There is a little rectangular shaped park just south of downtown, where Peters and Alameda streets intersect in the Miller Historic District. The City Parks Department named the park after June Benson, the first woman to serve as Mayor of Norman. The park was established in honor of Benson’s work as policy committee chairman of the Community Development Block Grant program from 1972 to 1981. The program administered federal funds to low and moderate-income neighborhoods. Benson’s major contribution was her financial oversight; she made sure funds from the program were used for the targeted neighborhoods rather than being funneled into city projects. June Benson started her political career in the early 1950s, when most women chose to stay at home and raise their children in the growing affluence of post-World War II America. June Tompkins Benson was a homemaker and mother, but she also had a penchant in public service.
June Tompkins was born in Granite, Oklahoma on November 6, 1915. In 1933, she enrolled at the University of Oklahoma, where she studied in the Department of Government. After she graduated in 1937, she continued her education and received her master’s degree in 1940. Her graduate thesis was entitled, “Election Practices in Oklahoma.” In 1940 she married University of Oklahoma Government professor, Oliver Benson. With the United State’s entrance into the Second World War in 1941, Oliver Benson enlisted into the Navy as yeoman 3rd class, he soon became a commissioned officer. He trained in the Japanese language at Boulder Colorado. After training, the Navy then ordered him to the Caroline Island. The Bensons moved back to Norman after the war in 1946, where Oliver Benson became head of the Department of Government.
Purcell, Chickasaw Nation, was bustling with activity on the morning of April 22, 1889, the day of the opening of the unassigned lands for settlement in what is now central Oklahoma. The small town of barely four hundred people swelled to over 2000 in the weeks leading up to the landrun; advertisements for free land circulated through out the United States and Europe. At the end of the 1880s, Oklahoma Territory was becoming one of the last places to establish a home on the “frontier.” Railroad interest helped to persuade the federal government to open Indian lands, new settlement would improve business on recently finished lines through the Territories. Purcell was established as a railroad town in 1887 when the Atchison, Topeka, Santa Fe (AT&SF) completed their line from Kansas to Texas and established a depot in the Chickasaw Nation. Town lots in Purcell went up for sale on April 5, 1887, and a post office was soon established. Purcell was the only town on the border of the unassigned lands; land-seekers waited patiently in Purcell for the opening on April 22.
The men and women who sought free land came from different economic backgrounds, from different cultures, and from different regions of the world, all looking for a new life. On the day of the opening, they positioned their horses and wagons on the boundaries of the unassigned lands. There they waited for the signal at 12 noon of April 22 to race toward the marked 160 acre parcels up for grabs; many scouted their favorite section before the run. For some, who chose not to travel by horse and wagon, a special train waited at Purcell’s depot. Passengers planned to “jump off” as the train slowed to a stop at Norman Station, which was 25 miles to the north. It wasn’t only agricultural land up for grabs. The Santa Fe sent out their engineers in advance of the opening to mark off townsites along the route. They marked off three towns through central Oklahoma-- Norman, Oklahoma City, and Guthrie. Those who staked town lots were businessmen and women, entrepreneurs looking for a new start, looking for economic opportunity. Edward P. Ingle exemplifies such a person. Ed Ingle boarded the AT&SF passenger car waiting at the Purcell Depot just before 10 a.m. on April 22, 1889. The overcrowded train slowly left the depot chugging its way toward Norman Station. The engineer paced the speed of his train to arrive at Norman at the designated start time of 12 noon.
Before Ingle moved to Purcell in 1888, he was a farmer by trade. He was born in Staffordshire, England on September 7, 1858. His family immigrated to Pennsylvania in 1865, where they took up farming. Soon after settling in Pennsylvania, the family started moving west, they established farms in two different areas of Illinois and finally in Arkansas. In Arkansas, Ingle’s father, George, died from a gunshot wound during a confrontation with local miners. Edward P. Ingle married Effie Dorrance in 1880. The newlyweds established a farm in Illinois, and in 1886, they bought a farm in Cowley Co. Kansas. Ingle, like many seeking new opportunities continued to move westward. In 1888, he moved his growing family from Kansas to Purcell, Chickasaw Nation.
Ingle, along with Albert Rennie, Delbert L. Larsh, Pryor Adkins, Charles T. Gorton, John Helvie, Thomas R. Waggoner and brothers, Tyler and George Blake were members of the Norman Townsite Company (NTC). Delbert L. Larsh, Santa Fe station agent in Purcell, a man who understood the opportunities of being in on the ground floor of establishing a new town, organized the first meeting of the NTC on April 2, twenty days before the land opening on the April 22. Larsh invited men of varying backgrounds to organize the new town of Norman. Pryor Adkins and Charles T. Gorton were Chickasaw cattlemen, John Helvie, was a Santa Fe engineer. Thomas R. Waggoner was Purcell’s RR depot’s chief clerk and cashier. Brothers Tyler and George Blake were pharmacists and Edward P. Ingle, noted in 1888 as publisher of the Purcell Register. Ingle left the hardscrabble life of a farmer and took up the pen of a publisher when he moved to Purcell. Lawyer, Albert Rennie, drew up a map of Norman assigning streets and town lots.
