The great-granddaughter of an original Oklahoma homesteader, Mary Fallin was no stranger to trailblazing. Inspired by her family’s tradition of public service, she achieved many historic firsts. Fallin, the first woman in 84 years to represent Oklahoma in Congress and just the second ever to do so, was a leading figure in state politics for more than two decades. After taking her seat in the United States House of Representatives, she said, “I am very humbled. I also know it is a great responsibility and a great honor to serve in Congress, whether you are a man or a woman. Especially being a woman, I am very proud to be able to break the barrier and hope there will be other women who will follow in my footsteps.”1
Mary Fallin was born Mary Newt Copeland in Warrensburg, Missouri, on December 9, 1954, to Newton and Mary Jo Copeland, who later had a son as well. After Newton Copeland’s service in the United States Air Force, the family settled in Tecumseh, Oklahoma, a small town about 40 miles southwest of Oklahoma City. Her father worked for the Oklahoma state employment security commission, and her mother worked for the Oklahoma department of human services.2 Both parents served as mayors of Tecumseh; Mary Jo Copeland was the city’s first female mayor.3 While in high school, Fallin served as a page for the Oklahoma state house. “I just found it very intriguing, and I liked being around the political side and the issues as a page,” she said. “Of course, as a very young girl and coming from Tecumseh going to Oklahoma City to the state capital was a really big deal for me.”4 Fallin attended Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, and then Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, graduating in 1977 with a degree in family relations and child development. In 1984 she married Joseph Fallin, a dentist, and the couple raised two children, Christina and Price, in Oklahoma City. The Fallins divorced in 1999, and Mary Fallin married Oklahoma City lawyer Wade Christensen in 2009. The couple has six children combined through previous marriages.5
After a career in real estate management for a hotel chain, Fallin ran for a seat in the Oklahoma state house in 1990. She first sought public office to oppose an education reform bill that required new taxes. She campaigned while pregnant with her son and gave birth a month before the general election, which she won. Fallin served four years in the Oklahoma legislature and oversaw passage of 16 bills she sponsored, including the state’s first anti-stalking law.6 In 1995 she became the first woman and first Republican lieutenant governor of Oklahoma.7 As lieutenant governor from 1995 to 2007, Fallin presided over a closely-divided state senate and became instrumental in passing workmen’s compensation reform and anti-union legislation.8
When Oklahoma Representative Ernest James Istook Jr. decided to leave his U.S. House seat and run for governor in 2006, Fallin abandoned plans for a fourth term as lieutenant governor and ran for the open district that encompassed Oklahoma City and farming communities to its east. After capturing the Republican nomination in a primary election runoff, she defeated Democrat David Hunter, a surgeon, by more than 20 percent in the general election.9 Elected to the 110th Congress (2007–2009), Fallin became just the second woman to represent Oklahoma in Congress. Representative Alice Mary Robertson was the first, having served in the 67th Congress (1921–1923).10
Despite her victory, Republicans lost the House majority during the 2006 elections. As a freshman legislator in the minority party in the 110th Congress, Fallin was assigned to three committees: Natural Resources; Small Business; and Transportation and Infrastructure. Fallin easily won re-election to the 111th Congress (2009–2011), where she picked up a seat on the powerful Armed Services Committee; she also remained on both Small Business and Transportation and Infrastructure Committees.11
In the House, Fallin worked on small business development—especially businesses run by women entrepreneurs—and domestic energy production, including oil exploration. She became a leader in the conservative Republican Study Committee, and strenuously opposed Democratic priorities like health care reform and economic stimulus through spending.12
In both of her terms, she introduced and won House passage of a bill that supported Women’s Business Centers run by the Small Business Administration (SBA) with more funding and research. In its favorable report on Fallin’s SBA Women’s Business Programs Act of 2007, the Small Business Committee wrote that Fallin’s reforms would “promote women entrepreneurship in areas, such as rural America, that lag the rest of the country in the development of women-owned small businesses.” The Senate did not act on either measure.13 In the 110th Congress, Fallin also won House passage of the McGee Creek Project Pipeline and Associated Facilities Conveyance Act which required the federal Bureau of Reclamation to give certain parcels of land related to the regional water supply to local authorities.14
Fallin passed up on a third U.S. House term to run for governor of Oklahoma in 2010. She garnered a comfortable majority in a four-way Republican primary and went on to defeat her Democratic opponent, Jari Askins, by more than 20 percent in the general election.15 When she took office in January 2011, Fallin became her state’s first female governor. “It’s a very historic time and I take great pride in this big step forward for Oklahoma,” she said. “But in the end, I believe the voters looked at my experience and vision when electing me.”16 She won re-election in 2014 and left the governorship in 2019 because of the state’s term-limit provisions.
1Jim Myers, “Fallin Joins Congress, State History,” 5 January 2007, Tulsa World: n.p.
2Women of the Oklahoma Legislature Oral History Project, “Oral History Interview with Mary Fallin,” Oklahoma State University, Edmon Low Library Special Collections and University Archives (7 October 2008): 4; Gloria Trotter, “Mary Fallin’s Journey,” 6 January 2011, The Tecumseh Countywide News and The Shawnee Sun (OK), accessed 31 July 2012, http://countrywidenews.com/mary-fallins-journey-p4086-100.htm (link discontinued).
3Trotter, “Mary Fallin’s Journey.”
4Women of the Oklahoma Legislature Oral History Project, “Oral History Interview with Mary Fallin”: 5.
5Paul English and Ed Godfrey, “Lt. Gov. Fallin Files Petition for Divorce,” 5 December 1998, Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City): n.p.; Chris Casteel, “Oklahoma Rep. Mary Fallin to Marry,” 30 October 2009, Daily Oklahoman: 2A.
6Women of the Oklahoma Legislature Oral History Project, “Oral History Interview with Mary Fallin”: 6–13.
7“History of the Office of Lieutenant Governor,” office of lieutenant governor, accessed 1 August 2012, https://www.ok.gov/ltgovernor/Office_of_Lieutenant_Governor/History_of_Lieutenant_Governor/index.html (link discontinued).
8Women of the Oklahoma Legislature Oral History Project, “Oral History Interview with Mary Fallin”: 17–18.
9Politics in America, 2008 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2007): 828; Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”
10Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, “A Historic Trio of Women Members.”
11“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present”; Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, “Women Members’ Committee Assignments (Standing, Joint, Select) in the U.S. House, 1917–Present.”
12Congressional Record, House, 110th Cong., 1st sess. (10 January 2007): H276; Congressional Record, House, 110th Cong., 2nd sess. (17 July 2008): H6694.
13SBA Women’s Business Programs Act, H.R. 2397, 110th Cong., (2007); House Committee on Small Business, SBA Women’s Business Programs Act of 2007, 110th Cong., 1st sess. H. Rept. 195 (2007): 2; To amend the Small Business Act to modify certain provisions relating to women’s business centers, and for other purposes, H.R. 1838, 111th Cong. (2009).
14McGee Creek Project Pipeline and Associated Facilities Conveyance Act, H.R. 2085, 110th Cong. (2007); House Committee on Natural Resources, McGee Creek Project Pipeline and Associated Facilities Conveyance Act, 110th Cong., 1st sess., H. Rept. 460 (2007): 1–2.
15Oklahoma State Election Board, “Summary Results: General Election—November 2, 2010,” accessed 5 March 2020, https://www.ok.gov/elections/support/10gen.html.
16“Gov.-elect Fallin Speaks About Being Oklahoma’s First Female Governor,” OK.gov, 5 January 2011, https://www.ok.gov/triton/modules/newsroom/newsroom_article.php?id=223&article_id=233.