Celebrating Centennial: Arizona Women

Celebrating Arizona’s Centennial

From Pioneer home, Ft. Apache, AZ
From a pioneer home, Ft. Apache, AZ

Two brand new books and one from last year, celebrate some of the women who helped build Arizona in the past 100 years, and the years when it was a Territory. Women were celebrated in Arizona from the beginning. Arizona wrote women’s suffrage into their constitution, making it one of the first states to allow women to vote, and one year after the territory became a state, a woman was elected to public office. We currently have a woman Governor (our fourth). The Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame celebrates Arizona women in the state capitol of Phoenix.

[amazon_image id=”1933855533″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Levis and Lace: Arizona Women Who Made History[/amazon_image] (2011) by Jan Cleere

Jan Cleere has written extensively on Arizona history.  She brings her research skills to this book to shine attention on more than 35 women who are remembered and some who have been forgotten. The women sketched in [amazon_link id=”1933855533″ target=”_blank” ]Levis and Lace[/amazon_link] lived in Arizona between the early 1800’s and the 1970’s. (Disclaimer: Jan Cleere is a personal friend, but I don’t have to promote her work–she is a popular speaker and well-regarded historian.)

In explaining the women chosen for the book, Cleere says,

They were selected for their fortitude in the face of adversity, their confrontation of extraordinary and sometimes dangerous situations, their adventurous spirit, and their dedication to improving the lives of others.

La Posada Hotel, Winslow
La Posada Hotel, Winslow, designed by Mary Jane Coulter, one of the women in Levis and Lace

As Cleere points out, for immigrants, the very act of traveling west to unknown lands in pioneer days makes these women heroines–but many went on to take positive actions in education, journalism, government and law, agriculture, religion, health care, and businesses that turned the wilderness into civilization. The book inserts one-page bios of some women, called “Another Notable Woman” along with the 4-5 page stories of the 36 who represent the various fields of achievement and the variety of cultures that make up Arizona.

Cleere also writes biographies for the Arizona Women’s Heritage Trail that marks locales throughout the state that are important to Arizona’s outstanding women. Planning a road trip to Arizona, check the website for ways you can follow the Heritage Trail.

[amazon_image id=”0983945209″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Elsie – Adventures of an Arizona Schoolteacher 1913-1916[/amazon_image]Very Lovingly Yours, Elsie: Adventures of an Arizona Schoolteacher (1913-1916) (NEW)by Barbara Ann Waite

Once in a while a book comes along that successfully transports you to a different place and time.  Barbara Ann Waite wisely lets the letters and journals of her grandmother speak in [amazon_link id=”0983945209″ target=”_blank” ]Elsie[/amazon_link].  Waite stays out of the way, except for explaining things that might be unclear to a modern reader. She occasionally writes a page or two to provide explanations of times not fully explained in Elsie’s letters and journal, and supplements with newspaper articles of the period. Elsie, after all, reveals much less in her private journal than people her age reveal on Facebook these days.

Oak Creek, Sedona
Oak Creek

Elsie leaves her cultured life in California for a teaching assignment in the small ranching town of Cornville, Arizona in Oak Creek Canyon. Fortunately, she likes roughing it and the outdoors, but nevertheless she is faced with a very different set of behaviors and people than she is used to. After a year at Cottonwood, she moves to the slightly larger town of Williams

The shortcoming of so many memoirs is the lack of a compelling story line. They have daily life, but ultimately no meaningful action to draw us along through the pages.  Not so with Elsie.  This book relates a bittersweet love story that keeps the reader eager to read the continuing saga.

The professional design of the book makes it stand far above most independently published books, and adds to the enjoyment.  But in the end, it works because Elsie is such an engaging and lovable young woman and lives in such an interesting time in Arizona’s history.

Red Rock Country, Arizona
Red Rock Country, Arizona


Skirting Traditions: Arizona Women Writers and Journalists 1912-2012 (Pub.2012) written and edited by members of the Arizona Press Women

Skirting Traditions: Arizona Women Writers and Journalists 1912-2012 is that thing to be feared–a book by committee. But somehow it manages to work (Disclaimer #2: I authored one of the chapters in this book). Six editors and eighteen writers (with some overlap between the two categories) all are members of the Arizona Press Women, and have won awards for their writing.

