Mary Stone McClendon was born in 1895 in what is now Duncan, OK. Some of her early schooling was in a one-room schoolhouse in the Kiamichi Mountains. Once she got older, however, she attended Columbia University and the International Institute of John D. Rockefeller in New York City. She was the only American Indian in attendance at the university.
After schooling, she became a nationally renowned concert vocalist, hence her nickname, Ataloa, which means “little song” in the Chickasaw language. Some would say she “had the ability to understand the Indian heart through her program of Indian songs, legends and ceremonials.” Her musical career, though, was short-lived when she left to become a teacher at Bacone College in Muskogee, Oklahoma.
After a stint at Bacone, McClendon taught at the revered Idyllwild School of Music and Arts from 1950 until 1963.
Throughout her life, the American Indian was her greatest concern. She also helped others, spending one summer as a social worker in an Italian settlement in New York City. Mary McClendon passed away in 1967 and the Ataloa Lodge Museum, located on the Bacone College campus in Muskogee, Oklahoma, was named in her honor. The museum houses one of the largest privately owned collections of American Indian culture in the United States.