Mirabeau Lamar Cole Looney (1871-1935)
Mirabeau Lamar Cole was born on January 16, 1871 in Talladega, Alabama to William Isaac Cole and Martha Ann Nixon Cole. Her namesake was Mirabeau B. Lamar, who was the second president of the Republic of Texas, and her love for government stemmed from her early fascination with her father’s law books. She grew up in Texas, and like most upper middle-class girls of her time, also studied music.
Marriage to Tourney Looney brought a reduction in status. They settled in Oklahoma in 1891, shortly after the previous Indian Territory became the Oklahoma Territory couple lived in Harmon County, in far southwest near the Texas Panhandle. She had borne five children in twelve years when her husband died suddenly. To support her young family, she taught music in her home – and also filed a homestead claim. Unmarried women could quality for 160 acres of free land, providing that they lived on it for five years, and she homesteaded mile from the town of Hollis.
Looney sold her musical instruments to buy a team of mules, built a sod house, fenced in her land, and planted 20 acres of crops. She received the deed to her land in 1906, a year prior to Oklahoma’s 1907 statehood. Once she owned the land, she moved the family into Hollis so that her children could attend a better school. There she began an insurance and real-estate business, and in 1912, was elected the Registrar of Deeds. She followed that with two terms as County Treasurer, as well as two terms as County Clerk.
When Oklahoma women won full voting rights in 1918, Mirabeau Lonney was in a perfect position to run for the legislature. A staunch Democrat, she won the Harmon County portion of the district by a 3 to 1 margin – and Greer County, where her opponent lived, by 2-1. She and a Michigan woman tied that year for the title of the nation's third female senators; the first two were in Utah and Arizona.
Local newspapers reported that Senator Looney appeared in the Senate wearing a brown suit and "smart" hat with only a little lace. "It is easy to prophesy," a colleague said, "that she will prove a good sport, cooperate well, work hard, realize her mistakes with a smile and never weep." A strong advocate for women, she was known to reply to cliques that a woman's place was in the home, by asking: "Eating what?"
Not one to shy away from controversy, she quickly became known for her leadership in the impeachment of Governor Jack Walton, who had gained a reputation for corruption when he appointed oil millionaires to head the state schools and accepted support from the Klu Klux Klan. He was removed from office, and Looney added to her reputation as a reformer.
It was not uncommon then to pass a state bar examination without going to law school, and Looney’s experience in business and in the legislature allowed her to be was admitted directly to the practice of law by the Oklahoma Supreme Court in 1923. By then she had served three terms in the Senate. After an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate, her western Oklahoma constituents returned Looney to the state Senate in the 1926 election. Age 59 when she completed that term, she died on September 3, 1935 in Oklahoma City, the state capitol. Her casket was placed in state in the Capitol rotunda. Her image was placed on a memorial quilt, which hangs at the Oklahoma Historical Society.
Image credit: The Oklahoma State Senate Historical Preservation Fund, Inc.