Harriet J. Graham was an incredible woman. In 1964, she was the first female elected to the Kansas State Legislature from Sedgwick County. The lone female in the house, she served on the committees for Roads and Highways, Education, and Welfare. But when the chairman of the tax committee blocked her from serving, stating “women don’t know anything about taxes,” she became determined to fight gender discrimination. Soon after, she introduced a bill requiring equal pay for equal work, an Equal Rights bill, and an anti-discrimination bill. And when President Kennedy appointed a National Committee on the Status of Women, Governor Robert Docking appointed Harriet head of the Kansas commission where she lobbied for a legislative endorsement of the Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution. All during her active political career, she raised three children and served as leader of the Bluebirds, Campfire Girls, Cub Scouts, coached a girl’s softball team, and participated in community theatre. After her divorce in 1969, she earned a BA from WSU, and later earned an MA from the University of Kansas, and maintained her lifelong love of nature, bird-watching, and canoeing. She taught all of her children and grandchildren to respect Mother Nature and all her gifts, and to take time to view the world while seated in a canoe gliding silently on a river.
I never knew Harriet. But I know her legacy. And I know many people loved her and respected her. I attended her funeral service in May, a representative of WSU. I’d helped her family establish a memorial in her name at her alma mater. And I felt such joy at learning so much about one woman’s path from the people she touched. And I was moved when her friend of 45 years played the organ, one last serenade for her beloved friend. By the end of the service, I felt I carried a piece of Harriet within me. Her committment to seeking equality for others is a large reason I am the woman I am today. The ripple effect of her life has touched many women in the state of Kansas, whether they realize it or ever know of her. I am truly grateful.
At the end of her service, we were asked to select a packet of flower seeds from a large wicker basket. Take the seeds home and plant them. I selected a packet of sunflower seeds in honor of this inspiring woman. Today, Harriet’s flowers stand tall along our back fence, peeking into our neighbor’s yard and the field of milo behind us, their large heads following the Kansas sun. And whenever I see them through the kitchen window or gaze upon them from the deck, I remember the women I never knew, but will never forget. Thank you, Harriet J. Graham.