March is Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on the Arizona women who have blazed trails at all levels of public life. Whether born here or a transplant, something about Arizona drives many women to maximize their role in civic leadership.
Even during territorial times, Arizona boasted capable and strong women, both native women and frontier women who forged the West. Some say the danger and struggle of westward migration favored only the strongest among us, leading to an attitude of self-reliance, initiative, and grit that garnered the respect and deference of our male counterparts. Whatever the origin, the spirit of leadership has only intensified with time.
At the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry and Arizona Chamber Foundation, we embody this spirit. Female success is the rule. Women are the majority – over 70 percent of our staff and students are female – and have been for at least a decade. Over 30 percent of our current board is female. The current chair of the Arizona Manufacturers Council — the state affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers — and the chair-elect of the Arizona Chamber Board, Dawn Grove and Susan Anable, respectively, are both women.
Arizona deserves more recognition for its formidable and female past and present. It is inspiring. Let’s take a moment to remember of some of the firsts in civic achievement of Arizona women and look toward the next:
In 1892, Sarah Herring Sorin became Arizona Territory’s first female lawyer licensed to practice. In 1913 she went on to become the very first woman in history to try a case before the U.S Supreme Court unaccompanied by a man.
Not long after being granted statehood in 1912, Arizona citizens amended the state constitution to grant women’s suffrage and ensure their right to hold public office. That’s a full eight years before the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting universal women’s suffrage.
Arizona’s first female state senator was elected in 1914. Frances Lillian Willard Munds was the second female state senator in U.S. history.
Arizona was one of the first states to send a woman to serve in Congress, electing Isabella Greenway back in 1932.
The first woman in U.S. history to become a state Chief Justice was Lorna Lockwood, elected in 1960 to the Arizona Supreme Court.
The first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court is from Arizona, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. In 1973, after successful election to the state Senate in 1970 and 1972, O’Connor became the first woman to serve as any state’s Senate majority leader when she took the reins in Arizona.
Arizona has had more female governors than any other state in the nation, starting with Rose Mofford in 1988. And when Jane Dee Hull was elected governor in 1998, she, for the first time in Arizona and U.S. history, was joined by four other females who were elected to statewide office that year, a group dubbed the Fab Five: Secretary of State Betsey Bayless;
Attorney General Janet Napolitano; State Treasurer Carol Springer; and Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan, who now heads the Arizona Chamber Foundation. This is the largest number of women to hold a state’s highest elected offices at one time, then and since.
In 2003, Arizona resident Vivian Juan-Sanders began her leadership as the first female elected chairwoman of Tohono O’odham Nation, which includes much of southern Arizona.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016 Arizona women with full-time wage or salaried positions out-earned the national average for women.
Even Arizona’s male leaders chip away at challenges that women face on their road to success. In 2016, Governor Doug Ducey announced the Happy Babies pilot program that allows moms and dads at some state agencies to bring their babies to work for the first six months. In 2017, the governor expanded the program.
A 2017 report on the state of women-owned businesses ranked Arizona in the top 10 of states where women-owned businesses have most increased their economic clout, defined as the growth in the number of firms, employment, and revenues.
In 2017, Arizona had the highest proportion of female legislators than any other state in the nation, at 40 percent.
And today, the two most prominent candidates for a U.S. Senate seat in Arizona, Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema, from both sides of the political aisle, are women. Both have served in the U.S. House of Representatives. McSally is also the first female to command a United States Air Force fighter squadron and fly in combat.
This year may very well be the first time a woman is elected to the U.S. Senate from the Grand Canyon State. Don’t ever let it be said that a little girl can’t grow up to be whatever she wants to be in Arizona.
Brandy Wells is the vice president of external affairs for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry