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Capitol statue planned for early suffragist Frances Munds

Frances Willard Munds

Frances Willard Munds

Frances Willard Munds explained in a celebration speech in November 1912 how Arizona’s suffrage movement was “probably the most unique in history.”

The fight for equal suffrage went as far back as 15 years and success was within their grasp eight years before a suffrage bill passed the U.S.House and Senate, said Munds, who served as the Arizona Equal Suffrage Association’s president from 1909 to 1912.

But one man stood in their way. Alexander Oswald Brodie, the territorial governor, who Munds said “was controlled by machine politicians,” vetoed the bill.

“Since that time it has been apparent that we could never succeed with a suffrage measure until it came to the vote of the people,” Munds said in her speech.

A ballot initiative to give women the right to vote in Arizona was approved by more than 60 percent of voters on November 5, 1912, eight years before the passage of the 19th Amendment. Arizona was the eighth state to grant women the right to vote.

The Arizona Women’s History Alliance is now hoping to honor Munds with a statue of her likeness at Wesley Bolin Plaza, across 17th Avenue from the state Capitol, said Melanie Sturgeon, president of the alliance.

“[Munds] and two other suffragists worked with the Legislature, which in those days was not considered very ladylike,” Sturgeon said. “Basically, they lobbied the Legislature, and that was not considered something that women should be doing.”

Munds’ historical achievement went largely unknown to her grandchildren until they had grown, according to Heidi Osselaer, who started working with and researching Munds’ family in the 1990s when she worked on her dissertation at Arizona State University. Her dissertation later turned into a book titled, “Winning Their Place: Arizona Women in Politics.” The family members whom she worked with have since passed away, but Osselaer described the stories they told her.

One of the grandchildren, John Munds, told Osselaer they didn’t know too much about their grandmother.

“John told me he didn’t know until he was an adult and he was married that his grandmother had played this huge role in Arizona history,” Osselaer said. “He said his parents were kind of embarrassed because mom wasn’t home. She was at a women’s club meeting, campaigning, lobbying and doing things that weren’t a proper thing for women to do.”

Osselaer said John told her he was proud to find out about his grandmother’s work, which included a term in the state Senate representing Yavapai County from 1915 to 1916. She was the first woman to be elected to office in Arizona.

“[John] did say he remembered her always as being really tiny, very short, she had bright, red hair, and, I have this written down in my notes, she was always laughing,” Osselaer said. “I got that, too, from my research, that she was just a happy, lively, full-of-fun person. She was always telling jokes to the Legislature.”

Osselaer said Munds used humor as a way to deflect sexism.

“When she got in the Legislature, one day she baked a cake for her [wedding] anniversary. She brought it to the state Senate and she told the press she wanted to make sure her fellow senators knew that women knew how to bake as well as legislate,” Osselaer said. “She liked to flip tables on everyone once in a while.”

The Arizona Women’s History Alliance anticipates the statue will be on the plaza by the middle of October 2020. There will be a ceremony on November 5 that year celebrating the 108th anniversary of Arizona women getting the right to vote.

In order to place the statue at Wesley Bolin Plaza, legislators need to pass a bill, which is standard practice. The bill that would allow Munds’ statue to be placed has passed the House and is now in the Senate.

The alliance also needs to raise $250,000 to pay for the creation of the statue.

“We’re not as far along as we’d like to be,” Sturgeon said. She said the group has until the end of August 2020 to raise the money, but she added that the group needs to raise as much as they can quickly because they need to pay the artist.

“We’ve had ten sculptors tell us that they’re interested,” Sturgeon said.

She told a story about when John was visiting at the time Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court, received the Frances Willard Munds Award.

“[John] was front and center,” Osselaer said. “He had tears in his eyes. He was so excited that that kind of honor came to [Frances Willard Munds] well after her death.”

Below is Frances Willard Munds’ speech following the 1912 vote for Woman Suffrage. 

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