February is Black History Month, and it is worth remembering that Arizona was a segregated state when admitted to the Union in 1912, with inter-racial marriages against the law. After the Civil War work was often denied in construction and mining to former slaves, so many African Americans went into the military. Black soldiers were put into the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry of the U.S. Army.
The “Buffalo Soldiers,” so-named by Native Americans who compared the soldiers on horseback to buffalo herds, protected settlers from outlaws and Apache raiders. In 1889 half the units were stationed at Fort Huachuca, joined by the other half in 1918. They regularly visited Tucson and, despite racial segregation, opened a number of small businesses and worked as cowhands on local ranches.
In Tucson a “colored school” was established in 1913 and the two-room Dunbar School opened in 1918 exclusively for back students. In 1940 African Americans brought in from the South to pick cotton established the town of Riilito. During World War II black Arizonans joined hundreds of Tuskegee Airmen in segregated Army Air Corps units and pilots and crew flying fighters and bombers over Europe. Segregation was not abolished in the military until 1948 under threat of a March on Washington by black veterans and their supporters, and took five more years to accomplish.
Despite warnings from a hostile white Establishment, Arizona’s African Americans participated in the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and ‘60s, seeking equality in housing and education, access to public facilities, and equal job opportunities. Segregation was removed from the State Constitution in 1951, and during the 1980s an African American educator, Dr. Charles Ford, was elected to the Tucson City Council for two terms.
Sisters Tani and Derri Sanchez have for the past four decades put together books, quilts and other artistic creations to make public Tucson’s hidden African American history. For more about their endeavors, visit http://tucson.com/news/local/neto-s-tucson-sisters-pursuit-of-tucson-s-black-history/article_7e7670b9-c808-5018-a902-da0f47fe5528.html.
White racism came early to the New World. At first both black and white workers brought to the colonies were treated as “indentured servants” and freed after a period of time. Decisions were made in the 1600s that the rule didn’t apply to blacks, and two hundred years of American slavery began. While racism can be driven underground, it often lingers and festers. In Arizona the Ku Klux Klan was active in over a dozen cities, including Tucson, during the 1920s and, in Phoenix, until years later. The KKK website is currently recruiting in the state, using Mexican immigration as its hook to attract new members.
The Arizona black community celebrates Juneteenth, Freedom Day, on June 19th, which the State Legislature adopted as a Day of Observance (not a legal holiday) in 2016. June 19, 1865, was the day slaves in Texas first found out they had been freed 2-1/2 years earlier by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had attracted some 200,000 former slaves into the Union army. There are ongoing efforts to make Juneteenth a national holiday. For information on local events, visit https://www.facebook.com/tusjuneteenth/.
March 8 is International Women’s Day, and many people around the world will be wearing something purple to commemorate it. The day grew out of a New York garment workers’ strike in 1908 for better conditions and equal pay. The mostly-female strikers were honored with parades and speeches the following year, organized by Socialists, with parts of Europe joining the movement in 1911. The United Nations took official action in 1975, making the day truly an International Women’s Day.
Arizona history is filled with the names of famous men – Father Kino, Kit Carson, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Barry Goldwater, Bruce Babbitt, Charles Mingus, César Chávez, Geronimo, Cochise, etc. There are a few famous women, like 11 times Grammy winner Linda Ronstadt, mystery writer J.A. Jance, first woman Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and perhaps Tohono O’odham poet and educator Ofelia Zepeda, but there is still resistance to recognizing and supporting equal rights for women.
Just one year ago, as reported in the Arizona Daily Independent, the Republican majority in the State House of Representatives blocked a hearing on District 9 Representative Pamela Powers Hannley’s bill to support the Equal Rights Amendment. The ERA was first introduced 75 years ago and reads, simply, Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.
Here is a sampling of some famous and not-so-famous Arizona women who should be remembered:
- Mary Bernard Aguirre (1844-1906) was an Anglo who married a Mexican military supplier. She taught at the Tucson Public School for Girls at a time when public education was bitterly opposed; she later taught at the University of Arizona.
- Elgie Mike Batteau (1905-1994) was the first African American woman to graduate the University of Arizona, in 1933. Arizona’s Constitution enforced racial segregation so she taught at the Dunbar School, Tucson’s only school for black children.
- Rachel Allen Berry (1859-1948) fought for women’s right to vote and was then elected to the Arizona House of Representatives in 1914, the first woman in the nation to be elected to state office. Her focus was on education and child welfare.
- Erma Bombeck (1927-1996) moved from Ohio to Arizona to write her column, “At Wit’s End,” which appeared in 500 newspapers. She wrote 15 books and appeared regularly on TV. Bombeck was very quotable: “Insanity is hereditary – you can catch it from your kids!”
- Nellie Trent Bush (1888-1963) was the first licensed woman riverboat pilot and served 16 years in the Arizona legislature. She and Lorna Lockwood went to law school in 1921 and were banned from classes where rape was discussed. They confronted the Dean, asking if had ever heard of any rape cases that didn’t involve women? They were allowed back in class. Bush later took up flying.
