By Alison Bunting
The Glimpses article about George Beebe in the June PRT issue, reported on “a meeting of friends of the cause of equal rights… [to] extend the right of suffrage to the women of the new commonwealth.” [The Oasis, 6/29/1912]. The suffrage movement in Arizona began in the late 1800s. Activists successfully introduced bills “to Extend the Right of Suffrage to Women” in 1881, 1883, and 1885 but the Territorial Legislature defeated them each time. In 1903 a Suffrage Bill was passed by both houses of the Arizona Legislature, but was vetoed by the Governor. In 1910 an effort to add women’s suffrage into the state constitution was again defeated by the Governor “because he thought it would jeopardize the bid for statehood with President William Taft.” When Arizona was granted statehood on February 14, 1912 the activists tried again. [Digital Library of Arizona, https://azlibrary.gov/dazl/learners/research-topics/womens-suffrage].
The five women elected to leadership positions for the local Equal Suffrage League at the June 1912 meeting included Mrs. James Cunningham, President; Mrs. F. R. Putnam, First Vice President; Miss Ethel Harrison, Second Vice President and Corresponding Secretary; Mrs. T.J. Iles, Treasurer; and Miss Cornelia Dillon, Secretary. “The officers elected are distributed well around the surrounding region.” They lived in Vaughn (SW of Elgin), Canille [Canelo], Sonoita, and at the Pima County line north of Sonoita. [The Oasis, 6/29/1912]. The work of this group and others throughout the state was relatively short-lived. An initiative to give women the right to vote “qualified for the ballot on July 5, 1912. By November of that same year, voters (all men) overwhelmingly approved women’s suffrage.” [Digital Library of Arizona].
Who were the intrepid five who worked to persuade the male voters in their neighborhood to allow women the right to vote? Mary Cunningham was the only one mentioned in the local press for her suffrage work: “Mrs. James Cunningham is working the cause of equal rights among her friends who are legion.” [The Oasis, 11/2/1912]. Her husband was a prospector and miner; they homesteaded 320 acres in Elgin. Carrie Anna Putnam lived with her husband, Fred, several miles west of present-day Curly Horse Road north of Sonoita. They homesteaded 160 acres and raised poultry.
No information was located about Mrs. T. J. Iles or her husband. Cornelia Dillon and Ethel Harrison were both teachers.
Dillon, born in Ohio, was the first teacher at the Rain Valley school which was “completed in a few days, everyone turned out to help.” [The Oasis, 9/21/1912]. An Ohio newspaper reported that she was taking up a land claim in Elgin, though no homestead records were found. [Portsmouth Daily Times 3/15/1912]. She returned to Ohio by 1918 and taught school for many years in Columbus and Cleveland. She returned to Arizona in the 1940s and taught school in Amado, Tucson, and Phoenix. She was tragically murdered in her Phoenix apartment in 1962.
Born in Alabama, Harrison was teaching in Patagonia in 1905. By 1910, she was living in Nogales and teaching in their public schools. In 1912 she moved to Elgin to her 60- acre homestead and “was engaged to teach the Elgin school.” [The Oasis, 6/12/1912]. She married Samuel E. Hunter in 1916 and they had one son, Samuel Jr. Her husband had a 160-acre homestead in the Huachuca Mountains and the family was living there in 1920. By 1935 Ethel was widowed and was back living and teaching in Nogales. By 1955 she was retired and living in Arkansas.