A Constant Champion of Human Rights
Wanda Jo Peltier Stapleton
Nominated by Tom Guild
Mrs. Stapleton (Peltier while serving in the Oklahoma Legislature) was elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 1986 and served through 1996. She represented House District 93 in Oklahoma City.
Wanda Jo holds a bachelor of arts from Oklahoma Baptist University in English that she earned in 1963. She received her master’s in English from the University of Kansas in 1965.
Prior to running for elected office, she lobbied for the Equal Rights Amendment and helped organize the Oklahoma Women’s Political Caucus of which she served as chair 1980-1984. Peltier has published three books and has served a term as president of the Commission on the Status of Women. She is the mother of two children.
In 2007, Wanda Jo was interviewed for an Oral History Project on women of the Oklahoma Legislature. Here is a revealing excerpt illustrating Wanda Jo’s early interest in politics (before she thought about running for a public office):
Interviewer: How early did you get interested in politics?
Wanda Jo: Well, it was in the 1970’s when my husband and I lived on a farm near Macomb, Oklahoma. That’s when I learned from the League of Women Voters that there were some laws on the books that seriously affected women in my situation — that is, women working with their husbands in small businesses or in farming operations.
They told me that one of the laws said the husband is the head of the family. He can choose the place and the mode of residence and the wife will conform.
A second one was that Oklahoma is a separate property state as opposed to a community property state. In a community property state, the wife has the legal right to half of the property acquired during the marriage. But in a separate property state, the property belongs to the person who earned the money to buy it, and since the husband was the head of the household, that’s the automatic assumption that the husband owns the property.
So I got to thinking, “Well, if I died first, this property would belong to my husband free and clear with no questions asked, and if he died first, I would have to prove money or money’s worth to own my very own property.” So that’s when we got a will, and it’s a good thing we did because a few years later, he died of cancer and I would have been in a real mess without that will because of the laws on the Oklahoma books.
About that time, the Equal Rights Amendment was beginning to come up before the Oklahoma Legislature, and I thought “Now that’s what we need.” So I went with a group of women over to the Capitol to speak and to lobby for the Equal Rights Amendment, and we were so naïve. We thought if we looked good, if we smelled good, if we made sense, it was a done deal.
Well, about all we got at first were pats on the head — that is, until we organized. But that’s another story.
For being a constant champion of women’s rights and the rights of ordinary people everywhere, Wanda Jo Peltier Stapleton is nominated for his year’s Human Rights Award.
On December 10th, the Oklahoma Universal Human Rights Alliance will honor human rights heroes from around our great state. A recognition program will take place at the State Capitol. Wanda Jo Peltier Stapleton will be among those to be recognized. More information about the program can be found here: “Celebrate Human Rights.”
“The peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women….”
–From the Preamble to the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights