This Week in Sapulpa History – First Lady Tours Oklahoma

Rachel Whitney, Curator, Sapulpa Historical Museum

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote “My Day,” which became a newspaper column six days a week, for nearly 30 years. “She did not keep a regular diary and her extant appointment books are woefully incomplete. Thus ‘My Day’ is the only consistent existing account of her public actions.”

The Sapulpa Herald printed on Wednesday, March 3: “First Lady on Tour.” As Washington, “announced the following itinerary for her southern lecture tour from March 4 to March 26. March 6, New Orleans and Baton Rouge; March 8, Fort Worth; March 10, Shreveport; March 12, Alva, Okla.; March 13, Oklahoma City; March 15, Tulsa; March 17, Durant; March 19, Houston; March 20, Austin; March 21, Dallas; March 22, Little Rock; March 23, Birmingham; March 24, Jackson, Miss; March 25, Knoxville.”

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Taken from “My Day,” she wrote the following journal entries about her visit to Oklahoma. “Oklahoma City…We were rapidly escorted across Fort Worth this morning from one train to another on our way to Oklahoma, and there have been small and friendly crowds at some stations,” her journal stated during the visit on Thursday, March 11.

The next day, her journal had: “Alva, Okla.…When we got out at Perry, yesterday there was quite a crowd there to greet us and in practically every town that we came through on the drive to Alva people came out to wave their welcome. This always surprises me for to this day it is hard for me to remember that the wife of the President rates any particular attention, but I know it means a kindly feeling towards my husband and am extremely grateful for the welcome which has been accorded me everywhere…”

First Lady in Oklahoma, Sapulpa Herald, March 12, 1937

Sapulpa Herald had reprinted an article from Alva on March 12. “First Lady is received by Oklahomans with Great Enthusiasm.” In the article, it recalled that the First Lady “relented her determination not to hold a press conference, and invited in reporters. Instead, she interviewed them at length about Oklahoma people, customs, economic conditions, and similar subjects.”

First Lady in Creek County, Sapulpa Herald, March 13, 1937

She further wrote: “Oklahoma City…The roads were rather muddy and slippery so we were rather late in reaching El Reno. Because of the cold, the ceremonies were held in the high school auditorium instead of being held outside the little house which the National Youth Administration has reconditioned as a youth center. I spoke a few minutes there…It seems to me that this activity of the NYA is particularly valuable, and I am very glad to know that they have a number of these youth centers throughout the state…”

The following entry, she wrote: “Tulsa, Okla., We were awakened this morning by a most beautiful sunrise and I turned over and went to sleep again feeling much encouraged…The Arkansas River seems to wind in and out of sand flats and all through the city there seem to be trees along the streets. A tower stands out not very far from here which reminds me somewhat of the Chrysler Building in New York City, and it seems curious to see the skyscrapers when in several places I have noticed the storm cellars into which people go when the wind becomes too unruly…”

An additional journal entry was added about Tulsa: “…The Osage country is hilly, much of the land is stony though in the bottoms it looks extremely fertile…The Osages are the second largest tribe in the country because they seem to have had a wise chief who arranged with the government that they could never sell their mineral rights which are owned by the entire tribe. Oil and gas are everywhere land…I could sit in the Council House with a blanket about me and look like one of their own women! It was certainly a great comfort and I was glad to add a blanket given me by Chief Lookout over my knees!…”

This week in Sapulpa history, a First Lady made a visit to Creek County. On March 17, 1937, First Lady Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt came to visit Creek County during her First Lady on Tour schedule. “Mrs. Roosevelt is in Tulsa; visits Creek County Wednesday,” March 17. “Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, First Lady of the Land, will go to Bristow via Sapulpa from Tulsa to dedicate the Bristow NYA youth center.”

Tulsa Visit Over, Sapulpa Herald, March 17, 1937

If her schedule allowed for time, she would make a brief stop in Sapulpa. “A biting wind gradually broke away near time for the address and the sun shone through the clouds as she spoke to the crowd. Raindrops fell during the early part of the program which commenced about an hour before the arrival of Mrs. Roosevelt.”

“Arrangements for Mrs. Roosevelt to dedicate Bristow’s $70,000 youth center made by Houston A. Wright, state NYA director. This will be the second of Oklahoma youth centers to be dedicated by Mrs. Roosevelt since her arrival in the state on a speaking tour.” The Creek County NYA supervisor, J.H. McCauley, invited all of Creek County’s NYA youth “present for the dedication and expected a large group of Sapulpans to be present, too.”

