also peels back the curtain on Oklahoma’s territorial politics, institutions, political personalities, theft of indigenous orphan rights, and corruption. Connie Cronley writes with grace, humor, and a deft hand of Barnard’s fire and ambition, her intellect and gift of oratory, her nervous energy and indefatigable work ethic, her moral core, blind spots, and hubris. The result is a wonderfully compelling read and an important contribution to our understanding of Oklahoma’s first female elected official, and the place and the era that bred her.”—Rilla Askew, author of Most American: Notes from a Wounded Place
"The story of Kate Barnard is as wonderful and heartbreaking as the story of Oklahoma itself. In this lively and thoroughly researched biography, Connie Cronley reintroduces us to this woman who embodied so many of the hopes and ideals of the new state, only to be ground down by the betrayal and disillusionment that followed.”—Randy Krehbiel, author of Tulsa, 1921: Reporting a Massacre
“This book is a must-read. The human and political environment of early Oklahoma thatKate Barnard faced was sobering and disturbing. Barnard was tenacious and relentless in alleviating the suffering of children, orphans, the weak and frail, and prisoners, and in challenging the system that poorly managed them. Sadly, now more than ever, Oklahoma needs Kate Barnards.”—Chad “Corntassel” Smith, former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and author of Leadership Lessons from the Cherokee Nation: Learn from All I Observe