An Oklahoma Outlaw Speaks for Women’s Rights

by Helene Swanson

          For the past few days I have been pondering a number of things, in particular, how much coming to Oklahoma has meant to me. Every time I start to write I fondly look down at my wedding ring, a family heirloom. My mother-in-law Katrina gave the ring to my husband to give to me to demonstrate the family legacy, a family duty to serve God and the Church. The ring once the wedding band her grandfather the Rev. Samuel Gardner Welles gave to her grandmother. This same grandfather who had a parish in Chelsea, Oklahoma who under the threat of being tarred and feathered was later run out of Oklahoma for giving Holy Communion to a Black priest at the alter rail. They left in the middle of the night under the cover of a moon light sky. My husband shared that whenever I was troubled to know that many before us had also made great sacrifices. Social justice has always been important to the family. Another relative, a great great uncle had been run out of antebellum Vicksburg for preaching abolition. 

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Picture of moon over the Arkansaw River by Jenk, Oklahoma.  Photo Credit:  Helene Swanson

          So following a long line of social justice activist this pilgrimage comes naturally to me. My pilgrimage is part of my discernment process as I too step into the family shoes. For those of you unfamiliar with the nomenclature of The Episcopal Church discernment is the process one uses to explore their calling to the priest-hood. So as I walk through Oklahoma the connections run deep, and the beauty of both the landscape and her people inspires me.

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Windmill on the backroad from Prague to Jenks.  Photo Credit: Helene Swanson

          I have met a number of folks and from a wide variety of backgrounds, one fellow a dear gent who identified himself as a former bad boy who got into trouble in his youth was very clear on how he felt about the government being involved in an issue of privacy. His thinking is inline with the Supreme Court which made the ruling in Roe v. Wade, a woman’s health decision one of privacy which is why when those who claim that the Equal Rights Amendment will give women the right to have abortion is a false statement. I invite you to watch this provocative video of An Oklahoma Outlaw Speaks Up. 

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Oklahoma Outlaw Nazi Tattoo Photo Credit: Helene Swanson

          Next many thought that we would not get traction here but we have. Thanks to the assistance of a number of folks who stepped forward. So I am happy to report that the folks who participated in the coalition’s meeting with both Senators Colburn and Inhofe gave a superb presentation. In face Senator Colburn’s staff member Craig Smith said that the Senator was for gender equality. But when pressed if he was going to co-sponsor S.J. Res 15 – the Three State Strategy for the Equal Rights Amendment he said it was broad and they were looking into the issues it would affect.

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 The Oklahoma Coalition of Equal Rights Amendment Activist. Backrow Erma Steward, Nathaniel Batchelder, Frontrow Pat Riegler, Helene Swanson, and Margaret Cox.  Photo Credit: Sarah

          As a follow-up to these meeting Katrina’s Dream will be forwarding Eileen Davis of Women-Matter’s paper on Roe V. Wade and as we identify other misconceptions that were used in the past to promote fear and are completely unfounded we will continue to pass these on to all we have met with thus far. 


State Senator Connie Johnson and Helene Swanson join forces at the August 26, 2014, Women’s Equality Day Vigil at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, Oklahoma City, OK.  Photo Credit: Margaret Cox

          Also thanks to the staff of Senator Al McAffrey and Senator Connie Johnson it looks like we have a resolutions that will be introduced in the upcoming sessions that will call for Oklahoma to Ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. I’m delighted to say that our new found friends will be working hard on moving Oklahoma forward.

          Lastly a piece of trivial – Oklahoma is the only state where a Broadway musical is the official state song. The words to the first two lines are appropriate as it relates to the Equal Rights Amendment.

         They are: 

There’s never been a better time to start in life-

It ain’t too early and it aint too late!

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 Mural on a Freeway overpass in Oklahoma City.  Photo Credit:  Helene Swanson