The Stillwater Public Library and Oklahoma State University Library are partnering to bring Oklahoma author Connie Cronley to Stillwater on March 30. Cronley will discuss her award-winning book “A Life on Fire: Oklahoma’s Kate Barnard,” which chronicles the life of the state’s first female politician and social reformer. Cronley will also discuss how Dr. Angie Debo inspired her to write it. She will speak and sign books at OSU at 3 p.m. and then at SPL at 6:30 p.m. Both events are free and open to the public.
Barnard was the first woman to be elected to state office as the commissioner of charities and corrections in 1907, 15 years before women were granted the right to vote. Cronley believes that this fact, among many other things, makes Barnard the most important woman in Oklahoma history.
“Kate dedicated herself to political and social reform on behalf of orphans, the mentally ill, the incarcerated and the poor, but her special interest was children,” Cronley said. “She influenced Oklahoma to enact laws that kept children out of the mines, the mills and the factories, to provide public education and to establish a juvenile justice system.”
It was Debo who first told Cronley about Barnard and inspired her to write “A Life on Fire.” Debo was Cronley’s friend and mentor.
“Dr. Debo – I never called her Angie – said she would like for me to write a biography of Kate; I agreed on the spot,” Cronley said. “Her passion burned like a flame, Angie told me. Kate Barnard passed a flame to Angie Debo, and she passed it to me.”
Using Debo’s footnotes in “And Still the Waters Run,” Cronley began her research on Barnard in the mid-1970s when she was still able to speak with people who knew Barnard. Her research took her to the National Archives and Library of Congress in Washington D.C., to Oklahoma universities and libraries, to Texas and even to Kirwin, Kansas where Barnard grew up.
Years went by, and Cronley’s life and career moved forward, but she was dedicated to keeping her promise to Debo by finishing the book. After retiring, she reacquainted herself with the research and published “A Life on Fire.”
Cronley hopes her book will make more people aware of Barnard and her legacy. She credits Barnard’s defense of Native American orphans being robbed of their property to her eventual downfall and the reason why not many people know about her.
“She fought a heroic but losing battle on behalf of Native Americans,” Cronley said. “It is the winners, not the losers, who get to write history.”
Emily States, an adult services librarian at SPL, thinks having Cronley speak about Barnard and Debo is a perfect way to conclude Women’s History Month.
“I never knew about Barnard until I read the review of Cronley’s book and purchased it for the library,” States said. “Her commitment to social and economic justice astounds me, and I’m so glad that her story is being told.”
Cronley will sign books following each event, and Bliss Books and Bindery will be on site with copies of “A Life on Fire” that will be available for purchase.
Sponsors include the OSU Library, OSU’s Center for Oklahoma Studies, the Stillwater Public Library and the Friends of the Stillwater Public Library.