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How Arizona played a role in women's suffrage movement

Arizona National Voter Registration Day
Posted at 5:24 AM, Aug 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-24 11:48:27-04

Women make up more than half of the U.S. population. In some recent elections, Rutgers University says women voters have exceeded men. More women are also holding higher political offices, but it wasn't easy getting to this point.

"Women winning the vote was a very slow slog. I, you know, when you talk about social justice in this country-- it's more evolutionary than revolutionary. It takes generations sometimes to build that momentum," said Heidi Osselaer, a historian and Arizona State University professor.

The Women's Suffrage movement began in Seneca Falls, New York, with the first Women's Rights Convention in July 1848.

"The women that said, 'hey, we're equal to men. We should have the vote, we should have equal property laws and all these things.' That was just an outrageous thought at that time, women were legally classified in the same categories as children and people with mental disabilities. They had no rights," Osselaer said.

It wasn't long before the fight for suffrage moved west into mining towns, where voting was typically done in saloons. A Tucson woman named Josephine Brawley Hughes began the fight for women's suffrage in Arizona, which was a U.S. territory at the time.

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"They believed that alcoholism was the single largest social problem after the Civil War... after slavery was abolished... and it really was a problem in the domestic sphere. So there's a lot of domestic abuse, men were drinking, consuming vast quantities of alcohol. There was absenteeism at work, gambling," Osselaer said.

Hughes worked with Frances Willard Munds, a teacher and political mobilizer, to rally groups of women for the cause. They traveled across Arizona passing out pamphlets and giving soapbox speeches telling everyone why women deserved the right to vote.

Many lawmakers refused to support women having the right to vote because they wanted to wait until after Arizona became a state. In November 1912, Munds and her followers convinced nearly two-thirds of Arizona's male electorate to support women's suffrage, which was the largest vote for suffrage in the country.

"The magnitude of Arizona's victory shocked the nation, especially the National American Women's Suffrage Association. They had spent very little time here, very little money. And when they saw that victory, they were just flabbergasted at the national level," Osselaer said.

Arizona became the 10th state where women received full voting rights. The first election women could participate in was in 1914. Congress didn't pass the 19th Amendment until June 1919, and the law was certified on August 26, 1920.

READ MORE: The 19th Amendment was passed 100 years ago this month, officially granting women the right to vote

Munds went on to serve as Arizona's first female state senator. Her legacy helped pave the way for other Arizona women in politics. Arizona is the only state to have four women serve as governor, which is the most in the country.

In a statement, former Governor Jan Brewer said in part, "Trailblazers like Frances Munds established a path for other Arizona women to follow and for that I am personally grateful."

Brewer also said, "I am honored to have served as Arizona's 22nd Governor and grateful for all of the pioneering women over the last 100 years who fought hard and were relentless in their efforts to give women a voice in their government. They are true heroines who paved the way for all of us!"

Governor Doug Ducey signed a bill last year allowing a statue of Munds to be placed on Wesley Bolin Plaza outside the State Capitol. When the statue is finished, it will be the first statue of a woman on state-owned land.

While the suffrage movement started with women like Munds, today the torch is being carried forward by a new group of young leaders and voters hoping to make a difference.

"Women tend to be voting for certain issues that they feel strongly about. And that's, that's something that brought the suffragist into the into politics...whether it was reform movements-- temperance, other things. But I think that that's an issue that continues for women today," Osselaer said.