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Oklahoma State University Archives: Hannah Diggs Atkins

Biography

Hannah Diggs Atkins was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on November 1, 1923. She earned her undergraduate degree in 1943 from St. Augustine College in Raleigh, North Carolina. Mrs. Atkins furthered her education at the University of Chicago, where she completed a degree in library science in 1949. She also took courses at the School of Law at Oklahoma City University and earned an M.P.A. at the University of Oklahoma in 1989. She was selected to attend the Program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government at the John F. Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University in 1987. In addition, Mrs. Atkins holds a certificate from the Executive Leadership Development Program at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs of the University of Texas, Austin.

Hannah D. Atkins has held various positions throughout her career. She is probably best known as the first African American woman to be elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives. She served from 1968 until 1980 as the representative from the 97th District. Atkins authored many important bills during her tenure. Among them were bills to improve care in the state's mental health system, improvement in commitment laws for the mentally ill, revisions in laws related to the criminally insane, the ERA amendment, requiring immunizations for school age children, elections of school boards by wards, adult protective services act, and open meetings laws. Atkins was Chairwoman of the Public and Mental Health Committee. She also served on the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, Commission on Education and Professional Standards Board, and Higher Education.

In 1980 President Jimmy Carter named Atkins to the General Assembly of the 35th Session of the United Nations. She was a member of the Third Committee which concentrated on social and economic issues. Following her assignment at the United Nations she returned to Oklahoma. Between September and December 1982 she served as a consultant to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. She was also a visiting professor at the University of Oklahoma.

Governor Henry Bellmon selected Atkins as Assistant Director, Department of Human Services in January 1983. Her responsibilities included the Division of Aging. She held this post until September 1987. In January 1987 she was selected as the Cabinet Secretary for Social Services. The following September Atkins' added Secretary of State to her duties and served in dual roles in the Cabinet. In addition to the traditional duties of a Secretary of State, she had oversight of the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Corrections, the Pardon and Parole Board and their related boards, councils and committees.

Atkins has held various teaching positions at University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City University and Oklahoma State University. In 1992 the Department of Political Science at Oklahoma State University honored her with the Hannah Atkins Professorship for Political Science and Government Information. Funding came not only from political science but also from Friends of the Library and many other supporters.

Mrs. Atkins has served on numerous boards of directors and as an officer in a wide variety of organizations. She has been a board member of the Joint Center for Political Studies, the president of the Oklahoma Chapter of the American Society of Public Administration, a board member of National Women's Education Fund, Women Executives in State Government, National Board of American Civil Liberties Union, National Black Child Development Institute and National Board of Trans-Africa. For ten years Atkins was chairwoman of the Oklahoma Advisory Committee of the United States Commission on Civil Rights and has been an active member of NAACP, Urban League and other civic and religious organizations.

Involvement in Democratic party politics at the local, state and national level has taken much of her time. She served on committees for the Democratic National Committee and was a Democratic National Committeewoman for eight years.

She is also a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and is a licensed lay reader in the Episcopal Church.

Numerous awards have been bestowed upon Hannah Atkins. She was inducted into the Oklahoma Women's Hall of Fame in 1982 and the Oklahoma Afro-American Hall of Fame in 1983. She is listed in Who's Who in America, Who's Who in Politics and many other biographical dictionaries. In 1990 she received the National Governors' Association Award
for Distinguished Service to State Government.

She was married to Dr. Charles Atkins, a psychiatrist, on May 24, 1943. Dr. Atkins also graduated from St. Augustine College in 1941. They had three children, Edmund, Charles Jr. and Valerie.

Hannah Diggs Atkins Collection Inventory

Click the link below to view the inventory of the items contained in the Hannah Diggs Atkins Papers (collection number 1993-045) held in the Archives. To view items from this collection, please notify our staff at least 24 hours prior to your visit so we can retrieve the materials you request.