Cunningham, Kate Richards O' Hare

Cunningham, Kate Richards O’ Hare (b. Kathleen Richards)

(1876–1948) social activist; born near Ada, Kans. Drought drove her family to Kansas City where her father became part owner of a machine shop. Kate trained as a teacher in Nebraska and taught one winter, but in 1894 she went to work as a machinist's apprentice in her father's shop. She joined the union, was active as a temperance worker, and soon exchanged her Christian faith for the ideals of socialism as preached by such as “Mother” Jones. She joined the Socialist Party (1899), married a fellow socialist, Francis O'Hare, and spent the next 15 years as a socialist lecturer and organizer in the Midwest. She published articles and wrote a novel, ran unsuccessfully for Congress (1910), was a delegate to the Second International in London (1913), and generally gained a reputation for linking socialist goals with concerns of average Western Americans. Speaking out publicly in opposition to U.S. participation in World War I, she was sentenced to five years in jail but served only one (1919–20). On her release she led the campaign for release from prison of others held for their views, and, somewhat discouraged by Socialism and vehemently opposed to Communism, dedicated herself to prison reform. In 1922 she joined a cooperative colony in Louisiana where she published a socialist paper and tried to start a college for workers' education; by 1924 this all failed and she and her husband went to Arkansas. Divorced from O'Hare in 1928, she married Charles Cunningham, a San Francisco lawyer, and went to live in California. She remained active in progressive politics and as assistant director of the California Department of Penology (1939–40) she reformed the state's prison system.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.