Arizona Women in Politics

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Heidi J. Osselaer, the author of “Winning Their Place: Arizona Women in Politics 1883-1950,” discusses her book and the remarkable women who helped shape Arizona’s political landscape.

Ted Simons: Arizona produced Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court. And in 1999 she gave the oath of office to five women who had been elected to the state's highest public offices. They were called the Fab Five and their success is attributed to a long history of Arizona women who ventured into politics. Some of their stories are told in a new book, "Winning Their Place: Arizona Women in Politics1883 to 1950". And joining me is the book's author, Heidi Osselaer, a faculty associate in the history department at Arizona State University. Thanks for joining us on Horizon.

Heidi Osselaer: Thank you.

Ted Simons: I got to ask, up to 1950, how come?

Heidi Osselaer: Well, I think maybe for the reason that you mention in the opening there. 1950 was an important year for women in politics in Arizona. Just like 1998 was. In that year three women made history by running for state office, one was Jewel Jordan running for state auditor, and she won. One was Lorna Lockwood who became the first selected jurist in this state, Maricopa County Superior Court judge, and finally Anna Fromiller became the first major party candidate for governor in 1950, as a Democratic primary winner, surprised everyone. She did lose the election of course but came very close to becoming the first woman in the country to win on her own as a governor without coming in after her husband.

Ted Simons: And we're see something of the campaign material right there. That's fascinating stuff. Ok. We got to the 1950 part. Let's go back to the earlier years, talk about the women in the early days of Arizona and the early days of Arizona politics.

Heidi Osselaer: Well, it was interesting. They had a long bat to win the right to vote in Arizona, but Arizona like most western states was an early suffrage state theft to win that initiative in 1912 and the women who ran that campaign were convinced after so many years of fighting against the democratic and republican establishment that many of the men in the legislature really weren't interested in representing their ideas. So they started to think they were going to run for office. They did. Frances Willard Munds won in 1914, Rachel Barry woman from Apache County won and served in the house that year and women served every year in the legislature from 1914 to the president, except for one in 1924 when there were some reapportionment issues and willing moving out of the legislature.

Ted Simons: Who were these women did they come across in wagon trains? Born and raised here?

Heidi Osselaer: This surprised me. Most were western born or raised and I think this is what makes Arizona somewhat unique. It nationally ranks as one of the top three or four states for sending women -- electing women to political office. And what you see happening in this state is these women are educated. They are college graduates and they're born or raised in the west and that second generation of women that grows up living in frontier conditions is really pretty tough. For example, Frances Willard Munds grew up in Nevada and California and went to school back east, her classmates called her the Nevada wild cat because she was so outgoing. And when she came back here she taught school in Jerome. And in an abandoned saloon. On either side of her were two active saloons and every once in a while a drunk would wander into the classroom and start a brawl. So she also had students occasionally draw knives and start a fight in class as well. So I think when these women came to the state house in Phoenix they were kind of used to some of the wild activities that happened in an all male environment in state government.

Ted Simons: The suffrage movement a big factor in this, especially the early days, was the suffrage movement bigger in Arizona than other states?

Heidi Osselaer: I think it was a small quiet movement with a huge impact. They worked from 1890s until 1912 when they won the right to vote. Every year the initiative or the legislature considered a suffrage amendment, every year they turned them down, and finally when Arizona came a state, Munds, O'Neill, Brawley Hughes and other suffrage leaders went to the voters and put it on the ballot and won with 68% of the vote which is the largest popular vote in U.S. history for suffrage.

Ted Simons: I know the political machinations of this were fascinating as well. Suffrage women basically aligned themselves with everyone?

Heidi Osselaer: Everyone. Teddy Roosevelt publicly came out as the Bull Moose candidate and said I'm going to back suffrage in Arizona and Frances Willard Munds went to the democratic and G.O.P. leadership and said Teddy's going to vote for this. If you don't support our initiative in the fall election we're going to support him. And when we get the right to vote we are going to vote against the Democrats and Republicans. They feared her power and they bowed to her and said yes, we will do this and they came out and all the political parties in the state at the time backed the suffrage amendment along with all the labor unions and all the editors of the state newspapers. She had cultivated their wives as members of the suffrage association and so those newspaper editors came out for the suffrage amendment.

Ted Simons: Did these women by doing this and succeeding in this way, and basically doing some pretty bare knuckle politics here, was there a backlash?

Heidi Osselaer: No. And in fact there was a little fear of them initially because Frances Willard Munds came out in 1914 and started to run ads in local newspapers around the state saying don't vote for so and so, he didn't support suffrage, vote for his candidate who's a better friend to women. And so if anything the men had to back off a little bit. They were reluctant to invite women on to the political party campaigns and to the committees of the Democratic and Republican Party at first, so women decided, you know what? We're going to run. And we're going to represent women's interests in the legislature.

Ted Simons: There are so many fascinating characters in your balk. I want you to talk about Nelly Bush, who's she.

Heidi Osselaer: She came from Missouri as a child, grew up in Mesa, taught school in Glendale, and when she married her husband went to California to get a job and ended up, well, he kind of got thrown off a railroad train he hadn't paid fare for in Parker, Arizona, right on the California border where the Colorado River is. And he bought a ferry boat business. In those days the Colorado was not tamed and they had ferry boats taking people across the river. He sent for Nelly to come to Parker and it was 1915. She was six months pregnant. She got off the train and it was out in the middle of nowhere, 35 people lived there, no paved roads, no running water, no electricity. She said my husband's lost his mind. And she resolved to go back home. She spent the night crying and then finally decided to stay and she spent the rest of her life until she died in 1963 in Parker, and they built a water company and electric company and made sure there was running water and electricity. She was president of the bank, and then she started to run for office. She was a school teacher, on the school board, she was justice of the peace. And in 1916, 1918 I believe it was, and she was told as a woman you really can't have that job because you are overseeing burials and inquests and that's no job for women and she said how is that harder for me than for a man?

Ted Simons: Fascinating. We have a photo of Frances Munds as well, I know the photo has a story in and of itself. Talk to us about this.

Heidi Osselaer: When she came to the legislature, state senator from Yavapai county. Her youngest daughter Mary Frances was still in grade school. She came down with her mother. This is a big problem still for women in politics, what do you do with your children when you're away from home campaigning or in the state legislature, so she brought her daughter and every day after school her daughter would come down and do her homework by her mother's knees in the state senate and she was such a fixture down there that when Frances Willard Munds had her official portrait done for the state senate, her daughter was in that portrait.

Ted Simons: That's great stuff. We have about 30 seconds left, so very quickly, how difficult was it to find information on these people?

Heidi Osselaer: It's tough. Women don't tend to keep their records and it's hard. We don't have a lot of election material either, at the lower levels. I looked at the county and the state legislature mostly and you have to go through years and years of microfilm to get even determine who ran for election, who won, and then go through obituary files and census data to figure out where did they come from, who were these women.

Ted Simons: It's great stuff, Heidi, thanks for joining us again. The name of the book is "Winning Their Place: Arizona Women in Politics 1883 to 1950", Heidi Osselaer, thanks for joining us.

Heidi Osselaer: Thank you.

Heidi J. Osselaer:Author, "Winning Their Place: Arizona Women in Politics 1883-1950";

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