Arizona and the 19th Amendment

State of Arizona depicted in purple, white, and gold (colors of the National Woman’s Party suffrage flag) – indicating Arizona was one of the original 36 states to ratify the 19th Amendment.
State of Arizona depicted in purple, white, and gold (colors of the National Woman’s Party suffrage flag) – indicating Arizona was one of the original 36 states to ratify the 19th Amendment.


Women first organized and collectively fought for suffrage at the national level in July of 1848. Suffragists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott convened a meeting of over 300 people in Seneca Falls, New York. In the following decades, women marched, protested, lobbied, and even went to jail. By the 1870s, women pressured Congress to vote on an amendment that would recognize their suffrage rights. This amendment became known as the 19th Amendment.

At the time, Arizona was a territory of the US, not a state. But women living in the Arizona Territory formed their own suffrage organizations. Josephine Brawley Hughes created the first women’s suffrage organization in 1891. She was joined by other women such as Frances Willard Munds. These women introduced suffrage bills to the territory legislature each year, but none of the bills became law.

Munds eventually became the leader of the Arizona Suffrage Association in the early 1900s. She reached out to Mormon women in the territory – something other groups refused to do. Mormons were often discriminated against due to their religion. But Munds recognized the importance of Mormon women in the fight for suffrage.

Frances Lillian Willard Munds (1866-1948), Library of Congress.
Frances Lillian Willard Munds (1866-1948)

Library of Congress, Bain Collection.

As Munds and others fought for suffrage in the Arizona Territory, the debate over women’s suffrage rights continued in the nation’s capital. After decades of arguments for and against women's suffrage, the US Congress finally voted in favor of the 19th Amendment in 1919. This is called ratification. After Congress ratified the 19th Amendment, at least 36 states needed to vote in favor of it for it to become law.

Arizona became a state in 1912, and was able to participate in the ratification process. On February 12, 1920, Arizona voted in favor of the 19th Amendment. By August of 1920, 36 states (including Arizona) ratified the amendment, recognizing women’s right to vote.

State flag of Arizona, CC0
State flag of Arizona, CC0.

Women in Arizona

Arizona was home to Indigenous people including the Hopi, Apache, Mohave, Navajo, and many others. Women were important part of society in all tribes. They typically harvested food from the land, administered medicinal remedies, cared for the home, and educated their children. Women belonging to tribes like the Apache were fierce warriors. They formed battle strategies, fought in combat, and negotiated peace treaties.

In the 1500s, Spain laid claim to much of the land in southern and western North America, including what is now Arizona. When Mexico declared independence from Spain in the 1820s, the Arizona Territory became part of Mexico. At the time, the population of Arizona was small, but there were some Hispanic women living in the region. When the United States took this land from Mexico in the 1840s, there was a blending of Hispanic and Anglo-European cultures.

American settlers began to migrate to the region in the mid-1800s. A number of white women left behind diaries detailing the hardships of life in the west, including a lack of adequate medical care. There were also violent clashes between white settlers and Indigenous tribes.

Nellie Cashman, a white settler from Baltimore, tried to establish a community when she settled in Arizona. She raised money to build the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Tombstone, Arizona. But life on the frontier was hard, and Nellie’s sister died of disease. Nellie then took charge of caring for her five nieces and nephews. She later went on to create a number of boarding houses and hotels throughout the region.

By the early 1900s, there was more development in Arizona. Around this time, a tourist industry sprung up due to natural wonders such as the Grand Canyon. The Fred Harvey Company built a chain of restaurants and hotels near the Grand Canyon to attract tourists. The company hired Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, an architect and interior designer to build a resort on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. She took direct inspiration from the landscape and based the buildings on Native American design. Colter is one of the first female architects in American history.

In 1912, Arizona became a state. Less than eight years later, it voted in favor of the 19th Amendment. Women become active in civic life and ran for public offices.

As we learn about the stories of women like Nellie Cashman and Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, we come to find that women’s history is Arizona history.

Last updated: November 15, 2018