Kate Frank’s CV is impressive. She taught for 47 years and held leadership positions with the Muskogee and National Education Associations. Her dismissal by the Muskogee Board of Education brought support and funding from the National Education Association to fight her case, which she won on appeal.
Kate Frank was born in February 1890 in Missouri. Her parents were farmers, so she practically went to school. She began her teaching career in 1909 teaching eight grades in a one-room schoolhouse in a Missouri mining town, where she was also the janitor. To get her teaching certificate, she picked strawberries one summer to raise money, since she was only paid $30 a month as a teacher.
After moving to Oklahoma at the end of World War I, Frank was hired as one of the first teachers at West Junior High in Muskogee to teach business education, which opened in 1920. She moved to Muskogee Central High School, where she taught for nearly 40 years. years. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Southwest Teachers College in Springfield, Missouri, in 1924, then earned a master’s degree from the University of Missouri. She turned down several marriage proposals due to her devotion to her job and her school children.
In the 1930s, Frank served as president of the Muskogee Classroom Teachers Association. She helped organize the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) in 1934 and served as its first president two years later. As president, Frank began a series of studies to assess classroom organization, teacher compensation, school revenue, and tenure, though the proposals were not approved by the legislature. .
Frank was elected vice president of the National Education Association (NEA) in 1942 and 1943. When she refused to support a political candidate and previous agitation for teacher pay guarantees, the Muskogee Board of Education dismissed in 1943. She took the case to court, while NEA raised funds to pay her salary during her suspension. She was reinstated in 1945, and the extra funds helped establish the Kate Frank Legal Services Program, an advocacy fund for teachers needing help with legal matters concerning their employment.
The veteran teacher retired in 1956 but continued her advocacy for the rights of the elderly, serving on the board of directors of the state teachers’ pension system for 10 years. In 1958, she secured funding and opened a nine-story, 96-apartment building in Muskogee as a residence for retired teachers. Today, the apartments are still open to seniors.
Frank has received several awards and recognitions locally, stately and nationally. The annual OAS Service Excellence Award is named in his honor. In 1972, Frank was the first recipient to receive the National Retired Teacher of the Year Award, over 50 other state nominees, which she accepted from First Lady Pat Nixon. She continued her work on behalf of retired educators and senior Americans until her death in April 1982 at the age of 92.
The following year, she was inducted into the Oklahoma Women’s Hall of Fame. The NEA administers the Kate Frank/DuShane Fund, which provides legal support for teachers’ rights and education issues in state and federal trial and appellate courts. When pioneering educators are mentioned today, Frank’s name is always at the top of the list.
Dr. Edwyna Synar has been writing and speaking about women’s history for over 20 years. Her stories in this series can be found at http://rememberladies.weebly.com. A podcast of “Remember the Ladies Series” is also available on Spotify.