Special Collections Online Exhibits

Founding Mothers: From the Ballot Box to the University

Founding Mothers of Arizona Suffrage

“…the cause of suffrage will sweep over this country until women vote in every state…
and we shall look upon the arguments and opposition against it as we do upon the mistakes of the dark ages.”
Pauline O'Neill[i]

In 1883, Murat Masterson, a Mormon attorney from Prescott, introduced a bill in the 12th Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Arizona to allow women to vote in all elections.  This bill, which was defeated 7 to 3, began a long battle in the legislature over woman’s suffrage.  In February 1883, Masterson was mocked in the Arizona Daily Star, edited by Louis C. Hughes, in an editorial that said his interest derived from “intense personal sympathies…He loves women.”[ii]  Masterson’s motivations are unknown. He may have been inspired by Utah which, as a territory, granted women suffrage in 1870, or by the example of strong, intelligent women in his own life.  Later in 1883, another suffrage supporter, A. D. Lemon, representing Maricopa and Gila districts, introduced a bill in the Arizona Council (now called the Senate) that permitted women to vote and hold offices in school board elections.  This bill passed and became law.

Two founding mothers played crucial roles in the struggle for women’s suffrage: Josephine Brawley Hughes and Frances Willard Munds. Josephine Brawley Hughes, one of the first Anglo women in Arizona, arrived in 1872. Her husband, Louis Hughes, started the first daily newspaper in the territory, the Arizona Daily Star. As a social reformer and community builder, Brawley Hughes opened and taught in an early public school in 1873, started the first Protestant church in Tucson in 1877, and became president of the Arizona Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in 1890. She and Mr. Hughes sponsored a visit of Frances Willard, the president of the national WCTU. Because they supported temperance, the Arizona Daily Star did not accept advertising from saloons or distributors of liquor.

Josephine Brawley Hughes

Josephine Brawley Hughes, UA Libraries Special Collections 

When Brawley Hughes was unable to achieve success for temperance, she turned her attention to woman’s suffrage declaring: “If this country is ever saved from this great evil ‘the drink habit,’ it will be accomplished through the influence and ballot of good women.”[iii] She resigned as president of the Arizona WCTU and in 1891 became president of the first Arizona suffrage organization, the Arizona Territorial Women’s Equal Rights Association.

Her strategy was to lobby legislators and build support among community leaders for woman’s suffrage.  She partnered with existing organizations, such as churches, social clubs, and women’s organizations, to host meetings and organized suffrage clubs in every county.  She sought assistance from the National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA) that had formed in 1890 from the merger of the NWSA and the AWSA.  The NAWSA sent Laura Johns from Kansas to help; Johns joined Brawley Hughes speaking around Arizona in the new equal rights clubs.

In 1894, Brawley Hughes traveled to Washington, D.C., with her son John Titus to report on the suffrage efforts in Arizona.  It must have been an easier journey than the one that brought her from Philadelphia to Tucson in 1872.  At the convention, she brought her son to the podium where Susan B. Anthony lifted up John and introduced him by declaring that he would be the “Suffrage Knight of Arizona.”[iv]

Letter from L.C. Hughes to Christian Endeavour

Letter L.C. Hughes to Christian Endeavours, March 7th, 1896.  UA Libraries, Special Collections 

The Arizona territorial legislature met every other year; legislators introduced suffrage bills in each session from 1893 to 1899. Brawley Hughes experienced defeat each time when the bill either was defeated in one part of the legislature or was stalled in committee and never came to a full vote. The prospect of passing woman’s suffrage rose when her husband Louis was elected governor in 1892. He expressed hope that suffrage legislation would land on his desk for signature.  He wrote to Frances Willard: “I have full confidence the next Legislative Assembly will pass the bill.  I am looking forward to the greatest triumph of my life,--approving the law that will give to the Mothers of Arizona the power to protect their homes.”[v] He wrote to the organization Christian Endeavours about the impact that their two million members could make to “advance the welfare of the country.” Mr. Hughes urged them to support political candidates who demonstrated “ability, integrity and true manhood” and reminded them that “if the franchise was conferred upon women, it would much more than double the voting power of the Christian Endeavor forces.”[vi]

Louis C. Hughes was removed as governor on March 23, 1896. Having faced the defeat of the women’s suffrage bill again and again and the end of her husband’s political career, Brawley Hughes resigned as president of the suffrage organization in 1898.  Mr. Hughes  commented to Frances Willard about the personal toll of his wife's suffrage work: “We have had a terrible struggle against the forces of darkness during the last three years.  My Dear Wife has suffered so much. Indeed she has almost broken down, but her faith is strong for the future.”[vii]

The equal rights that Brawley Hughes sought and Hughes supported were not inclusive. Mr. Hughes led a campaign in the Arizona Daily Star against Mormons because he was opposed to polygamy. Brawley Hughes probably shared his sentiments; she and Laura Johns spoke at women’s clubs that excluded Mormons and Mexicans. She also was concerned about the “Indian problem” and supported a plank in the 1884 Democratic Convention to forcibly remove Apaches to Florida.[viii]

Frances Willard Munds

Frances Willard Munds, UA Libraries, Special Collections 

In 1899 Pauline O’Neill became president of the Arizona Woman’s Suffrage Association and Frances Willard Munds became secretary.  These women represented a new generation of leaders that introduced different strategies.  O'Neill and Munds traveled with NAWSA president Carrie Chapman Catt and Mary Hay speaking at meetings and outdoor rallies.  They organized suffrage clubs in 12 of the 14 counties in Arizona. In 1903, the Arizona legislature passed a women’s suffrage bill for the first time.  The suffragists were bitterly disappointed when the bill was vetoed by Governor Alexander Brodie.  Brodie’s official explanation was that the federal act creating the territory specified that voting was for male voters.[ix]

Munds saw that relying on male elected officials was a risky strategy to achieve suffrage.  Politicians and community leaders might tell suffragists that they supported women’s rights, but their support did not always produce legislative votes.  Munds had a different vision.  Elected president in 1909, she renamed the organization as the Arizona Equal Suffrage Association.[x]


[i] O'Neill, Pauline M., "Equal Suffrage and What it Means to the Women of Arizona," Tucson Citizen, January 28, 1912, 4.
[ii] “Reformers,” Arizona Daily Star, February 12, 1883, 2.
[iii] No title, article about Mrs. Grover Cleveland’s support of temperance, Arizona Daily Star, March 14, 1895, 2.
[iv]  Hon. John R. Murdock, “A Notable Arizona Woman” (Josephine Brawley Hughes), speech in the House of Representatives, February 17, 1939. US Government Printing Office. University of Arizona Special Collections, 92 H8934 M974 Arizona Biographical File–Hughes.
[v] Letter from Louis Hughes to Frances Willard, December 17, 1895. University of Arizona Special Collections, AZ 104, Letter book of Louis C. Hughes, 1893-1896.
[vi] Letter from Louis Hughes to Christian Endeavors, about March 1896. University of Arizona Special Collections, AZ 104, Letter book of Louis C. Hughes, 1893-1896.
[vii] Letter from Louis Hughes to Frances Willard.
[viii] Heidi J. Osselaer, “The Battle Begins,” Winning Their Place: Arizona Women in Politics 1883-1950 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2009), 8-13.
[ix] Osselaer, 21-22.
[x] Osselaer, 21-23.