Bridge Between Two Cultures- Annie Dodge Wauneka

The Legendary Mother of the Navajo Nation

(Designated by Navajo Council in 1984)

Dr. Warner Watkins, Annie Wauneka, and Dr. Clarence Salsbury, 1950

Annie Dodge was born in a traditional hogan on the Navajo Reservation on April 11, 1910. She was a member of the Tsénijíkiní (House Beneath Cliff People) Clan of the Navajo Tribe through her mother Keehanabah, also known as Mary Shirley Begaye, and the Coyote Pass People through her father, Henry Chee Dodge. (Note: English spelling of Navajo words varies.) Annie was born into a prominent family.

Photograph of Chee Dodge, Navajo Chairman and Dr. Clarence Salsbury

Her father, who went by Chee Dodge, was a successful rancher and businessman and served as the chief of the Navajo police, often interpreting and mediating issues to reduce conflict. He was elected by the Tribe as the first Chairman of the Navajo Tribal Council and successfully negotiated a royalty to be paid to the Tribe from oil drilled from under reservation land. Annie spent her early childhood in her father’s home with her stepmother and 3 stepsiblings near Crystal, New Mexico, where she learned skills of livestock herding.

Growing into a leader

When she was 8 years old, Annie Dodge was sent away to boarding school in Fort Defiance, Arizona. That year the 1918 flu epidemic struck the school and many students died. Annie, experiencing a mild case, helped to nurse her classmates. She never forgot the suffering of those sick with the flu and would work to eradicate illnesses for the rest of her life. Each year in the early spring she would leave school to help with the lambing at home, returning shortly before the end of the term. For grades 5 through 11 she attended the Albuquerque Indian School operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. For the first time, she learned that there were other tribes of Native Americans besides the Navajo. Many of the students spoke their tribal language and could not understand each other until they learned English.

Eighteen-year-old Annie returned home and announced to her family that she was going to marry a fellow student, George Wauneka. Between 1929 and 1950, the couple would have 9 children, some suffering long-term disabilities due to difficult births and poor health services in their remote area. In that era, many Navajos disapproved of families who had mentally disabled children, believing that they were a result of the mother having broken a taboo. Consequently, Wauneka did not often talk about her disabled children. The couple cared for their children at home. George took on most of the responsibilities of running the household, caring for the children, and managing the family’s large herd of sheep, despite the difficulty of doing so with no modern conveniences.

Chee Dodge, Arizona Highways, June 1943, June 1943 (page 4)

Annie Wauneka earned a BA in Public Health from the University of Arizona and later was awarded two honorary degrees from the U of A. Annie often accompanied her father, the revered and charismatic Chee Dodge, to council meetings and community visits. Watching her father, she learned the skills of public service and politics on the reservation. Across the reservation she saw poverty, lack of access to electricity and clean running water, and vulnerabilities to illness. Being bilingual in Navajo and English and having learned about the way of life off the reservation, she saw herself as a bridge between the Navajo community and the culture outside the Navajo Nation.

Chee Dodge died in 1947. Annie Dodge Wauneka, following her role model, was elected to the Navajo Tribal Council in 1951. She was the second woman in tribal history to be elected to the Tribal Council.

Ádahooníłígíí, February 1, 1947
Health advocate

Wauneka was best known for her work to promote public health. She chaired the Health and Welfare Committee of the Tribal Council and joined the U.S. Advisory Committee on Indian Health. She served on the advisory boards of the U.S. Surgeon General and the U.S. Public Health Service.

Navajo Times, August 4, 1960, page 2

Wauneka focused much of her work on combating tuberculosis. Before it was discovered in the 1950s that tuberculosis could be treated with antibiotics, it was the leading cause of death in Western countries. On the Navajo reservation, the infection rate was more than nine times the level of infection of the general American population. Wauneka first went to the U.S. Public Service laboratories to study the disease. Her goal to eradicate tuberculosis among Navajos faced multiple hurdles. She understood that Navajos value self-determination and do not wish to coerce the behavior of others, but she also knew that it is a fundamental value of Navajo culture to provide help to others when they need it. Accordingly, she realized that the best approach was to educate people regarding the disease and the availability of effective treatment. It was difficult to convince Navajos sick with tuberculosis to go to a hospital operated by medical doctors and to stay there until they were cured. Many Navajos did not speak English and were unfamiliar with the treatment. They did not want to be far from home and were concerned about who would care for their animals. Those who left the hospital early risked reinfection with a resistant strain of the disease and exposing others. Wauneka worked hard to convey the value of medical treatment to her community. Wauneka visited and talked to as many patients as she could. Sometimes a tribal member would insist on taking a traditional herbal remedy, and Wauneka would convince them to take the herbal remedy with the antibiotics.

