University of Arizona

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Founding Mothers

From the Ballot Box to University

The idea of citizen is foundational to democracy. Women have been speaking up and demanding their rights to be citizens since the founding of the United States. The online exhibit, Founding Mothers: From the Ballot Box to the University, focuses on women in Arizona and asks what strategies led to their success in winning representation at the ballot box and in the university. Whose voices are heard in these debates? Who is left out of these changes? Which issues continue to be challenges in our times?

Suffragists in Arizona organized the first Women’s Equal Rights Association in 1891. Josephine Brawley Hughes from Tucson and later Frances Munds and Pauline O’Neill developed different strategies to win women’s suffrage. Facing defeat year after year in the Arizona Territorial legislature, the women persevered. When the issue was brought to voters after statehood, voters overwhelmingly approved women’s suffrage. Extending suffrage to Native, Mexican American, African American and Asian Americans took many decades and voting rights continue to be of concern today.

Faculty women at the University of Arizona began to organize in the 1970’s in order to have women’s voices heard. Feminist speakers such as Gloria Steinem were brought to campus and women organized a Speak Out for International Woman’s Day in 1975. A two year effort by the Commission on the Status of University Women resulted in starting a women’s studies program. Led by Myra Dinnerstein, the interdisciplinary program grew to offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees and to become a department with faculty positions. By establishing a highly successful research institute, Women’s Studies supported feminist research, developed community outreach projects, and earned national recognition for its leadership and innovative programs.