The old Grammar School on School Street, so familiar to Patagonians, has had yet another honor bestowed upon it. The longest continuously utilized elementary school building in the state of Arizona when it closed in 2014, and currently the site of the Patagonia Museum, it is now being recognized as an historic polling place with the erection of a plaque honoring the suffrage movement and the first women to vote in this area.
The plaque at the Grammar School is a result of the National Collaboration for Women’s History’s work to create a map recognizing important U.S. sites important to the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.
The Patagonia Grammar School, built in 1914, was first used as a polling place for a special election in 1915 to approve a county roads bond. In all, 99 people voted in that election, 23 of whom were women. Another historic aspect of the 1915 election at the School was that several Latina women voted. Two of those women, Amalia Valenzuela and Mary Kane, are named on the plaque.
Throughout the years there have been many hurdles for Latina, indigenous and African American women, and it was not a given that Latina women would have voted in Patagonia that year. “For Latinas, things didn’t change until the Voting Rights Act in 1965,” said Irasema Coronado, director and professor of ASU’s School of Transborder Studies. “In some places, there were structural impediments to voting and we still have some of them today.” (apbs.org, June 2020). One of the important safeguards to voting included in the Voting Rights Act was that literacy tests to prove fitness for voting were declared illegal.
As in much of the Western U.S., suffrage for women was established by individual states before the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Beginning in the late 1800s, women earned the right to vote in many municipalities, counties, states and territories. In Arizona, women petitioned the territorial Legislature for the right for decades without success.
In 1912, just months after Arizona became a state, proponents used the initiative process to get suffrage on the ballot. It passed by 65% of the vote. It is unclear where and when local women voted from 1912 until the new school was built. It may have been at the old Opera House on McKeown Avenue, which was a center of civic activities at the time.
Soon Arizona women were holding public office and taking their place in decision-making around the state. By the time the 19th Amendment came up for a vote in 1920, the State Legislature passed it unanimously. Historian Mary Melcher, Ph.D said, “Once the Western states allowed women to vote and hold public office, men saw that their great fears did not come to pass. The traditional family did not fall apart, and women began to use their rights to gain power and do good. They used their influence to push federal suffrage.”
Melcher, the Arizona state coordinator for the National Votes for Women Trail, was delighted to learn of the significance of the Grammar School building. She contacted German Quiroga, President of the Board of Trustees of the Museum, and they sought and received permission from the Patagonia School District, owners of the building, to erect a plaque.
These markers honoring significant sites along the road to suffrage are being installed across the country, with the goal of marking at least five locales in each state. The project is funded by the Pomeroy Foundation and will likely be completed sometime in 2021. The map and database of the plaques is available at www.ncwhs.org
The plaque is in place in front of the building now. A formal dedication will be held during the Museum’s annual meeting on January 23 at 10:30 a.m. Dr. Melcher will speak at the dedication, and all are invited. Organizers will use social distancing practices and the event will be outdoors.