From Public Health Reports: Part 2, U.S. Marine Hospital Service, 1963, page 311

Wauneka respected traditional Navajo healers and consulted them on spiritual matters. She was a practicing Catholic but also started each day with the Navajo ritual of prayer and a sprinkling of corn pollen. She taught tribal medicine men about the medicines and methods used by medical professionals off the reservation. She also explained to medical professionals the importance of medicine men in Navajo culture to help them when treating Navajo patients. She devised a medical dictionary to translate English medical terms into Navajo. Creating a medical dictionary was a daunting challenge, since some medical terms had no comparable word in Navajo. In those instances, the dictionary was needed to translate entire concepts.

Thanks in large part to the work of Wauneka, tuberculosis infections fell 35% by 1970. She saved the lives of at least 2000 tuberculosis patients and convinced 20,000 Navajos to be screened.

Navajo Times, 1960-09, Volume 1, Issue 3, page 7

Wauneka worked on other health issues also. She hosted a weekly radio show on health and sanitation. She used her radio show to explain the connections between poverty, heavy drinking, and automobile accidents on the reservation and its borders. Knowing that her community loved movies, she recruited tribal members to star in the Navajo-language video productions, which included information on tuberculosis, childhood diarrhea, polio, alcoholism, and nutrition. She explained the importance of eye and ear examinations and maternal and child health. She helped to improve housing, access to clean water, and sanitation. She became a well-known leader on the reservation. The Navajo Times paid tribute to her in the September 1960 issue.

Issues faced by the Tribal Council

Grazing rights

In Navajo culture, the Diné (Navajo word for The People) are caretakers of their sheep, goats, cattle, and horses. The size of a family’s herd was a symbol of their wealth. The herds were used for transportation, food, fiber, and ceremonies. Overgrazing had been an issue on the reservation for decades, exacerbated by larger herds, drought, and a growing population. The federal government required a permit for grazing and enforced livestock reductions, killing large numbers of animals.

Reductions in the size of their herd caused a hardship for families who lost a major source of food, income, and status. In some instances, animals were killed in inhumane ways. Sometimes the meat of dead animals was left to spoil. For the first time Navajos who were no longer able to make a living by herding were forced to work for wages. With few jobs available on the reservation, some were unable to support themselves and their families.

Wauneka was powerless to stop the livestock reductions, but she would intervene to help an individual. In about 1945, an old Navajo woman with a grandchild had been unable to get a permit to graze her palomino horse. She begged to be allowed to keep her horse, explaining that she used it to haul wood and get to the store. The district supervisor confiscated the horse and put it in a pen for sale. Wauneka was incensed. She roped the horse and handed it back to the old woman just as the district supervisor returned and grabbed the other end of the rope. Wauneka jerked the rope out of his hands, swatted the horse with it, and watched the horse run away. The district supervisor was furious, but Wauneka continued to talk to him and suggested a compromise that he let the elderly woman keep the horse for the rest of her life. As it happened, the old woman lived another thirty years, but Wauneka secured a permit for 25 animals for her.

Navajo-Hopi dispute

A long-simmering conflict between the Navajo nation and the Hopi Tribe reached a turning point during Wauneka’s years on the Tribal Council. Rights to the use of tribal lands were unclear, especially in the so-called Joint Use Area, which members of both the tribes were allowed to occupy and use. In 1974, Congress passed a law establishing a period of 180 days for the tribes to negotiate a settlement with the help of a mediator. When no settlement was reached, the legislation authorized a court to determine how the lands in the Joint Use Area should be divided between the two tribes. The mediator submitted a report to the court, and both tribes outlined their positions. In a series of decisions between 1976 and 1980, the court designated which portions of the Joint Use Area belonged to each tribe. There was sentiment among Navajos that the process had been unfair. The court’s decision mandated relocations of some tribal members whose families had lived in certain areas for many years. It was a painful time for the Navajo Nation.

