Days Past: Women's suffrage heroes of Yavapai County
March is Women's History Month, a celebration of women's contributions to history, culture and society.
The life we enjoy today was hard-won by women who were ridiculed, ostracized and even imprisoned for daring to demand that 50 percent of the population should be able to exert some control over their own lives, bodies and minds. They had to overcome widespread beliefs regarding the frailty of the female body and mind. One presumed axiom was that women, when faced with a decision at the polling booth, would faint. Indeed, even most women felt there was nothing to gain by competing in the male domain of politics. The swearing and shouting unnerved them; fisticuffs were fearful; and drinking attended every election. Men would have to clean up their act if women were allowed into this sacrosanct inner circle.
Women also felt they had far more to lose than gain by such "unladylike" demands. Unless daughters were born into extraordinary families, they were drastically undereducated, needing only the domestic arts to comply with their assigned adult roles as wives and mothers. When sewing machines were first introduced, one manufacturer sent free samples to the wives of ministers, feeling that when their husbands saw what time and labor-saving devices they were, they would be enthusiastically endorsed from the pulpit. Instead, preachers condemned the contraptions as too mechanically complicated for a mere woman to master. Sewing machines were also considered to be the work of the Devil, because with time on their wives' hands ..."What are they going to do ... think?"
Although some women voted within colonial governments, and during the Revolution demanded to be included in the government, many upper-class women feared punishment through loss of financial and societal status. Most poor women didn't believe that having the vote would improve their own lives or their children's.
It required enormous courage to envision even a small part of what women today often take for granted. Women in the western United States secured the vote earlier than their Eastern sisters. It was harder to convince pioneer women that they were too weak to make a decision - these were ladies who homesteaded; delivered babies (sometimes their own); worked 16 hours or more a day; roped and branded; or cultivated, canned and cooked.
Frances Lillian Willard Munds was such a western woman. She was born in 1866 in Franklin, California. Her father, Joel, died during the trek to the Arizona Territory, leaving her mother, brothers and 13-year-old Fannie to homestead. The area was called Willard - later Cottonwood. While riding with her brothers, Fannie met John Munds, whose family ranched south of Flagstaff in the area now called Munds Park. She graduated from Central Institute in Pittsfield, Maine, and her first teaching job was in the Mormon village of Pine, and she later taught in Payson, Mayer (where she was the first teacher) and finally Jerome. On March 5, 1890, she married John Munds. He served as a Deputy Sheriff from 1894 to 1897 under Sheriff George Ruffner and was subsequently elected sheriff of Yavapai County, serving from 1898 to 1903.
Fannie was making a name for herself in Prescott and Yavapai County. She was a member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. In 1898, she was elected secretary and later president of the Arizona Women's Suffrage Organization. She worked tirelessly to overcome the prejudice and fear which women accepted every day as their lot in life.
On Nov. 5, 1912, women secured the right to vote in Arizona - eight years before national woman's suffrage. In 1913, Fannie was appointed by Governor George Hunt as representative to the International Women's Suffrage Congress held in Budapest. Upon her election in 1914 as the State Senator from Yavapai County - and the second female state senator in the United States - Fannie remarked: "Our friends, the true-blue conservatives, will be shocked to think of a grandmother sitting in the State Senate."
She retained her active interest in politics until her death on December 16, 1948.
In 1982, Frances Munds was inducted into the Arizona Women's Hall of Fame. Her contributions to her state and nation were recognized in 1995 with the creation of the Frances Willard Munds Award to "honor the accomplishments of modern women who have fulfilled Munds' vision of equal participation on Arizona politics." The first recipient of the award was the first woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
The legacy of Fannie Munds and women like her is not just the right to vote ... it is the right to choose.
Melissa Ruffner is a native Prescottonian whose first ancestor ar-rived here in 1867. She is the recipient of the Sharlot Hall Award, the Al Merito Award given by the Arizona Historical Society, and is one of the 100 Arizona CultureKeepers. Her most recent project is a DVD entitled "Melissa Ruffner's Prescott."
Days Past is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit articles for consideration. Contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 445-3122, ext. 14, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org for information.