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Times Past: The ‘Mother of Arizona’

Gov. George W. P. Hunt called Josephine Brawley Hughes “the Mother of Arizona.” She fought for women’s suffrage and prohibition of drinking and gambling. She even fought to ban smoking in public. In Arizona’s rowdy territorial days she was often laughed at, but she prevailed courageously.

Josephine Brawley Hughes was born on a farm near Meadville, Pa. She graduated from Edinboro State Normal School, and taught school for two years before marrying Louis (L.C.) Hughes. In 1871, L.C.’s Civil War injuries caused him to seek a warmer climate. His brother Sam moved to Tucson in 1859 for lung problems, and he urged L.C. to do the same.

After a year of practicing law, L.C. raised the money to send for his wife and baby daughter Gertrude. Josephine traveled by train to San Francisco, steamship to San Diego and stagecoach the rest of the way. The 400-mile stagecoach ride took four dusty, bone-jarring days and nights. Warned of bandits and Indians, Josephine carried a rifle by her side and her baby in her arms. She feared that the jolting would trigger the rifle and shoot her baby. On one rough stretch, baby Gertrude was pitched clear out of the stage, but luckily landed in some soft sand.

Once in Tucson, Josephine became a schoolmarm. L.C. was appointed county school supervisor in 1872, and he hired his wife to teach at the first public school for girls, held — ironically — at the Pioneer Brewery.

Josephine helped a group of Presbyterian women start the first Protestant church in Arizona in Tucson in 1879. Methodist minister George E. Adams arrived in Tucson the same year, and led a fund drive to build Arizona’s first Methodist church.

Also in 1879, L.C. bought the Arizona Weekly Star and it became the Arizona Daily Star, the first daily paper in the territory. Josephine was the business manager and when L.C. was appointed governor of the Arizona territory, she became the unacknowledged editor. L.C. and Josephine championed many issues in the paper, including higher education, women’s suffrage, and prohibition.

Once when L.C. was back East, he let R.A. Caples run the paper. Unaware of Josephine’s temperance sentiments, Caples published an ad for a saloon. He said, “The first paper she saw, she came down and gave me the Devil!”

Josephine and Frances W. Willard, president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, established several chapters throughout Arizona. Josephine was so outspoken that she alienated many Tucsonans, including her in-laws. Every New Year’s Day, people opened their homes to visitors. Many learned the hard way that they had better visit the Hughes home first, before they started drinking. If they showed up with whisky on their breath, they got a harsh lecture from Josephine.

Although Josephine was most concerned with temperance, she resigned her presidency of the Arizona Women’s Christian Temperance Union, stating, “Let us secure the vote for women, first — then the victory for the protection of our homes and for the cause of temperance will follow.”

Due, in part, to her efforts, gambling was abolished in 1909, and prohibition enacted in 1916, three years before the rest of the nation. Josephine lived to see women elected to office and the end of gambling halls and saloons.

Her obituary in the Tombstone Epitaph  dated April 24, 1926, read: “Mrs. Hughes was one of the few pioneer women in the territory who left a lasting impression both in the minds of the citizens and the character of the community.”

On Dec. 16, 1926, a tablet was placed in the Capitol rotunda in Phoenix: “In Memoriam, E. Josephine Brawley Hughes, Wife of Governor L. C. Hughes and Mother of Hon. John T. Hughes: Mother of Methodism, Founder of W.C.T.U. and Founder of the First Daily Newspaper in Arizona.”

— Jim Turner, Arizona Historical Society. Photo courtesy of the Arizona Historical Society (#1887).

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