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Willie Oates papers

Willie Oates papers

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Finding aid for the Willie Oates papers


Butler Center for Arkansas Studies
100 Rock Street
Little Rock, Arkansas, 72201
(501) 320-5700

May 1, 2006

Repository: Butler Center for Arkansas Studies
Creator:Oates, Willie, 1918-2008
Title: Willie Oates papers
Dates: 1929-2005
Quantity: 44.2 Linear feet
Abstract:This collection includes biographical information about Willie Oates, as well as materials from fifty-plus organizations with which she was involved.
Identification: BC.MSS.05.04
Language: English


Organizational materials in the original collection (Boxes 1-59) are arranged alphabetically by names of organizations, after the biographical materials and general correspondence.

Scope and Contents

This collection includes biographical information about Willie Oates, as well as materials from fifty-plus organizations with which she was involved. The amount of materials varies greatly from one organization to another.

An addendum to the collection (Boxes 60-83) is mostly photographs, but does contain some documents and journals.

Biographical Information

Will Etta (Willie) Long was born January 14, 1918 to Harry L. and Roberta Fern Jordan Long, in Arkansas City, Kansas. Harry Long was a pharmacist, owning his own drug store, and was mayor of Arkansas City for a number of years. The Longs also had a son, Robert Long.

Will Etta Long entered the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 1938, where she earned a bachelor's degree in foreign languages, graduating in 1941. While at the university, Will Etta was a member of over twenty clubs, some of which she organized. She joined Kappa Kappa Gamma Sorority and held several offices in the organization. It was in college that she acquired the nickname "Willie."

"Willie" was a cheerleader during all four years of college, having been selected for the squad in her freshman year. She has been a devoted Arkansas Razorback fan since her college days, active in the Little Rock chapter of the Razorback Club and returning to Fayetteville to lead cheers at Homecoming games. She received a University of Arkansas cheerleader award for fifty years of cheering the Razorbacks. She was also the recipient of the University's Community Service Award for outstanding alumni.

It was also at the University of Arkansas that Willie met Gordon Page Oates from Little Rock, who was studying to be a doctor. The two were married in 1941, in Arkansas City, Kansas. They have two children, Randy Oates and Dr. Debbie Oates Erwin.

Dr. Gordon Oates shared a practice with Dr. Ellery Gay, Sr. in the field of plastic surgery for several years. He later had his own family practice, while also being involved in the area of public health. For the last five years of his career, he was Pulaski County Health Officer.

Willie Oates is known throughout Arkansas and the nation as a civic leader and volunteer. She served in the Arkansas Legislature in 1959-1960, the first woman to be elected to the legislature from Pulaski County in over thirty years. One of the bills she sponsored became the first state law dealing with motorcycle safety. In 1959 she introduced a bill which would allow the teaching of evolution in Arkansas’ public schools. She did so at the request of Griffin Smith, then a seventeen-year-old high school student, who later became executive editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The bill was defeated.

Oates has been involved with over fifty organizations. Notable among them are the Pulaski County Chapter of the American Cancer Society, which she organized, and the Arkansas Federation of Women's Clubs. Oates was the first female member of the Little Rock Founders Lions Club, the oldest Lions Club chapter in the state. She was also the Founders Club's first woman president. Oates was the first woman to serve as chairman of the Salvation Army Advisory Board. She was appointed to the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS) by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and approved by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Oates completed the John Robert Powers Modeling Course and also attended the Patricia Stevens Modeling School. She has used her modeling and fashion flair to raise money for charity. While in the legislature, Oates became known for the hats which she always wore. She developed several skits around hats, which she performed to benefit various causes. She did a hat skit to encourage women to get mammograms. She has done hat skits on "How to Make the Most of Being a Woman" and on aging gracefully. She also developed a skit using hats to illustrate Arkansas industries and products. Oates has performed her hat skits in almost every state, and is known internationally as "Arkansas' Hat Lady."

Following is a partial list of awards, recognition, and accomplishments of Willie Oates:

Little Rock Woman of the Year, 1955
Arkansas Legislature, 1959-1960
Distinguished Citizen Award, 1981
Philanthropy Award from the National Society of Fundraising Executives, 1981
Governor’s Volunteer Excellence Award, 1988
First Woman Member of the Little Rock Founders Lions Club, 1988
Department of the Army and Air Force Award, 1990
University of Arkansas Cheerleader Award, 1992
University of Arkansas Community Service Award for Outstanding Alumni, 1992
First Woman President of the Little Rock Founders Lions Club, 1993
Salvation Army's Highest Award for Lifetime Achievement, 1994-1995
Selected as One of Ten Hero Arkansans to Carry the Olympic Flame, 1996
Senator David Pryor Award for Seniors Active in the Community and Volunteer Service, 1997
One Hundred Women of Achievement Selected by Arkansas Press Women
Organized First American Cancer Society Chapter in Arkansas
Received Awards from Seven Governors: Faubus, Rockefeller, Bumpers, Pryor, White, Clinton, and Huckabee

Listed below are some of the publications in which Oates has been included:

Who's Who in Arkansas Women
Who's Who in American Women
World Who's Who of Women, 1976
Personalities of the South, 1971-1973
International Biographies of Two Thousand People, 1973
Internationally Known Personalities, 1978

Index Terms

This record series is indexed under the following controlled access subject terms.

Civic leaders -- Arkansas
Oates, Willie, 1918-2008
Women -- Arkansas -- Little Rock


Restrictions on Access

Unrestricted access.

Restrictions on Use

Non-circulating, in-house use only.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Willie Oates papers, MSS.05.04, Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Arkansas Studies Institute

Acquisition Information

Donated and Randy Oates and Debbie Irwin

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