Image from Indigenous Goddess Gang, Annie Dodge Wauneka, July 8, 2019

Education

Wauneka often said that the future of the Navajo Nation depended on education. She advocated for boarding schools on the reservation. She understood the hardship for school children to travel long distances each day to attend school and return to their modest homes every night. She believed that living in both cultures every day did not give them an adequate opportunity to understand the culture of the world outside the reservation. In contrast, she contended, if boarding schools were established on the reservation, the children would live closer to their families. In addition, for 9 months of the year, school children would get good food and health care, learn English, and be introduced to the culture outside the Navajo reservation. She also believed that reservation schools were a good step toward establishing reliable funding for education.

She was an early advocate for establishing a Head Start program on the reservation. The federal Head Start program helped preschool children build basic skills to prepare them to learn in school, including counting and reading readiness in English and Navajo. Navajo families worked as volunteers and the program enjoyed great success. Another of Wauneka’s projects was to convince the Tribal Council to provide school clothes for children whose families could not afford to buy them.

Problem solver
Navajo Nation map from Wikimedia Commons

Wauneka was educated in boarding schools but made her home on the reservation. Throughout her years on the Tribal Council she maintained contact with her constituents by continually traveling around the reservation to attend meetings and talk with tribal members. The Navajo Nation covers over 27,000 square miles and overlaps parts of the states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. It is larger than many states. In 1947, a few years before she became a member of the Tribal Council, there were fewer than 100 miles of all-weather roads and just 2000 miles of dirt roads and tracks on the reservation. Often Wauneka’s route took her across terrain that had no roads at all, just a path worn by the vehicles of the residents. She dug herself out of mud and sand when she got stuck and walked for miles when her car would break down. Hosted overnight by the families who lived in remote areas, she might be served supper of tea and fry bread and sleep on a sheepskin on the bare dirt floor of a hogan. She also kept in contact with people off the reservation through her work on health initiatives and her advocacy for the Navajo Nation. She traveled to Washington, D.C. many times to explain the needs of the Navajo Nation and became a familiar figure on Capitol Hill, always dressed in her best velvet blouse, full skirt, and Navajo silver and turquoise jewelry.

Navajo family near their hogan on the Navajo Indian Reservation

Wauneka’s experiences enabled her not only to be a bridge between the cultures, but also to be a problem-solver. Once a winter of severe blizzards reduced the flocks on the reservation, compounded by an illness affecting sheep that forced herders to wait until their lambs recovered before they could sell them. Many families who had been living on credit from the traders were desperately short of money. Wauneka convinced the Tribal Council to purchase the lambs at market rate and hold them until they could be sold legally, providing cash to desperate families.

She turned her attention to infant mortality. At the time, many Navajo babies were born at home in hogans. Wauneka knew that the custom was to wait until the birth to acquire clothes for a new baby. She urged mothers to deliver their babies in hospitals and convinced the Tribal Council to create a fund to provide clothes for newborns, avoiding the risk of the newborns spending the first critical hours of life without adequate clothing.

She devised ways to provide medical care for infants. She established a baby contest to be held at the annual Navajo Tribal Fair, boosting cultural pride and providing a setting for the babies to get medical check-ups. Her work on teaching tribal members about sanitation and protecting the health of newborns helped to reduce infant mortality 25% by 1970.

Clarence Salsbury unidentified others with Annie Wauneka is on the right.

Wauneka found ways to promote the status of women and to preserve the Tribe’s cultural outlook. In traditional Navajo culture, women had power within the family structure. They often owned the family hogan and their own herds. However, their opportunities in the world outside the reservation and their access to education were limited due to the responsibilities of caring for the home and the herd. Wauneka believed that women’s cultural importance had diminished due to the intervention of outside customs because of the extensive involvement of the federal government on Navajo land. Wauneka convened meetings to bring Navajo women together to discuss their experiences and, as a well-known role model, was a frequent speaker at conferences. She believed that women should be equal partners with men in decision-making. She promoted the protection of tribal resources, especially language, spirit, emotional ties, tribal values, and natural resources.

Conflict

Wauneka was opinionated and fearless in challenging federal policies she believed were unfair to her people. Wauneka was outspoken from her very first year on the Tribal Council on the issue of granting long-term land leases to non-Navajo corporations and ranchers. She believed that the Bureau of Indian Affairs should discontinue approving them and should incorporate consultation with the Tribe into the process. Well-studied on the issues, she was eloquent and opinionated.

