“I am dangerous to the invisible government of the United States; I am dangerous to the special privileges of the United States; … I thank God that at this hour I am dangerous to the war profiteers of this country, who rob the people on the one hand and rob and degrade the government on the other;… You can convince the people that I am dangerous to these men, but no jury and no judge can convince them that I am a dangerous woman to the best interests of theUnited States.”

Kate Richards O’Hare’s proclamation in front of the court angered the judge and landed her a 5-year sentence in the Missouri State Penitentiary (MSP) for publicly opposing America’s intervention in World War I. Her sentencing served as a pivotal moment in her established career as an activist.

Born to a homestead family in Kansas, Kate was one of five children. After teaching for several years, she returned to work as a secretary at her father’s machine shop in Kansas City. Here, she joined the International Association of Machinists and became acquainted with socialist doctrines. Inspired by authors such as Ignatius Donnelly and Henry George, it was a speech by Mary Harris (“Mother”) Jones that spurred Kate to join the Socialist Labor Party in 1899.

After marrying Frank P. O’Hare in 1902, the couple moved to Oklahoma and became entrenched in the leadership of the party; Frank created publications while Kate recruited women and built a strong grassroots socialist organization. Her ability to reach audiences made her a popular speaker, and she was soon touring the country, lecturing about the need for a social democratic system to replace capitalism so workers could enjoy the fruit of their labor. She also championed issues for women including suffrage, educational opportunity, legalization of birth control, and divorce. Kate worked to take her campaign to Washington D.C., running for the United States House of Representatives in 1910 and pioneering as the first female candidate to run for United States Senate in 1916.

Kate served as chair of the War and Militarism Committee at the St. Louis Emergency Convention held in 1917 as the United States entered World War I. She toured the country with an anti-war message, blaming capitalism for the war and stating only socialism could ensure peace. It was in Bowman, North Dakota, that political unrest and Kate’s message caught up to her. She was charged with violation of the Espionage Act, which made it illegal to interfere with the war effort or use speech that portrayed the United States government in a poor light.

Want to hear more of Kate's story? Head over to Jefferson City Magazine to read more! 

Missouri State Penitentiary

Decommissioned in 2004, the Missouri State Penitentiary was the oldest continually operating prison west of the Mississippi. The prison was 100 years old when Alcatraz began taking inmates…