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  • Writer's pictureDennis McCaslin

Sequoyah County woman was first female elected as a county prosecutor in the state of Oklahoma in 1948

Although her political career was short-lived in term of time spent in office, the accomplishments of Amelia Patterson-Frye as a woman in Sequoyah County were both bold and historic for the times she lived.

A half Cherokee native, whose parents were residents of  Sebastian County until the late 1800s, Patterson-Ftrye matriculated from being a legal secretary in the office of her husband to nonchalantly running for the office of Sequoyah County prosecutor and winning election to that post in 1948 by surprising 2-1 margin of victory.

At the time of her election, Patterson-Frye was the first woman ever elected as a County Prosecutor in the state of Oklahoma. 

Tracing the Patterson family tree indicates her father and mother, Burnett Pryor Patterson and Amelia Harmon Patterson, were both born and raised in Arkansas. Her father was born in the Sebastian County community of Slaytonville in 1879 and her mother, a year younger, was from the area around Hackett. 

Burnett and Amelia, 23 and 22 respectively when they married in 1902, appears to have already moved to Oklahoma territory by the following year. In 1904 they were expecting their first child and on December 29 of that year, a daughter was born to the couple.

Complications however took the life of the young mother, and Burnett named his daughter Amelia in honor and memory of his wife. 

Burnett would remarry two and a half years later too Susa Maxson of Gentry, where he had moved after the death of his wife. Burnett and Susa relocated to Noel, Missouri sometime before 1910. The couple, engaged in the grocery business and later took up residence in both Denver and North Loup Nebraska.

As sometimes happens in cases where there are remarriages, half siblings and other considerations, there is often a disjointed history in what happened to certain individuals and how they ended up in geographically illogical places.


Despite being just two years of age when her father remarried in Gentry, there is no evidence showing how Amelia Iwound up back in Oklahoma. There is records of her doing secretarial work at a young age in Van Buren, and she graduated from Cumberland Law School in Lebanon, Tennessee while working in the law offices of her future husband as a legal secretary for 11 years before becoming a lawyer herself in 1935.

In 1947, Amelia married Roy Frye Sr. a widowed prominent attorney who was one of the descendants of a prominent line of Sequoyah County residents leading back to around the beginning of the Civil War era. Roy was a prominent attorney in Sallisaw for a number of years and it appears he and Amelia were married within a year of the death of his first wife. 

There was a sixteen-year age difference between Amelia and Roy. At the age of 44, having been a practicing attorney for over a dozen years, Amelia threw her hat into the ring for the job of Sequoyah County prosecutor in late 1947. Between the time she declared for the office and the election, her and Roy married. lending confusion on the ballot on election day because of the difference in names. 

Amelia was a staunch-Democrat, and Roy was an even stauncher Republican who was a delicate to the Republican National Convention right after the couple married. Their political differences were the talk of the town when they married, but the union between the pair endured almost three decades

 Amelia made an unsuccessful run for a spot as County Judge in 1938, losing to JT Brockman who held the office for the next decade. Her decision to run for County Prosecutor was basically a spur of the moment decision and the couple returned to Oklahoma just a few days before the primary election after minimal campaigning . Amelia made one speech, and told the people "she wanted the job and thought she could do it" sent out some literature through the mail.

On election Day she bested her opponent are R,O. Engel by the two to one margin.

When she took office, Amelia had never handled a criminal case, saying "that is just something I'll have to learn.

" I intend to do everything with the law says I must do. I'm going to do my best to be foreign and partial to everyone, to ask advice for anyone who can help me."

A newspaper article at the time said that Amelia and Roy were both part Cherokee Indian and their families have been prominent for many years in the area. Like many Cherokees they're descendants of the people who left their pastoral homes in the South to travel here over this door trail of tears."

The same newspaper article, while noting the historic nature of the election results, was undoubtably delivered with a little tongue in cheek editorializing from the publication.

The photo accompanying the article depicted the newly elected County Prosecutor in the kitchen of her home with the caption "Mrs Amelia Patterson Frye is the first woman elected to the post of county attorney in Oklahoma, but she still knows her way around the kitchen."

inside the article she was described as "an attractive brunette".

Approximately one year after election, Amelia shocked her supporters in early December when she resigned the office she had won, citing failing Health as the reason. She returned to private practice with her husband and Fred Campbell Jr of Sallisaw was name to succeed her at the courthouse.

She must have made a pretty good recovery from her health issues, as she lived another 27 years before dying in 1975 at the age of 71. 

Amelia Frye Patterson, who never had children, outlived her husband by four years and was buried next to him in a double plot in the massive Sallisaw Cemetery when she passed.

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