At times her passionate advocacy would bring her into conflict with those who held other viewpoints. Wauneka stood out among Navajos because she was one of very few prominent women on the reservation. In addition, Navajo culture valued those who were reluctant to bring attention to themselves, making her stand out for her persistent advocacy. She would oppose tribal leaders with whom she disagreed, notably a newly-elected tribal President who had campaigned on legalizing peyote and dismissing some long-time tribal employees who were not Navajos. Those disputes became personal, and the divisiveness in the Tribe continued for years. Once in a public setting, she confronted and slapped an attorney for DNA, the legal services program on the reservation. She would react angrily if she felt she or another was being disrespected or mistreated. Some tribal members resented that she seemed to dominate every gathering and became cautious of opposing her. Despite the conflicts, she was widely known and respected in her community. She continued to be a tireless and effective advocate for the issues important to her.

Honors

As people became more aware of Wauneka’s work, she received many honors. In 1958 she was chosen as the Arizona Woman of Achievement by the Arizona Women’s Press Club. In 1959 she was the first Native American to receive the Josephine B. Hughes Memorial Award for promoting the health and welfare of her people and that of the entire country. Also in 1959 she was awarded the Annual Indian Achievement Award, presented at the annual Indian Council Fire.

Papago Indian News, May 1, 1959, page 9
Stewart Udall and President John Kennedy at the White House

In 1963 President John F. Kennedy chose her to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work to improve health, well-being, and education of the Navajo Nation. It is the highest civil honor conferred by the President of the United States for service in peacetime. The award was presented to her by Kennedy’s successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson. She was the first Native American to be recognized with the award. The citation read:

Vigorous crusader for betterment of the health of her people, Mrs. Wauneka has selflessly worked to help them conquer tuberculosis, dysentery and trachoma. She succeeded in these efforts by winning the confidence of her people, and then by interpreting to them the miracles of modern medical science.

At the luncheon following the ceremony, Wauneka was seated with Chief Justice Earl Warren. Afterwards, she went to a reception hosted by Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, a native of Arizona. The Interior Secretary, among other federal officials, had recommended Wauneka for the honor. Interior Secretary Udall introduced her, saying:

Annie has been a kind of one-woman Peace Corps in Navajo land. It is my feeling that in honoring you today we did honor not only to you yourself, your family and friends, but also to all the Indian people of the nation – they have been honored along with you.

At the next Tribal Council meeting Wauneka was humble, attributing the honor to the work of many:

It is with you Councilmen and the previous Councilmen with their efforts behind me, working with them continuously, helping me in every way they can, that is how I promoted to get this particular medal. I appreciate this very much and every one of you is entitled to this award.

After 26 years on the Tribal Council, Wauneka was defeated by just 13 votes in 1976. After leaving public office she continued to serve on a number of health boards. She still enjoyed going to the restaurant at the Window Rock Motor Inn, the place to see people and hear the latest topics of conversation. In 1979, she and George celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. She mentored younger politicians, visited schools to encourage students to be the leaders of tomorrow, joined the board of the United Way, and devoted time and attention to her grandchildren.

Perhaps the most rewarding was the recognition Wauneka received from her Tribe. In 1984 Wauneka received the Navajo Medal of Honor and was honored by the Navajo Tribal Council as Legendary Mother of the Navajo People. Dr. Theodore Marrs, a former special assistant to President Gerald Ford and former Indian Health Service director on the reservation, commended Wauneka:

She’s never lost sight of the cycles of the moon, but she’s learned the cycles of the budget in Congress. She’s remained a shepherdess, but her flock is the people of the Navajo Nation. Strong men look to this shepherdess. They call her ‘mother’. Rough kids actually look on her with respect. Chairmen, chiefs, presidents are all included in her flock. She has put love into politics

Wauneka died on November 10, 1997 at age 87. She was honored in a ceremony as a strong-willed, confident, and intelligent champion for Native rights and community development. She had received so many awards and honors during her lifetime that a special show was arranged to display them. In 2002 she was inducted into the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame.

She is remembered as an entertaining storyteller with an infectious laugh. They say her eyes danced when she talked. A persuasive and passionate speaker, Wauneka spent decades tirelessly serving the Navajo people. She engaged with a wide range of issues and individuals, making an enduring contribution to the health, well-being, and cultural values of the Navajo Nation. She was, indeed, the Legendary Mother of the Navajo People.

