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Kate Richards O'Hare
Kate Richards O’Hare (1876-1948) was an American Socialist Party activist, most well known for her imprisonment during WWI. As the leader of the American Socialist Party’s Committee on War and Militarism, she delivered many speeches against the United States’ involvement in WWI across the nation.
On July 17, 1917, O’Hare was in Bowman speaking out against the war, when she said, “Any person who enlisted in the army of the United States for service in France would be used for fertilizer and that is all that he is good for,” and “The women of the United States were nothing more or less than brood sows to raise children to get into the army and be made into fertilizer.” These statements were enough to land her in a federal penitentiary. She was arrested for violating the Espionage Act of 1917, which criminalized interfering with the recruitment and enlistment of military personnel.
In December of 1917, O’Hare’s trial was held in Bismarck, where many Bowman citizens were called as witnesses for both sides of the case. During the trial, O’Hare contended that Jim Phelan, Bowman County banker and political boss was upset over business competition from the Nonpartisan League and was responsible for her arrest. She was convicted on the charge of willfully obstructing the U.S. enlistment services, and sentenced to five years in the Missouri State Penitentiary. There were no federal penitentiaries for women at that time.
Though O’Hare arrived in Missouri in April 1919, her sentence was commuted by President Woodrow Wilson in 1920, after a nationwide campaign for her release. She was later fully pardoned by President Calvin Coolidge. After her release from prison, O’Hare led the “Children’s Crusade” which was a cross country march to convince President Warren Harding to release others convicted under the Espionage Act of 1917. With the support of the new ACLU, the women and children marchers stood at the gates of the White House for nearly two months, before President Harding agreed to meet with them. This meeting led to the release of many of the prisoners convicted under the Espionage Act.
O’Hare continued to be involved in politics, but her notoriety gradually faded. She became an esteemed penal reform advocate, and even served as an assistant director of the California Department of Penology in 1939-1940.
In honor of Women's History Month, each week of March we will feature a brief story on a woman (or women) in history with a connection to our local area. If you know of someone we should write about, or would like more information, call or stop by the museum and let us know!