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A Voice for Giving Women a Voice

9-21-times-pastAs this picture of Frances Munds clearly illustrates, she was not the kind of woman afraid of wearing a very large hat. She was also not the kind of woman afraid of taking on a very large project. She was one of the Arizonans more instrumental in securing the right to vote for women of this state.

The effort to achieve women’s suffrage began in Arizona when it was still a territory. One of the most telling accounts of her early attempt is provided by Carrie Catt, a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, who came to Phoenix to lobby for women’s suffrage in 1899. She reported that opposition to the idea came from saloon owners and was led by the proprietor of the largest and more profitable saloon in the territory.

Saloon keepers opposed women’s suffrage because they feared that women would support passage of laws that would damage their businesses. And, in fact, many women involved in the campaign for women’s suffrage, including Frances Munds, got their start in politics through working in the temperance movement. In addition, many of the saloon owners also ran gambling dens and houses of prostitution, and believed women voters would not be favorably disposed toward these enterprises either.

In 1899, according to Catt, a women’s suffrage measure passed the lower chamber of the Legislature by a vote of 10 to 5, and a majority in the upper chamber had pledged their support, but saloon owners sent every member of that chamber a telegram threatening them with political ruin if they supported the measure. The bill was filibustered to prevent it from ever coming to a vote. Catt reported that she was told that all such legislation is controlled by bribery, and that the measure could be “put through in a twinkling by ‘a little money judiciously distributed.’” She opined that it was the low pay of legislators in the territory which led the most desirable men not to serve and allowed enough men of unprincipled character to have seats for the latter to hold sway.

Undaunted, however, Catt and her colleague, Mary Hay, returned the next year to help organize the first full-fledged suffrage association in Arizona, with Pauline O’Neill as president and Frances Munds as recording secretary. In 1903, Munds was one of three members of the organization who worked with legislators and succeeded in getting a women’s suffrage bill passed. But Governor Alexander Brodie, an appointee of President Theodore Roosevelt, vetoed the bill. The veto was apparently part of a deal engineered by Joseph Kibbey, the leader of the Republican minority in the upper chamber, who was described by Munds as the “arch enemy” of women’s suffrage. When Brodie resigned, Kibbey was appointed to take his place as governor, and the suffragists knew the situation was hopeless as long as he was in office.

In 1909, Munds became the territorial chair of a new, more efficiently organized women’s suffrage association. A year later, at the constitutional convention, the association worked hard to get a women’s suffrage clause included in the proposed state constitution. When that effort failed, the association established headquarters in Munds’ house in Prescott and mounted a vigorous campaign to elect suffragists to the first state Legislature.

“The men, however,” Munds writes, “were so pleased with the members of the constitutional convention that a little thing like their voting against women suffrage did not matter and everyone who was a candidate for anything was elected, some to the Legislature and others to various state offices.”

George Hunt, who had been president of the convention and had aggressively opposed the suffrage clause, was elected the first governor of the state. He did recommend to the Legislature that it submit a women’s suffrage amendment to the voters, but the measure failed in both houses.

At that point, Munds’ organization decided to use the initiative process provided for in the new state Constitution to put the question on the ballot. The requisite number of signatures was collected on petitions, and in the election of November 5, 1912, the amendment received 13,442 “yes” votes and 6,202 “no” votes. Every county was carried. In an observation that serves as a reminder that this victory did not mean the end of discrimination in voting rights, Munds noted that the number of votes cast was small because Mexicans living in the state were disenfranchised by the education requirement for voting that was in place at that time.

The federal constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote was ratified by the Arizona Legislature on February 12, 1920, in a special session called by Governor Thomas Campbell. By that time in Arizona, there was little controversy about the matter. Two women from Iowa and Virginia came to speak in opposition to the amendment, and, according to Munds, were listened to in the Senate with “good-natured amusement” before the resolution for ratification was passed in both chambers without a dissenting vote.

Munds was among the leaders in the suffragist movement who traveled to other states to help seek ratification of the federal amendment. And on August 26, 1920, the U.S. Secretary of State proclaimed that the 19th Amendment had been ratified by the requisite three-fourths of the states.

This Times Past article was originally published on June 15, 2001.

Photo courtesy Arizona State Library and Archives; research by Gail Merton. ©Arizona Capitol Times.

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