Prescott was center of state's suffrage movement; Saturday walking tour celebrates their heritage
The year 2012 is not only the centennial of Arizona; it's also the centennial of women's right to vote in Arizona, and two Prescott women were the main force behind it.
The free Historic Women of Prescott Walking Tour Saturday celebrates the role of more than a dozen local women in Arizona's history. The one-hour tour starts at 1 p.m. in front of the city's Granite Street Parking Garage. Historians from the Arizona Women's Heritage Trail will lead participants to homes and other buildings where these women lived and worked.
"It's really a popular way to bring history to the public," said Joan Meacham, founding director of the Women's Heritage Trail, which the Arizona Centennial Commission has designated as a Legacy Project.
The tour brochures are on the group's website at womensheritagetrail.org.
The group also has created brochures about tours in Tucson and Phoenix, as well as driving tours across the state. A brochure featuring a North Central Arizona driving tour just became available on the group's website within the last few days.
"We're finding that people are interested in women's history," said Mary Melcher, an historian with a doctorate from ASU who has researched the women and sites on the tour.
Alongside the venerable Sharlot Hall, perhaps no Prescott women were more important in the early history of this state than Frances Willard Munds and Pauline O'Neill.
Their husbands were Yavapai County Sheriff John Munds, whose family homesteaded the community of Munds Park, and Buckey O'Neill, Prescott's fallen hero of the 1898 Spanish-American War.
The Arizona Women's Heritage Trail group formed to educate people about women who by virtue of their fair sex often got the short shrift in history books.
"If women and girls have role models, they have greater involvement in civic participation," added Meacham, who has a special fondness for women involved in the suffrage movement.
Meacham chaired the Women's Suffrage Statue Campaign that successfully fought to get a statue featuring three national suffrage leaders - Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott - out of the U.S. Capitol basement and into the Capitol rotunda.
It was a 72-year battle to get women the national right to vote in 1920, Meacham noted.
"We weren't "given' the right to vote,'" she added. "We worked hard for it. Women won the right to vote."
Arizona women got the right to vote eight years earlier, thanks to women such as Pauline O'Neill and Frances Munds.
Munds' stately home where women planned out their suffrage campaign in 1909-12 still stands at 220 N. Mt. Vernon in Prescott. It is a stop on Saturday's walking tour. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
"Definitely, that was an important place for women's rights in this state," said Heidi Osselaer, who chronicles the women's efforts in her book entitled "Winning their Place: Arizona Women in Politics 1883-1950." Osselaer is an adjunct history professor at Arizona State University.
Both Munds and O'Neill served as president of the Arizona Equal Suffrage Association.
"Munds was probably the key figure to winning suffrage for women in Arizona," Osselaer said. "She was the public face of the suffrage movement."
Munds had a special talent for talking to the state's male leaders, while O'Neill tracked legislative allies and foes, Osselaer said.
"So they were a good team together," she said.
After years of trying to get the suffrage question on the Arizona ballot, women got a new ally in the new Arizona Constitution in 1912 because it contained the progressive right for citizen initiatives and referendums.
Munds, O'Neill and many other women braved the scorching Phoenix heat to collect thousands of ballot signatures in a matter of months. Arizona women had the right to circulate petitions even though they didn't yet have the right to vote (except in school board elections).
On Nov. 5, 1912, an overwhelming 68 percent of the men voted in favor of women's right to vote in Arizona.
Munds and O'Neill didn't stop there.
Munds became the state's first female senator in 1914, and then O'Neill became one of the first female state representatives in 1916 after moving to Maricopa County.