The first woman in the book, Sharlot Hall (1870-1943), might be said to have set the bar high for women writers who came after her.  Writing in the late 1800’s right through to around 1940, she was the consummate journalist, writing magazine and newspaper articles about any subject that touched on Arizona and the West, as well as poetry and children’s literature. (The Poetry Center at the University of Arizona pays tribute to Hall and another woman in a special exhibit through March.) She was appointed official historian for the Arizona Territory, and played an active role in politics. Today she is remembered through the excellent history museum in Prescott Arizona called the Sharlot Hall Museum, which includes the restored Governor’s mansion which Sharlot Hall worked to preserve because of her interest in Territorial history.

Her story begins Skirting Traditions, which proceeds with the stories of pioneers in radio and television broadcasting, public relations, memoirs and fiction and every kind of writing that you can imagine. We read about women in journalism when the society pages were the only place open to women, and many companies had policies against hiring married women. We read about the first women in television in the Phoenix area–both as “talking heads” and as the backstage producers of features and news. There are photographers and war correspondents and scholars and political activists.

I wrote a chapter on Louise Boehringer, the first elected official in the new state–as county school superintendent, founder of  at least a half dozen organizations, and publisher of a journal for teachers and parents that still exists in a new form, today. I was in awe of this woman by the time I finished researching her life, but even more in awe when I started reading the varied stories in Skirting Traditions. Twenty-eight women. And I’m feeling rather old as I personally know or knew five of these “pioneers.” And lest you think they will all be strangers to you–do you know the work of humorist Erma Bombeck? She’s one of Arizona’s pioneering women. (Born in Ohio, she spent 25 years in Arizona and in Arizona that qualifies for being a native.)

If you are planning travel to Arizona during the Centennial of Arizona’s statehood, you’ll find lots of out-of-the-way places calling you after you read these books. Check the calendar of events to celebrate the Centennial. Many of the authors I’m discussin this week will also be appearing at the Tucson Festival of Books on March 10 and 11.  Check the book festival  calendar of events to see if your favorites will be here. And if you want to hear more about Arizona Women, don’t miss “Legacies of the Past: Historic Women of Arizona” with historian and author Jan Cleere, Wednesday, March 28, 7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. at the University of Arizona’s Main Library, Special Collections.

Disclaimers:  There are affiliate links to Amazon in this article.  A Traveler’s Library is an affiliate of Amazon, which means that when you buy something through those links–anything at all–it does not cost you any more, but it does help support A Traveler’s Library. Thanks!  All pictures here belong to Vera Marie Badertscher. Please to do not copy without permission.

Have you been to Arizona? Do you like to read biographies and memoirs to familiarize yourself with a place to which you will travel?


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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

4 thoughts on “Celebrating Centennial: Arizona Women

  1. Thanks Vera Marie. I appreciate you including the information about “Elsie-Adventures of an Arizona Schoolteacher 1913-1916.”
    Elsie was an amazing woman, a gifted story teller and a treasured grandmother. I am thrilled that people from all across the USA and even some foreign countries have written to say how much they have enjoyed her story. Now I want to read some of the others you mentioned. Thanks, Barbara Anne Waite

  2. I often think about how much the practice of journalism has changed in the past decade, but truly can’t fathom what it would have been like for Hall and her contemporaries. I’m so glad they’re getting their due.

  3. oh my- I have to get my hands on Elsie!!! It sounds wonderful- I mean all the books you talked about sound great…but this particular one jumped out at me. Also- I know Cottonwood well, as on one of the visits to Arizona I stayed there with dear friends of mine.

    It is intriguing to hear about the part women played in Arizona.

  4. These books look very interesting. Thanks for the reviews and the information about women’s suffrage in the early days of Arizona. Yes, I’ve been to Arizona many time over many years. I have a lot of family in Phoenix and Flagstaff areas, but I’d be drawn to it anyway.

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