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It's a Clean Sweep

March 10, 2004

Almanac Transcript

It's a clean sweep this week on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.

Hello, I'm Steven Knoche Kite.

Governor Robertson isn't one of Oklahoma's most notable leaders, but he made headlines across the nation this week in 1920. "It just won't work, it's a job for men only, it's not a job for a woman," were some of the reactions to Robertson's appointment of Sallie Sturgeon to serve on the Oklahoma State Health Department's team of sanitary inspectors. It was the first time in the history of the United States that a female was to serve in such a role.

Ms. Sturgeon had previously demonstrated the independence and intelligence necessary for such a job during her previous stints as newspaper editor and reporter. As a journalist, Ms. Sturgeon began the state's first newspaper aimed primarily at Oklahoma women. The Oklahoma Lady, published out of Ardmore, contained news of the day, fashion, club news, recipes, social reporting, and wedding announcements as well as the ubiquitous advice column for the lovelorn.

Following her husband's career to Oklahoma City, Ms. Sturgeon's aggressive reputation made her a natural political appointment in the progressive atmosphere that was 1920s Oklahoma. Traveling around the state, it was Sturgeon's job to inspect all public facilities making sure that they met official health and safety codes. Under the stern watch of Sturgeon, hundreds of vermin ridden boarding house mattresses went up in flames, cracked dishes and cups providing homes for bacteria were smashed in public displays of cleanliness. When she was called the "Carrie Nation of Cafes," Sturgeon mentioned that she preferred the title, "The Downfall of China."

"Clean-up or Close-up," became her motto as moved from job to job. So dramatic were Ms. Sturgeon's visits that reporters began following her in hopes of a good story. Inspecting a Tulsa grocery store she found in the freezer, sitting on top of produce and meat, the decapitated head of a dog awaiting testing for rabies. In another surprise visit, she found a cook chopping onions and trimming bunions with the same utensils.

The Depression provided Ms. Sturgeon with another line of work as she ended her days with the Health Department to help with the homeless in Oklahoma City. Under the guidance of Ms. Sturgeon, Community Camp emerged providing clean, safe housing for those made homeless by the economic downturn.

Sallie Sturgeon says, "Clean-up or Close-up," this week on the Almanac.

The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a joint production of Oklahoma's Public Radio and the Oklahoma State University Library.


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