TRUE (Suffrage) TALES: Play relates women's right-to-vote effort in Arizona
PRESCOTT - Those attending a short play Friday about women's suffrage in Arizona overheard historically accurate conversations, thanks to Arizona Women's Heritage Trail Scholar Mary Melcher, who wrote the play.
Prescott was the first stop for the localized play, which also will be performed at the state capitol March 23, in Flagstaff Sept. 27, in Tucson Oct. 16 and in Yuma Nov. 9.
Melcher pored over newspaper articles and dug into the state's archives, where she found letters and speeches by political leaders of the time such as Arizona's first governor, George Hunt.
She even found the original petitions that women circulated in 1912 to get women's suffrage on the November 1912 ballot. A wide variety of people signed those petitions, Melcher noted.
The Women's Heritage Trail brought along copies of a period flyer that listed four reasons to give women the right to vote.
"Those who obey laws should have something to say as to their making," the handbill states. "Those who pay taxes to support government should be represented in the government. Those who have charge of the home and the children must be able to protect them. Remember this! Arizona women struggled as anxiously as men in building the state."
On Nov. 5, 1912, an overwhelming 68 percent of the men voted in favor of women's right to vote in Arizona. That was the largest winning margin of any women's suffrage vote in the nation, Arizona State University adjunct history professor Heidi Osselaer told the Prescott College audience Friday. And it was eight years before all women in the country gained the right to vote.
Hunt (Tedd Delong) had opposed giving women the right to vote in Arizona's new Constitution because he feared it would prevent Congress from ratifying the long-awaited Arizona Constitution.
But after Arizona became a state on Feb. 14, 1912, when he took office, Gov. Hunt changed his public tune and voiced support for women's suffrage.
"We'll raise politics to a higher plane" if women start voting, Hunt said in the play, although he also claimed some truth to the argument that politics is too dirty for women.
Other characters in the play were local folks who voiced opposition to women voting, including Prescott Streets Superintendent Warren B. Clark (Parker Anderson) and his wife (Joan Meacham), as well as Arizona's first Senate President Michael G. Cunniff of Crown King (Bob Wright), a Harvard-trained writer who came to Arizona to get into the mining business.
"I have too high an opinion of women to burden them with this unnecessary responsibility," Cunniff said of the vote.
Suffragist leader Josephine Brawley Hughes (Patty Conrad), a Tucson newspaper publisher married to former territorial governor Louis Cameron Hughes, pointed out that giving women the vote would help rid the state of alcohol. Arizona voters approved prohibition five years before the national ban took effect.
Unions were strong supporters of the vote, too, so the play also features Western Federation of miners labor leader Joseph Cannon (Keaton Snyder).
Melcher said she also included some racist comments in the play because she wanted to accurately reflect the times.
When Cunniff expressed concerns that Mexican women would be able to vote under the suffrage initiative, suffragist leader Frances Willard Munds (Jody Drake) responded that voters would have to be able to read and write English.
Suffragists in general backed the literacy law, Melcher said. A 1912 state statute said voters must be able to read the U.S. Constitution in English.
"That was normal back then," Melcher said.
Munds was a former Prescott schoolteacher who was a major leader in the suffrage movement and ended up being Arizona's first female senator. She wore great hats and had a great sense of humor, too, Osselaer said.
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 the Historic Women of Prescott Walking Tour that the Arizona Women's Heritage Trail has set up on its website at womensheritagetrail.org.
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