- Nellie Cashman (1845-1925) was a gold prospector among her many endeavors. A woman of action, in 1874 she led a rescue party against official advice to save 26 miners trapped in a Canadian blizzard. Believing that killing was wrong on either side of the law, Cashman organized a team in Bisbee to tear down a grandstand that had been built for the hanging of five men convicted of killing bystanders during a robbery.
- Eulalia Elias (1788-1865) established the first major cattle ranch in Arizona.
- Beatrice Gonzales (dates unknown) in 1913 defied the Phoenix Chief of Police who had said he would enforce the local law forbidding a woman from exposing more than two inches of her ankle. Slit skirts were the new fashion rage from Paris, and Gonzales wore a skirt slit to the knee to challenge him. No arrests were made.
- Gouyen (1857?-1903) was a Chiricahua Apache in the Warm Springs band whose first husband was killed in a Comanche raid in the 1870s. She tracked the Comanche chief to his camp where he was watching a victory dance wearing her husband’s scalp on his belt. Gouyen donned a ceremonial dress and slipped into the circle of dancers. She seduced the drunken chief to go with her to a secluded spot and stabbed him to death with his own knife, scalped him, and took his beaded breechcloth and moccasins. Stealing a horse, Gouyen rode back to her camp and presented her in-laws with the scalp and clothing as proof of her revenge. She later fought alongside Geronimo and died a U.S. prisoner-of-war in Oklahoma.
- Ora Mae Harn (1933-2010) worked as a school bus driver in Marana while her husband labored at the Silver Bell Mine. She later served 16 years on the Marana Town Council and was twice elected Mayor. She was a founder of the Marana Health Center and Community Food Bank.
- Pearl Hart (1867?-1955?) lived a life of addiction and crime and on May 30, 1899, joined in the next-to-last stagecoach robbery in Arizona. Sentenced to five years in Yuma Territorial Prison, she was the only woman there and won a pardon when she claimed she was pregnant. She later worked in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
- Josephine Brawley Hughes (1839-1926) was a journalist teacher and feminist, co-founding the Arizona Daily Star.
- Emma Lee (dates unknown) was the 17th wife of Mormon polygamist John Lee who ran a ferry in Utah. John was executed for organizing the Mountain Meadows Massacre of non-Mormon emigrants from Arkansas and Missouri, killing 120 men, women and older children. Emma took over running the ferry at the mouth of the Paria River herself for five years in the 1870s.
- Lorna Lockwood (1903-1977), co-law student with Nellie Trent Bush in 1921, spent 14 years on the Arizona Supreme Court and, in 1965, became the first woman Chief Justice in the United States.
- Frances Sallie Manuel (1912-2006) was a Tohono O’odham basket weaver, storyteller and tribal elder. Her 2001 book, with Deborah Neff, Desert Indian Woman: Stories and Dreams, chronicles her life and culture on and off the Reservation.
- Frances Lillian Willard Munds (1866-1948) was an Arizona State Senator and advocate for women’s rights.
- Nampeyo (1860-1942) was a potter credited with creating contemporary Hopi pottery designs.
- Ann Neal (1870-1950) and her husband ran a freight business and in 1895 opened the Mountain View Hotel. Despite being African American in a territory that practiced racial segregation, they pioneered the beginnings of Arizona’s tourist industry.
- Ida Redbird (1892-1971) was a master potter credited with the Maricopa Tribe’s pottery revival.
- Margaret Sanger (1879-1966) was co-founder of the Tucson Medical Center and a long-time advocate for family planning and birth control.
- Sarah Herring Sorin (1861-1914) was the first woman lawyer in Arizona.
- Harriet Faye Southworth (1882-1960) won an auto race on dirt roads from Prescott to Phoenix in 1910.
- Mayme Dees Smith (1919-2013) was a realtor who founded the Rancho del Conejo Water Cooperative in 1971, creating the foundation of the rural community of Picture Rocks in the Avra Valley west of Tucson.
- Placida Garcia Smith (1896-1981) organized the first Mexican American Boy Scout Troop in Arizona and helped some 1400 immigrants to become U.S. citizens.
- Katherine Stinson (1891-1977) was a daredevil stunt pilot who made Arizona’s first air mail delivery in 1915. She was the fourth woman in the nation to earn a pilot’s license.
- Mercedes Shibell Quiroz (1875-1965) was one of only two women, and the sole Mexican American, in the University of Arizona’s first graduating class, in 1897.
- Maria Urquides (1908-1994) is called “the mother of bilingual education” and has a school named for her.
- Carmen Soto Vasquez (1861-1934) was a theatrical producer and founder of Teatro Carmen, credited with establishing Tucson’s reputation as a Southwestern cultural center.
- Annie Dodge Wauneka (1910-1997) left a government boarding school for Indians before graduating but went on to a career in public health. In 1951 she was the first woman elected to the Navajo Tribal Council, beating two male candidates including her husband, and in 1963 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work in bettering the life of her tribe.
Anonymous: During a shootout between two Anglos and an Apache war party in the 1860s a warrior was killed and turned out to be a white woman whose identity was never established.
To meet more amazing Arizona women, visit the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame: https://www.azwhf.org/inductions/inducted-women/.