On July 10th, 1934, University of Oklahoma student, Marian Mills, died in the apartment of Mrs. Hazel Brown, cook for Delta Upsilon’s fraternity. Marian’s death resulted from a botched abortion. On July 13th, a murder warrant was issued for Neal Myers, University of Oklahoma pharmacy student. The murder of Marian Mills made sensational headlines in newspapers across the country, where articles described Marian as a beauty queen and most popular girl on campus. The Lewiston Evening News headlined “Most Beautiful Co-Ed.” Evidently actor Frederic Marsh traveled to the University of Oklahoma to bestow such an honor on Marian. Ms. Mills was also the daughter of university professor, Albert Mills.
Marian Mills’s abortion was not an anomaly for the 1930s; abortions were at an all time high during the economic depression. Oklahoma specifically had a high abortion rate. In 1938, Mrs. Virgil Brown of the Maternal Health Center in Oklahoma City claimed that there were most likely 12, 936 abortions in Oklahoma City that year. She arrived at these figures in a rather unscientific way. She claimed that of the 654 women who used her clinic, 213 had 371 abortions. She calculated that there were 22,000 childbearing women in Oklahoma City. By using her ratio, she concluded that there must have been 12, 936 city abortions. Regardless of Mrs. Brown’s unsubstantiated mathematical approach to the problem, other sources indicated a high number of abortions preformed on Oklahoma City women.
In early America, following the principles of federalism, abortion laws and issues of women’s health resided in the states. Even though there was an increase in federal influence in the 1930s, states kept their power over women’s health. Typically, states still followed the practices of English common law set forth in the English colonies that rendered women’s right to an abortion as legal. The rule used in common law was called the “quickening rule,” where it was thought that a fetus could not be aborted after quickening, or the first movement of the fetus. This rule was made into American law starting in Connecticut in 1821, when the state made it a crime to abort after quickening. Other states followed changing the laws to criminalize before quickening. States continued to “tweak” the abortion law and in 1916, New York State made it criminal for attempting an abortion, even if the women involved was not pregnant. Oklahoma altered the law to state that the women involved in an abortion had to be pregnant. So, the issue of abortion, as stated in English common law, was rewritten over time in the states to mean different things but as the laws evolved, each state took a harsher stand and criminalized the act. The reason varied to why in the early 19th century abortion became a crime. One principal reason was the high mortality figures for women who had abortions; the safety of the medical procedure for abortion varied and many women died under un-sterile and unsafe procedures by many incompetent abortionists.
Tucked into the farmland south of the Canadian River, east of the Goldsby exit off I-35, is Adkins Hill Road, a rural stretch of two lane highway named for one of Norman’s prominent entrepreneurs, Pryor V. Adkins.
The isolated highway stretches through the countryside east of the freeway into McClain County, where it angles southeast up an incline onto a hill that looks north over the South Canadian River and into Norman. Very few people, who travel Adkins Hill Road in the old Chickasaw Nation, are aware of Pryor V. Adkins or his significance to the economic development of Norman, Oklahoma after settlement in 1889.
Pryor V. Adkins was born in Tennessee in 1841. He first married in 1859 to Phariba Jane Hughett in Scotts County, Tennessee. At the onset of the Civil War in 1861, Adkins joined the 2nd Regiment Tennessee Infantry; the Regiment fought for the Union cause. After the War, Phariba and Adkins divorced. In 1865, Pryor Adkins married Elizabeth Byrd in Tennessee. They settled down and started a family; eventually raising six sons, four would live to adulthood. In 1880, Adkins moved his family westward in search of economic opportunities. They settled in Sebastian County Arkansas, with five boys ranging in age 4 to 14. At the time, son, Columbus D. (C.D.) Adkins, was 12 years old.
Somewhere between Sebastian County, Arkansas, which abutted Indian Territory and the Choctaw lands to the west, young C.D. met Sarah Jane McKinney, who was ¼ Choctaw. On January 25, 1886, C.D. and Sarah were married at Sans Bois, Indian Territory. Soon afterward, Pryor Adkins once again moved his family westward. In the spring of 1886, the Adkins family camped in the vicinity of Norman. The most likely camping place was “Norman’s Camp,” a spring on Bishop’s Creek where surveyor, Abner Norman camped in 1873, and where Montford T. Johnson’s cowboys camped while guarding Johnson’s livestock on the Arbuckle Trail. (The spring/camp was located near the intersection of Lindsay and Porter.)
The Adkins family ultimately located south of the South Canadian River in the Chickasaw Nation in 1886. C.D. Adkins marriage to a woman with Choctaw linage qualified the family to lease land from the Chickasaws. According to the Adkins family history, the land was ”beautiful indeed with acres of wild flowers, vast forests and pasture land for miles and miles, where wild animals roamed. This was the paradise they sought.” Regardless of the somewhat overrated attributes contributed to the land south of the Canadian River, Adkins took advantage of the natural resources available to him; He and his boys cut and bailed prairie grass on land that is now Norman. Through their lease with the Chickasaw Nation, the family acquired several thousand acres of grazing land, and built a log home on the hill in the middle of their new “paradise.” Below their Hill on the South Canadian, Adkins and his boys established a ferry business; the area was known for years as Adkins’ crossing. Eventually, the first bridge built across the river was at this crossing. (24th Ave. SW). The family also established a corn meal mill and a lumber mill at the bottom of the hill.
Sue Schrems is the author of two books and numerous published articles on Oklahoma and the American West. Schrems, along with Vernon Maddux are also the authors of Norman, 1889-1949, and Norman's Navy Years, 1942-1959.