Work is underway to erect a statue of Frances Willard Munds in Wesley Bolin Plaza. Why?
Frances “Fannie” Lillian Willard Munds was a leader in the movement to gain Arizona women the right to vote and the first woman to serve in the Arizona State Senate. A five-foot dynamo in a big hat, Munds had a sense of purpose, a sense about people, and a sense of humor too.
Munds was born in 1866. Her family moved to the Verde Valley, where they established a ranch. She was an educated woman for the era, graduating in 1885 from Maine Central Institute, a boarding school for grades 9-12. Upon returning to Arizona, she taught school in Payson, Pine, and Jerome. She married John Lee Munds in 1890 and the couple raised their family in Prescott. John Munds was twice elected Yavapai County Sheriff.
Fannie Munds joined the Territory of Arizona Women Suffrage Organization, working to extend the right to vote to women. She served as its President during the key years of 1909 to 1912. They worked for years lobbying the Legislature. The 1903 Territorial Legislature passed a bill granting the vote to women, but it was vetoed by Governor Alexander O. Brodie. State Historian George H. Kelly’s Legislative History, Arizona 1864-1912 relates that the bill had passed as a joke, with the understanding that the Governor would veto it.
In 1910, the Arizona Women Suffrage Organization attended the meetings of Arizona’s Constitutional Convention to lobby for women’s suffrage to be included in the state constitution. The proposal failed to pass (Minutes of the 1910 Constitutional Convention, PDF page 165). Some thought women’s suffrage was a radical idea and that it might cause President William Howard Taft to refuse to ratify statehood for Arizona.
Arizona became a state on February 14, 1912, so the Arizona Women Suffrage Organization lobbied the first session of the new state legislature in 1912 but failed again. They turned to the ballot, collecting signatures for an initiative.
This time it didn’t matter that the voters were all men. The initiative passed decisively in every county. Arizona was the 8th state to grant women the right to vote. It would be eight more years before the U.S. passed the 19th amendment securing women’s right to vote.
A family story provides a glimpse of how Munds interacted with people. On election day, she was with other suffragettes at the polls handing out suffrage cards* when a tall, imposing policeman called out her. “What are you going to be when you get the vote?” Munds walked over to the policeman and drew herself up to her full five-foot height, barely reaching his elbow. “I’m going to be a policeman!” she announced. Everyone at the polling place, including Munds and the policeman, laughed. The officer commented, “She’s all right, boys, she would make a real dangerous and courageous policeman.”
Munds was gracious in victory. Her Greetings to Arizona’s New Citizens, the Women, thanking the voters, was published on the front page of The Coconino Sun on November 11, 1912.
In 1914, Munds ran for the Arizona State Senate representing Yavapai County. Elected by a healthy margin, she was the first woman to be elected to the State Senate. Again she was gracious in victory:
We believe that we have proved ourselves worthy of the Ballot. Women have been earnest in their endeavors to support the best candidate and to work by the right means for the right measures.
She served one term from 1915-1917. Munds was greeted by the other senators with approval and encouragement. The first time she presided over a floor session, they applauded. It seems she established a rapport with her colleagues immediately. A minister asked her to introduce a resolution forbidding smoking in the Senate chamber, arguing that it would improve the morals of the senators. She refused. She figured that such a rule would inconvenience them and require them to leave the chamber to smoke in the lobby, which would not improve their morals or their dispositions. The minister disapproved, but her decision was met with another round of applause.
Her colleagues also appreciated her sense of humor. Senator Dunbar joked in a floor speech that Munds was scheduled to dance the tango with Senator George Chase before the session was over. She chaired the Educational & Public Institutions Committee and served on the Land, Public Health & Statistics and Enrolling & Engrossing Committees. She introduced bills to adopt official state colors and a state flower, to raise the legal age for marriage, and to increase the widow’s benefit.
Munds continued to be active in suffrage activities attending national meetings, where she was a noted speaker who could get a crowd laughing.
Munds died at home on December 16, 1948 at age 82. The State Senate unanimously passed a resolution honoring her life of service.
The effort to install a statue of Munds in honor of women’s suffrage is led by the Arizona Women’s History Alliance. You can see an image of the statue and catch up with the campaign on their website.
* Arizona law now prohibits people from engaging in political activity within 75 feet of a polling place. A.R.S. 16-515. In 1912, the statutory distance was 150 feet. §2348, Revised Statutes of the Arizona Territory. But that’s how the family story goes.
Resources (and more hats!)
Arizona Highways, January 2013, A Real Vote-Getter, 2013-01, PDF 6