Additional reading:

Hoffman, Virginia and Johnson, Broderick H., Navajo Biographies, Dine, Inc. and the Board of Education, Rough Rock Demonstration School, The Navajo Curriculum Center, 1970.

Juettner, Bonnie, 100 Native Americans Who Shaped American History, Bluewood Books, 2003.

Martinez, Donna and Bordeaux, Jennifer L. Williams, Ed., American Indian History An Encyclopedia of the American Mosaic, Vol 2, Greenwood, 2017.

National Park Service, Annie Dodge Wauneka

National Women’s Hall of Fame, Annie Dodge Wauneka

Niethammer, Carolyn, I’ll Go and Do More, University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln and London, 2001

Southwest Indian Relief Council, Annie Dodge Wauneka

We’ve got this: 100 years of Arizonans voting by mail

Arizona has a long history with mail-in voting, beginning in 1918. In 1991, Arizona law repealed qualification requirements, allowing any registered voter to vote by mail. Let’s take a look at some of the key legislative components that have established Arizona’s successful mail-in voting laws for general elections.

In the early years of statehood, election laws focused on establishing voter eligibility requirements and did not address early or absentee voting. In 1913, voting was only available in-person on Election Day. In 1918 Arizona law established absentee voting for a select group of registered voters: active military personnel. It was known as the Soldiers Voting Bill. All active military personnel were eligible to vote in war or peace time. The ballot was sent by the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors by registered mail. The clerk was required to maintain a list of active military personnel. Arizona state legislators were cognizant of the sacrifices of our military personnel and wished to address their right to vote in Arizona elections. The statute remained in effect until the end of World War I.

Session laws, State of Arizona, 1918, Third Legislature, First Special Session (PDF pg. 44)

After the passage of the 19th Amendment on August 26, 1920, the Arizona Legislature wanted to expand the availability of absentee voting.

19th Amendment to the Constitution

Legislation was passed in 1921 that expanded the privilege to vote absentee to any eligible registered voter who would be absent from county on election day. These types of ballots would be officially known as Absent Voters’ ballots. The County Recorders were charged with mailing these ballots to qualifying individuals with a postage-paid envelope for returning the ballot. Qualified electors needed to complete an affidavit stating the expected absence on election day.

Session laws, State of Arizona, 1920, Fourth Legislature, Special Session, 1921, Fifth Legislature, Regular Session (PDF pg. 293)

Up to this point any Arizona eligible voter could vote by mail if they were active military or physically absent from the county on election day. However, these thoughtful provisions were to be expanded to allow even more electors the option to vote by absentee ballot. In 1925 eligible voters who had a physical disability proven by a doctor’s certificate could vote by absentee ballot. This new voting qualification would now change the ballots to the “Absent or Disabled Voter’s ballot.” These ballots continued to be mailed to voters.

Session laws, State of Arizona, 1925, Seventh Legislature, Regular Session (PDF pg. 33)

After World War II the next expansion of eligible absentee voters was enacted in 1953. The Arizona legislature passed an amendment to the election laws to provide an absentee ballot to anyone who was unable to attend the polls on election day on account of the tenets of his religion.

Session laws, State of Arizona, 1953, Twenty-First Legislature, First Special Session, 1954, Twenty-First Legislature, Second Regular Session (PDF pg. 176)

In 1955, the legislature removed the requirement of a doctor’s certificate for any person physically unable to go to the polls.

Session laws, State of Arizona, 1955, Twenty-Second Legislature, First Regular Session (PDF pg. 147)

In 1959 the merchant marines were also added to the military personnel already eligible to vote absentee.

Session laws, State of Arizona, 1959, Twenty-Fourth Legislature, First Regular Session (PDF pg. 262)

Those who had visual defects defined by ARS 46-272 became qualified absentee voters in 1968.

Session laws, State of Arizona, 1968, Twenty-Eighth Legislature, Second Regular Session, Second to Fourth Special Sessions (PDF pg. 128)

On July 1, 1971, the 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified to lower the voting age of eligible voters to 18 years of age. Arizona made additional changes before ratifying the amendment in 1970 which allowed for any eligible voter age 65 years or older to vote by absentee ballot. The Arizona legislature also provided that anyone living 15 road miles from a polling place was eligible to vote by absentee ballot.

