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'Winning Their Place' chronicles women's descent into Arizona politics

A book such as Winning Their Place: Arizona Women in Politics, 1883-1950 should be a cause for celebration. For too long, the mainstream media has ignored the success of women in their long, righteous fight for their place in local and state politics. A quick Lexis-Nexis search reveals hundreds more newspaper and magazine articles devoted to the minutiae of superficial Hollywood lovelies than to the Fab Five in January 1999.

What were the Fab Five, you say? It was the occasion when Arizonans elected five women to the state's highest offices: governor (Jane Hull), secretary of state (Betsey Bayless), attorney general (ex-governor and current secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano), treasurer (Carol Springer) and superintendent of public instruction (Lisa Graham Keegan). Arizona remains the only state to claim such a feat. Here's a story of women's political participation that had yet to be told—until now, with the publication of Heidi Osselaer's book.

I say it should be cause for celebration because of the obvious: Politics is suited for dimwitted psychopaths.

Napolitano is neither dimwitted nor psychopathic. Still, recent actions suggest she's happy to stick to the fear-mongering fashioned by Condoleezza Rice. Like Rice, Napolitano spreads the absurd notion that terrorism is everywhere. If you haven't already seen a DHS report sent to law-enforcement agencies called "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment," do yourself a favor. In the same way right-wingers tremble at the notion of tree-hugging, Hummer-scorching eco-fetishists, so, too, are liberals panicked by mindless Glenn Beck fans showing up uninvited at town halls.

This so-called book critic rants about Napolitano, because she provides the foreword to Winning Their Place. It's a dubious move, since Napolitano's presence imbues the project with an aura of apparatchik propaganda. This, combined with the fact that the University of Arizona Press is a state-run publisher (and less likely to be critical of women in government), makes the whole affair difficult to swallow.

But not impossible. After all, the story is fascinating and more or less objective on Osselaer's part, especially given everything we already know about suffragists and Prohibition. Indeed, as the author observes in the book's opening chapter, "Early woman suffrage supporters in Arizona, regardless of their religion, were primarily interested in using the vote to limit alcohol consumption in the territory." Forget the lip service paid by men toward the idea that entering the political arena might degrade women. It was the unthinkable scenario that wives and daughters might squelch the right to drink that put the fear in so many (if not most) men's hearts.

Prohibition failed, of course, but not the suffragist movement. After women won the vote in Arizona, they ran for office. Osselaer introduces the lay reader to a parade of significant ladies in Arizona politics, including Isabella Greenway, wife of a wealthy industrialist:

Greenway was unique not only because she became so powerful in the state but also because of her national reputation, a result of her close association with the Roosevelt family. She had been raised in privilege and associated with political elites as a young woman, but she had also lived in frontier conditions in the West as an adult. When Isabella Greenway came to Arizona in her 30s, she was both dazzling and down to earth, equally at home with national leaders and with Arizona veterans, miners and ranchers.

Not only was she successful in uniting women within the Democratic Party (way back in the days when Democrats dominated the state); she also did much to, as Osselaer puts it, "break down the hostile relationship between men and women in state politics." And if you consider that, prior to 1928, there were no female appointments to the state Legislature, then you have to give her immense credit.

You really have to credit Osselaer for bringing to light almost-forgotten stories of old campaigns of ambitious souls like Ana Frohmiller, who lost her 1950 gubernatorial race to Barry Goldwater-advised Howard Pyle. As someone who has read much about Goldwater's senatorial career, yet little about his tactics as a campaign manager, this chapter ("Professional Politicians") was particularly fascinating.

Regardless, while the story of women in Arizona politics is mostly uplifting, the results are questionable. Where are today's strong women? Sadly, and because of the book's timeline, they're nowhere to be found in the pages of Winning Their Place.

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