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Kate Richards O' Hare

Born March 26, 1876, Ada. Died January 10, 1948.

The early 1910s and ‘20s were a troubled time within America. Faced with threats from abroad, and having just finished a war, many Americans were fearful of the socialist movements that were sweeping the nation. Into this time of chaos stepped Kate Richards O’ Hare, a socialist speaker not afraid to express her opinions on the state of the nation. O’Hare was imprisoned for her efforts, starting her on a new path that would bring about great reforms to the American penal system.

Carrie Katherine Richards was born in 1876 in Ada, Ottawa County. Born into a devout family she joined many organizations such as the Christian Endeavor Society, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and the Florence Crittenton Missionary Society, which focused on helping others. She had wished to be a missionary, but as females were not allowed into the clergy at that time, pursued teaching instead. This career lasted only a few years when in 1895 Richards joined her father at Peerless Machine Works. There she began to learn about industrial unions and heard a speech given by "Mother" Jones, a prominent female socialist of the time. Jones inspired Richards to take up with the socialist party.

In 1901 Richards joined the Socialist Party of America. She also joined the International School of Social Economy to become a better orator and organizer for the union. During this time she met Frank P. O'Hare, and they were soon married.

Beginning with their honeymoon the couple traveled the country speaking about socialism and unions. The O’ Hares received popular reception and were soon considered some of the top speakers in the socialist network. In 1910 the O’ Hares returned to Kansas City and she ran for congress. After losing the election, she and her husband became editors for the National Rip-Saw, a major socialist publication.

In 1914, at the start of World War I, O’ Hare once again went on a speaking tour of the nation. She added anti-war sentiments to her speeches. The Espionage Act of 1917 and Sedition Act of 1918 made it illegal to interfere with the war effort or to use speech that would case the American government in a negative light. O’ Hare was charged with violating the Espionage Act with her speeches and was sentenced to five years in prison.

O’Hare did not serve the full sentence; she was released in 1920. By the time of her release O’ Hare was no longer focused just on the fight for socialism. She instead had a new fight—that of reforming the American penal system. In the years that followed O’ Hare wrote many books and articles explaining the horrors of the prisons and asking for reform. She told Americans how bad the prisons really were.

Continuing the fight for change, O’ Hare campaigned until her death in Benicia, California, in 1948. She was one the most well known female activists of her day. From her early years of Christian charity groups, to her later years attempting to reform the prison system, she spent her life fighting to right the wrongs she saw within her life, and within her country.

Entry: Kate Richards O' Hare

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: June 2011

Date Modified: December 2020

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.