Session laws, State of Arizona, 1970, Twenty-Ninth Legislature, Second Regular Session, 1st Special Session (PDF pg. 677)

Arizona’s defined absentee voting qualifications remained intact from the 1970’s until 1991. The change in law stated that any election called pursuant to the laws of this state shall provide for absentee voting and allowed any qualified elector to vote by absentee ballot.

Session laws, State of Arizona, 1991 Volume 2, Fortieth Legislature, First Regular Session, Second to Fourth Special Sessions, Chapters 218 to End (PDF pg. 647)

It was not until 1997 that the official name was changed from absentee voting to early voting.

Session laws, State of Arizona, 1997 Volume 3, Forty-Third Legislature, First Regular Session, First and Second Special Sessions, Chapters 223 to End (PDF pg. 999)

For over 100 years, Arizona has provided some form of absentee voting by mail. This was established with the beginning of absentee voting in 1918. It does not mean that voting by mail is not without occasional errors or other hiccups, but it does prove that Arizona has committed to maintaining the citizens’ right to vote for decades.

The Season for Squeezin’

You stop by your college dining hall to grab a quick bite before class and notice a fancy luncheon is about to take place. You decide class can wait, join the throng, and look forward to a fine meal. The plates of food arrive in quick succession: Arizona Grapefruit Baked Ham, Sweet Potatoes with Arizona Grapefruit, Desert Family Citrus Salad, Cabbage Grapefruit Supreme, Arizona Grapefruit Carrots, Arizona Grapefruit Scones, and to top it all off, Arizona Grapefruit Ice Cream. You are surrounded by grapefruit at every turn and wonder if this is all a dream.

It wasn’t a dream. It was Arizona State College in Tempe in May, 1947, during the “Season for Squeezin’”. Phoenix was enjoying significant growth in commercial and residential construction and seen, according to Arizona Builder & Contractor, as “one of the nation’s busiest cities.” Arizona’s economy and identity were still strongly connected to those 5 Cs of Copper, Cattle, Cotton, Climate, and Citrus. The stage was set for one of those 5 Cs, specifically the grapefruit industry, the largest of Arizona’s citrus crops, to shine in a crowd-sourced promotional campaign “Season for Squeezin’”. The goal: Make sure Arizona grapefruit was on everyone’s mind and plate, whether in their home, hotel, or restaurant.

From Desert Grapefruit, Volume 3, Number 3, October 1946

There were two key events that triggered the marketing blitz that Spring. In February, 1947 the Arizona Republic’s editorial page empathized with a visitor in her indignation. The offense? She was served canned grapefruit juice while in Arizona. Action was desperately needed to achieve “further fame of desert fruit.” Establishments should “throw away the can opener and get a squeezer.”1 In addition to this scolding from the newspaper, Arizona took a gut punch from Duncan Hines. You’ve seen his name on cake mixes, but did you know he was a travel reviewer who often frequented Arizona? In April 1947, Hines left some pointed instructions on needed improvements if Phoenix hoped to attract tourists. He claimed “that very few of his friends remember any specific type of food they ate here as being typical of the region.”2 To that, the Arizona grapefruit aficionados said:

“Hold my Squeezer. We’ve got this.”

Less than two weeks later, the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce gathered community leaders, including press, retail, hotels, restaurants, and civic groups, “to formulate plans to make grapefruit and fresh grapefruit juice an Arizona institution and not just ‘another product’ grown in the area.”3 This grapefruit brain trust started with a couple of ideas (“gigantic grapefruit rally…a citrus dinner to show the many ways in which grapefruit and citrus can be prepared”) and blossomed into something spectacular.

The effort to promote Arizona grapefruit was not a new concept. A Grapefruit Queen had been crowned in past years and reigned over an annual Citrus Ball. The Grapefruit Queen of 1947, Doris Schaefer, showed exceptional aptitude for her assignment. In the April 1947 issue of Desert Grapefruit, you can read about her trip to Hollywood where she promoted the grapefruit cause on three national broadcasts. You can also read about how, “at a meeting of Rotarians in the Westward Ho Hotel, Miss Shaefer disrupted the president, Buell Tade, to ask “why aren’t you serving Desert Grapefruit at your luncheon?”

How dare they not serve grapefruit juice to the Grapefruit Queen!