Sapulpans and members of Creek County were excited to meet with the First Lady. “American Woman: Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s trip to Oklahoma is eventful not only to Sooners but to the First Lady of the Land herself. Both are finding mutual interests.”

The event in Creek County was a big deal. Both pride and eagerness was in the air. “Flags down Dewey Avenue will flutter early tomorrow morning in honor of Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt who will pass through Sapulpa on route to a celebration in her honor at Bristow. While a definite hour for the arrival of her cavalcade here.”

Flags Wave, Sapulpa Herald, March 16, 1937
Need Transportation, Sapulpa Herald, March 16, 1937

“The First Lady was to dedicate a new NYA center at Bristow immediately after her arrival. Mrs. Roosevelt will be honor guest at a private luncheon in Bristow.”

Many visitors would arrive in Bristow. “Transportation for as many as 125 NYA youths is sought by leaders of this group from Sapulpa to the ‘Mrs. Roosevelt program’ tomorrow in Bristow. Unless Sapulpans furnish cars for the transportation of these youths they will not be able to attend the dedication of one of their NYA projects at Bristow.”

Creek County Welcomes First Lady, Sapulpa Herald, March 17, 1937

“Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, nation’s First Lady, graciously greeted a throng of people estimated at about 12,000 persons for the dedication services of the new NYA youth center, held in the Bristow park this morning. Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, First Lady of the Land, passed through Sapulpa at 9:30 this morning and waved at Sapulpans awaiting along flag-lined Dewey Avenue to see her. She was en route to Bristow where she dedicated the NYA center there at 10 o’clock. All schools were turned out so students could see Mrs. Roosevelt. Many local citizens went to Bristow for the dedication ceremony.”

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt on Klingensmith Park Amphitheater stage March 17, 1937. Bristowan Velma Collins presented the flowers and gift seen being held by First Lady Roosevelt. People identified on stage, in no order, are E.H. Black (then superintendent), Charles Beaver, Inez Dunaway, Mr. Schrader (then mayor), Velma Collins, and Kate Corey.

The First Lady walked through the building in Bristow, passing each room, that would be open to the public soon after its completion. “Various rooms over the building had been set up with types of activity in which the young people will participate after the building is completed. Everything was in operation as it will be. There is a large auditorium, manual training room, and other extra curricular activity rooms.

“After the tour, she was driven several yards from the building to the grandstand. Cheers went up from the crowd and everyone stood for patriotic singing.

“In her speech, Mrs. Roosevelt made reference to the building in saying, ‘I think that the depression has brought us a very good thing. It has made us know the needs of the young people and to know what they want-to better equip them. They happen to come to a time when they enter the working world in a period of change and a great many of them find that they will not be prepared for the adjustment of the times. The youth administration can begin to do this job for the youth of the nation and I think we are fortunate that we have started and have pointed the way to the young people to a useful citizenship.”

The Bristow welcoming committee included “Roy O. Kelly, L.B. Sneed, Bob Page, R. Wolfe, and H.E. Black-superintendent of Bristow schools, in addition to many others. Mrs. John Collins and Mrs. Black presented the gifts to Mrs. Roosevelt.”

Her journal stated after her visit here: “Shawnee, Okla…Our stay in Tulsa was very pleasant, busy of course, but I feel that we have made some friends and are carrying away a better knowledge of the State and more understanding of many things than I have had in the past. Promptly at nine this morning…we were off for Shawnee, stopping on the way at Sapulpa, Stroud, and Seminole, but making a real visit to Bristow! Here the youth center building is almost completed and we helped dedicate it. I feel that this program is working out very well in Oklahoma and I am particularly glad…” The end of her Oklahoma ended on a high note.

“Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was an American political figure, diplomat, and activist. She was the First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945, during her husband President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s four terms in office, making her the longest-serving First Lady of the United States. Through her travels, public engagement, and advocacy, she largely redefined the role of First Lady. Roosevelt then served as a United States Delegate to the United Nations General Assembly from 1945 to 1952, and took a leading role in designing the text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Her column or journal entry, “My Day” began on December 31, 1935 to September 26, 1962.

(Sapulpa Herald, March 3, March 12, 13, 15, 16, 17, 19, 1937; Democrat News, March 18, 1937, Sapulpa Free Press, March 19, 1937; Bristow Historical Society; Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project; Wikipedia)

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