How Arizona women led the charge for the right to vote
Rachel Leingang Arizona Republic USA TODAY NETWORK
When Arizona voted to ratify the 19th Amendment, four female state lawmakers led the charge.
That’s because women in Arizona won the right
to vote eight years before it was granted nationwide.
Today marks 100 years since the Arizona Legislature unanimously voted to ratify the 19th Amendment in a special session on Feb. 12, 1920.
“ARIZONA RATIFIES SUFFRAGE AMENDMENT,” the Feb. 13, 1920, headline of the Arizona Republican read. “Record for rapid work is made by the Legislature in a one-day extra session.” The resolution to ratify the amendment passed “amid cheers from the crowded gallery,” the article read.
The amendment ultimately was ratified on Aug. 18, 1920, ending a long, hard fight by suffragists to gain the right to vote. Tennessee was the 36th state to vote to ratify, and it passed by just one vote there, which gave the amendment the needed number of states to succeed.
Arizona wasn’t the first state to grant voting rights to women. That honor belongs to Wyoming, which approved women’s suffrage in 1869. Several other states allowed women to vote before the 19th Amendment passed, but the majority did not.
How did Arizona women get the vote?
Suffragists in Arizona fought for decades before getting the right to vote in 1912 .
Frances Willard Munds led the charge here. Bills were introduced to give women the right to vote in the Territorial Legislature in 1881, 1883 and 1885, but were not successful, according to the state library’s history of women’s suffrage.
Women’s suffrage was discussed during the state’s constitutional convention in 1891, when Arizona made a bid for statehood, the library said. That bid was denied, but the Arizona Suffrage Association took on the mantle.
A bill granting women the right to vote passed the Legislature in 1903, but was vetoed by Gov. Alexander Brodie, according to the library.
A second constitutional convention in 1910 led to another denial from Brodie, who said the addition of women’s suffrage could jeopardize the bid for statehood.
Arizona did become a state, but statehood and women’s suffrage didn’t go hand in hand.
Instead, Arizona entered the union on Feb. 14, 1912. Activists used the initiative process set up in the state’s new Constitution to ask voters, who were all men at the time, to approve women’s suffrage.
Opinion columns in newspapers at the time were filled with what the writers saw as the pros and cons of granting women voting rights.
A column against suffrage published in the Bisbee Daily Review in 1911, and written by a woman, argued suffrage would be pointless.
“Suppose suffrage were conferred upon women, what good would be accomplished by it? In ninety cases out of one hundred wives would vote with husbands, sisters with brothers and the result would be the same.”
The Arizona Equal Suffrage Association looked for support from all political corners. Some supporters of women’s suffrage “used racist and nativist arguments, claiming that native-born American white women deserved the right to vote more than foreign-born immigrant men,” according to a National Park Service history of women’s suffrage in the West.
But the group also worked with Mexican- American organizations, Spanishlanguage newspapers and miners who were immigrants, according to the National Park Service.
In November 1912, finally, success: Arizona voters “overwhelmingly approved women’s suffrage,” the state library said. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and progressives were key parts of that success, the National Park Service said.
Many parts of the West already allowed women the right to vote, including Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Washington, California and Oregon. Arizona was the 10th state to give women the right to vote.
How Arizona ratified the 19th Amendment
By the time Arizona was set to discuss ratifying the 19th Amendment, women’s political power already was in practice.
On Feb. 12, 1920, Gov. Tom Campbell, a Republican who was the state’s second governor, called the Legislature in for a special session.
Four female members of the Legislature — Nellie Hayward, Rose McKay, Pauline O’Neill and Anna Westover — sponsored the resolution to ratify the amendment.
The women were all former suffrage leaders, according to a book called “Winning Their Place: Arizona Women in Politics, 1883-1950” by historian Heidi J. Osselaer.
“Although the resolution met with contentious debate in most statehouses, in Arizona the members of the Legislature listened to anti-suffrage arguments with amusement and quickly passed the Susan B. Anthony Amendment granting women the right to vote without a single dissenting voice in either house,” Osselaer wrote.
By the time Tennessee approved the ratification in August, and only by a hair, Arizona women had voted in three elections and seven women already had served in the Legislature, Osselaer wrote.
“Now the eastern part of the country was starting to catch up,” she wrote.
Women in power since suffrage
Women have held positions of political power in Arizona earlier and more frequently than in many other states.
In 1998, five women — Gov. Jane Dee Hull, Secretary of State Betsey Bayless, Attorney General Janet Napolitano, Treasurer Carol Springer and Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan — won every major statewide executive office and became known as the “Fab Five.”
The Fab Five still represent the highest number of women to serve in a state’s highest elected offices at any given time, according to the state library.
In 2018, women won five of the seven major statewide contests. And Arizona got its first female United States senator in Kyrsten Sinema that year as well. Soon after, the state got its second when Martha McSally was appointed to the seat left open by the death of John McCain.
Overall, women were elected to 35 of 90 seats in the Legislature in 2018. That’s one less female legislator than the previous election cycle, but Arizona still has one of the highest ratios of female lawmakers in the country. The state currently ranks in the top 10, with Nevada ranking first. The upper chamber of the state Legislature is led by a woman, Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott.
The Arizona Capitol Museum will unveil a new exhibit tied to the centennial of women’s suffrage on Feb. 14, Arizona’s statehood day. An event is scheduled to start at 2 p.m., and a presentation on Frances Munds is set for 3 p.m.
Reach reporter Rachel Leingang by email at email@example.com or by phone at 602-444-8157, or find her on Twitter and Facebook.
“Although the resolution met with contentious debate in most statehouses, in Arizona the members of the Legislature listened to anti-suffrage arguments with amusement and quickly passed the Susan B. Anthony Amendment granting women the right to vote without a single dissenting voice in either house.”
Heidi J. Osselaer
Historian and author of “Winning Their Place: Arizona Women in Politics, 1883-1950”