Arizona’s 1947 Grapefruit Queen Doris Schaefer sitting on her grapefruit throne

With the “Season for Squeezin’” slated to begin on May 12, the Queen needed a grapefruit court. A contest was held: competitors were required to be single, be between the ages of 16 and 27, wear a bathing suit or playsuit for the contest, and be available to participate in all of the activities during the week of May 12th. On May 4, six Squeezettes were chosen and put to work immediately. Not only were they specially fitted for custom-designed yellow grapefruit costumes, they spent days rehearsing their song and dance routine. Ann Shine of the Morgan Advertising Agency adapted the song by James Palmer “Season for Squeezin’” for their song. Mrs. Lee Lawless of the Arthur Murray dance studio choreographed a “Grapefruit Glide and Tap” number for their dance. They were now ready to travel all over the Valley by limousine promoting Arizona grapefruit.

The Squeezettes: Zada Lee Stewart, Jane McIntosh, Shirley Arnow,
Jacque Mercer, Camille King, and Peggy Thompson.

The grapefruit enthusiasts squeezed an awful lot into this promotional week. There were daily street shows with grapefruit squeezing contests and magicians doing grapefruit tricks, grapefruit window decorations, frequent visits to distribute grapefruit juice to newspapers and radio stations, a street fair with entertainment, music, and gifts for adults and children, special visits to multiple luncheons and club meetings by the Grapefruit Queen and the Squeezettes, and a Gala Grapefruit Ball at Sciot’s Auditorium at 3720 North Central Avenue, Phoenix, with over 1500 dancing to the music of Sully Mason and his orchestra.4 Grapefruit juice samples were freely flowing at stores, free bags of grapefruit were given to customers buying gasoline, and more. The Arizona Hotel Association even sent a case of freshly picked Arizona grapefruit to the King of England via American Airlines so he could enjoy Arizona’s pride and joy at his breakfast.5

The grapefruit industry and its allies made sure, even beyond the “Season for Squeezin’” activities, that everyone knew that grapefruit isn’t just for breakfast. From newspaper articles to Home Economics teachers, everyone was espousing the mighty grapefruit. The University of Arizona Agricultural Extension Service produced a booklet filled with grapefruit dessert recipes:

Cover of Grapefruit Desserts by the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Service, February 1947
Recipe for Grapefruit Cocoanut [sic] Cream Cake Filling from Grapefruit Desserts by the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Service, February 1947

According to another Arizona Republic editorial, it seemed Arizonans drank more grapefruit juice during the “Season of Squeezin’” than they had in the last ten years. The take-away from the week, in their opinion, was that

“our citizens, assembled from the four corners of the nation, find themselves capable of unity. It begins to look better now for a community auditorium, a community recreation center or centers, an expansion of city services for good living, a protection of civic beauty and its enhancement—any project to which we can apply our unity. The Season for Squeezin’ need never end.”6

Did the “Season for Squeezin’” ever end? The grapefruit industry leaders continued to fight for market share and protect the interests of those in the production and distribution, but profits and acreage continued to decrease.

The Consumer’s Grapefruit Dollar from Marketing Desert Grapefruit, University of Arizona Agricultural Experiment Station, May 1949
Desert Grapefruit Acreage by Districts, from Marketing Desert Grapefruit, University of Arizona Agricultural Experiment Station, May 1949

According to the Agricultural Experiment Station,

“The Salt River Valley is reducing its production of grapefruit. High marketing costs and low yields are forcing many groves out of production. Subdividing grapefruit acreage for residential purposes near Phoenix is also an important factor in reducing commercial production.”

The population boom and economic conditions unfortunately squeezed out many of the grapefruit groves. So if you happen to pass a grapefruit tree in someone’s yard or see one of the remaining grapefruit groves left in Salt River Valley, remember the “Season for Squeezin’” and how a grapefruit once brought a community together.

Footnotes:

1. “Guzzlers Disappointed.” Editorial. Arizona Republic, 26 Feb 1947, p6.

2. “State Tourist ‘Pull’ Analyzed by Clinic.” Arizona Republic, 19 Apr 1947, p2.

3. “Arizona Fresh Grapefruit Drive Ready for Launching.” Arizona Republic, 26 Apr 1947, p1.

4. “Gala Grapefruit Ball Attended by 1500.” Arizona Republic, 17 May 1947, p1.

5. “Arizona Grapefruit Slated for King George’s Breakfast.” Arizona Republic, 10 May 1947, p1.

6. “And Now to Appraise.” Editorial. Arizona Republic, 19 May 1947, p6.