The South Dakota prairie had seen a number of strange happenings. There had been tornadoes and dust storms. There had been violent thunderstorms and blizzards. There had been wild fires and drought. The prairie had never seen anything like Katrina Huffman. Katrina was the youngest daughter of Helmut and Alice Huffman. Katrina was a headstrong and tempestuous young woman. She was also the smartest person that anyone had ever seen. At age three she could recite the alphabet. At age four she was reading books and could spell almost any one syllable word. At age four she also knew the multiplication tables all the way to nine. By the time she started public school she was able to read, write, and do arithmetic at the fourth grade level. By the time she graduated from public school she was more apt than the teachers.
She wanted to go to college. At the turn of the century, girls did not go to college. That was for men. Girls were to be home makers and mothers and wives. They didn’t need to learn anything more than how to cook and sew and clean and care for the children. This wasn’t for Katrina. She knew that she had more to offer than the limited female role.
At the time that Katrina was ready for college the three best universities in the world were Harvard, Yale, and Oxford. She applied to all three and was quick to receive polite letters of rejection from each school. Try as she might, there was no way to change their minds. Her Father, Helmut even tried to get her into Dartmouth since he had gone there. That didn’t work. They tried Princeton but they wanted no part of having a woman on campus except to clean or cook. Katrina heard of a new university in California that was started by the railroad builder, Leland Stanford. Stanford University was rapidly gaining a reputation as an outstanding center of learning.
Katrina applied to the University and submitted letters from her teachers and others in the community. She told him that her Father had been Governor of the state of South Dakota. She wrote a long paper that stated her intentions of gaining a college education and of becoming one of the first female lawyers and politicians in the U.S. She told them of her Sioux ancestors and her desire to be a spokesperson for the American Indians. She got her answer very fast. The University was not certain that they wanted to break new ground but she was invited to Palo Alto for an interview and to be tested.
She travelled to Omaha on a fast riverboat to catch a train to Oakland and then took the ferry across the bay to Palo Alto. On arrival she was greeted by the Dean of Students and offered a place to sleep and eat while on the campus. The next day she met with a committee of professors. All of them were holders of doctorate degrees. They questioned Katrina in a variety of subjects. They questioned her in English and in Latin. They asked her questions that graduate students would have a difficult time answering. She was able to answer all of the questions without difficulty. They then gave her a written exam that contained elements of all the disciplines. The exam was over 400 questions. Katrina was given the entire day to complete the exam. She finished in five hours. She was then asked to write a paper on any subject she wanted to choose. The paper had to be at least ten thousand words with foot notes. She was given access to the Stanford Library to complete the paper. She had a week to write the paper and when she was finished she would defend it to the committee. She notified the committee that she was ready. It took three days for Katrina to write the paper on the burden the white immigrants had placed on the American Indian tribes. She titled her paper “LEAVE US ALONE”. She defended her paper admirably and the committee was defending themselves and their academic careers. They were amazed at the intelligence of the young woman.
Katrina went home with a letter of acceptance from Stanford University. She would start the fall term. She had much to do before the start of the term as it was only four months away. Her family was excited about the results of her trip to California. The teacher, Alfred, talked with her about what to expect in college. Her Father talked with her about what to expect in college. Her Father, Helmut, decided to accompany her on her trip to California. He thought he could help her to find a place to live and to get settled and started on her college career. Katrina was grateful for her Father’s company but she was capable of handling all of the settling in problems on her own. Her Father did open a bank account for her so she would have money to spend. He also paid her tuition and other fees. After spending a week in California Helmut went back across the bay for the train to Omaha. Katrina was now making the decisions about her life and that was fine with her. She had been waiting for ten years for this to happen.
Stanford University was easy for Katrina. She got her undergraduate degree in three years and graduated Summa Cum Laude. She was the first female at any University in the United States, England, or Germany that had graduated at the top of her class. Most of the men at Stanford were happy for Katrina. A few of the men were resentful that she was allowed into Stanford so they had to compete with her. None of this bothered Katrina.
She took her degree and her record and returned to South Dakota. Her entire family met her in Omaha and accompanied her to Mitchell. Even her Grandfather and Grandmother made the trip. They were all very proud of Katrina.
Katrina was pleased and proud of her record. But she was not satisfied. Before leaving Stanford she asked her professors and the Dean of Students and the President of the University for a letter of recommendation to help her get into law school. Stanford had no law school so she would have to go east for the law education.
