State of the New State

After achieving statehood, Arizonans gave women the right to vote—and took the right away from some Mexican Americans

Within nine months of Arizona achieving statehood on Feb. 14, 1912, four major legal changes occurred: Women were granted the right to vote; literacy requirements were placed on voters; school segregation became mandatory; and the ability to recall judges was put back into the state's Constitution.

In 1903, the Arizona Territorial Legislature had adopted a women's-suffrage measure, but the governor vetoed it on constitutional grounds. Once statehood was achieved, women thought the "progressive" Legislature, controlled by Democrats, would place the issue before Arizona's male voters for approval—but they were denied again.

Undaunted, women began circulating petitions to require a vote on suffrage in November 1912. In July of that year, they submitted 3,500 signatures from men, enough to qualify the measure for the ballot.

There was substantial support for suffrage from people of all political persuasions, and from many businesspeople. As the Arizona Daily Star editorialized about approving women's suffrage: "They want the right to vote, and they should have it."

Women ran an effective campaign in support of the initiative. The Star stated of this effort just before the vote: "It has been absolutely free from hysteria, which is more than can be said of some of the campaigns managed by men."

Some people were against the measure, most notably those in the liquor industry. As the Tucson Citizen, which also backed approval, pointed out before the vote: "The opposition to equal suffrage among the liquor men arises from a belief that votes for women means prohibition."

Countering that and other negative arguments, longtime Tucsonan Josephine Brawley Hughes wrote that the men of Arizona should support women's suffrage for many reasons. One of those, she stated, was: "Because they know and appreciate what the pioneer women did in aiding the building of the state of Arizona."

After pamphlets explaining the issues on the ballot were mailed to every registered voter in the state, the suffrage measure passed by a 2-to-1 margin. Thus, Arizona approved women's suffrage almost eight years before it became federal law.

One possible result of the suffrage vote was that in 1914, Arizona voters took the first legal steps toward approving prohibition. In 1916, this law was strengthened, and in 1917, three years before it became federal law, full prohibition was enacted in Arizona.

Illiterates were banned from voting in the 1912 elections. The first state Legislature passed a law requiring that voters be able to "read the Constitution of the United States in the English language ... and to write his name." The Democratic Legislature was apparently aiming this law primarily at Mexican Americans, believing them to lean Republican in general.

Another discriminatory step taken by the same Legislature was to impose school segregation throughout Arizona. In 1909, the territorial Legislature had adopted a law stating that school districts "may segregate pupils of the African from pupils of the white races." Three years later, after statehood was obtained, the Legislature required segregated schools by replacing "may" with "shall" in the law.

A small, segregated Tucson public school was established in 1913 near the corner of Sixth Street and Sixth Avenue. Professor Cicero Simmons, who was paid $90 a month, taught classes.

By 1918, a two-room segregated school had opened at Second Street and 11th Avenue. Named after the nationally known black poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, the school would serve as Tucson's segregated elementary and middle school until the Tucson Unified School District was desegregated in 1951, three years before the U.S. Supreme Court made it the law of the land.

The November 1912 ballot also contained a judicial-recall measure. Its removal from Arizona's draft constitution had been a requirement of President William Howard Taft before he would endorse statehood for Arizona. (See "Judging Democracy," Aug. 4, 2011.)

At the polls, though, Arizona voters, by a 5-to-1 margin, approved reinserting the measure in the Constitution. Former President Theodore Roosevelt had forecast this lopsided outcome in 1911.

"Arizona, of course, will now with practical unanimity, reinsert the recall of the judiciary in the Constitution simply because both its opponents and its advocates felt that it was something for Arizona itself to decide, and bitterly resented the action of the president," Roosevelt predicted.

Whether that resentment was the main factor in determining the outcome of the 1912 presidential election in Arizona is unknown. What is known is that Taft ran extremely poorly in the newest state.

The final results in Arizona had the incumbent president finishing far behind the winner, Woodrow Wilson. Taft also trailed Roosevelt, who ran as a Progressive Party candidate—and even Socialist Eugene Debs.

Arizona's struggle to obtain statehood had been delayed but not denied because of the judicial-recall issue. Despite the measure being put back in the state's Constitution in 1912, its impact has been negligible. In the century of Arizona statehood, judicial recall reportedly has been used only once—and Taft's philosophical concerns about it have been proven to be unfounded.

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