She applied to the three major law schools in the United States; Harvard, Yale, and Columbia. With her application she sent her recommendations and her record at Stanford. She received a reply from the three. They all accepted her for the fall term. She chose Yale and started making preparations to go to New Haven. On the trip east her Father again accompanied her. This time he knew she didn’t need his help but he had some business to take care of and he wanted to spend the time with his little girl.
Katrina was the best student in her class. She had some stiff competition for her Summa Cum Laude but she got it. Now she was ready to take on the world. The question was: was the world ready for Katrina? Now came the really tough part. Would Katrina be accepted as an equal in the world of practicing law. She applied at a number of prestigious law firms but they all turned her down. This left her little choice but to start her own law firm and start to look for clients. Like her Father, she thought her best chance at success would be in Washington.
She opened her office and had a difficult time finding any clients that would hire a female lawyer in a male dominated society. She decided to focus her efforts on three areas: American Indian rights, public land, and women’s rights. She chose well. The American Indian tribes remembered her Father for the great things that he had done for them. Helmut’s old law firm had moved on to other projects and the Indians needed someone in Washington to speak for them. The name Huffman was magic so Katrina gained a great deal of cases from the various tribes that needed help.
Theodore Roosevelt was President and he was working hard to save some of the better public lands for the future Americans but was meeting a great deal of resistance from special interest groups such as lumber, ranching, and oil and gas. These groups were hiring huge law firms to fight their battles. The lawyers for the government were less interested in the fight. Most of the young lawyers were more interested in their careers after their government jobs. There were groups of concerned citizens that were on the side of the President. They hired their own lawyers to file suits against the special interests. One group that was supporting a National Park in Utah wanted to file suit against an oil company that was interested in drilling for oil on the land. They hired Katrina to file the suit and fight it in court. Katrina performed brilliantly and Zion National Park came into existence. After that victory, many other groups came to Katrina on other projects. She needed help. She convinced three other recent law school graduates to join the firm. One of the new associates was a woman.
The third cause that male lawyers would not touch was women’s rights. They didn’t believe in the cause and didn’t want anything changed. Katrina was avid about fighting this fight. She had experienced what the subjugation of the female meant to women. Anything she could do for the cause she would do. She did plenty. She filed suits to force states to allow women to vote. She filed suits to force states to allow women to hold public office. She was very successful in helping women to get equal rights with men.
The new President, William Howard Taft, had observed what had happened with the suits Katrina had filed. He was impressed and thought she would be an excellent choice for his cabinet. His staff was appalled that he would consider a woman. They appealed that the Senate would never confirm a woman for a cabinet post. The President recognized that this argument was true so backed away from offering a cabinet post. He did offer her the job of special legal advisor to the President. Katrina accepted the post as that would position her to influence the most powerful man in America.
Katrina could now use the President’s Bully Pulpit to influence the causes that she supported. Thanks to her, women’s rights progressed during the time of Taft’s presidency. She could enter his office at will and had his ear. On important legislation, the President sought her advice. He recognized that she had a marvelous intellect and her advice was sound. If Katrina had a cause that was important, then she would seek the President’s approval and she could almost always accomplish what was needed.
When President Taft left office, Katrina’s career in politics was over. She had no further interest in being at the seat of power. She went back to her law firm and continued to practice law. She was now in her mid-thirties and wondered what she may be missing. Meeting a very nice, single attorney that was about the same age put these thoughts in her head. She had dinner with him. They started spending more time together. They went boating on the Potomac. They went on picnics in the park. They went to the theater and concerts. They went to Virginia for a weekend at his parent’s house. He asked to marry her but she wanted her parents to meet him so they took the train to Omaha and on to Mitchell. He met her Grandparents and all the family. Joshua Hansen was impressed with the success of the family. The marriage was on and would be in Washington. The Huffman family would come to the wedding as would all of the Hansen family. The power managers in Washington would also be there.
The wedding took place and it was a magical affair. The couple decided that a nice tour of Europe would be a good honeymoon so they went to New York to board a steamship to England. Then they went to Paris, Monte Carlo, Florence, Rome, Venice, Vienna, Berlin and Amsterdam. It was a month they would never forget.
As Katrina reflected on the tribulations she had to labor with to get her life started, she was grateful that she had persevered.