Used by permission from Arizona State Parks
”I lived in a wing of the old mess hall [Yuma Territorial Prison Museum] for a year until my family and friends made such a fuss about my staying up there alone that I moved back to town.”— Clarissa Winsor, quoted in the Los Angeles Times, August 1966
Clarissa Brown Winsor was born in 1880 in Tucson in Arizona Territory. She grew up on her father’s ranch, Sahuarito, on the Santa Cruz River 20 miles south of the Old Pueblo. In 1890, her father became sheriff of Pima County and moved his family to town where they were living in 1903 when she married Tucson newspaperman, Mulford Winsor.
After two years in Phoenix, the Winsors moved in 1905 to Yuma, then a town of dirt streets and board sidewalks. Mulford Winsor established the Yuma Morning Sun. Later in life, Clarissa Winsor was featured in a National Geographic Magazine story on the Colorado River in which she fondly recalled those early days in Yuma.
Although she could lovingly look back on her early life in Yuma, she was not the type who yearned longingly for yesterday. She learned to drive a car in 1917. And as Yuma grew, more clubs and organizations developed, with Clarissa in the charter membership of Zonta Club, Business and Professional Women’s Club and any number of others.
She had three children and as they grew older, she swam practically every day with them in Yuma’s early-day swift-flowing, muddy canals to help them escape the heat of the summers.
Clarissa Winsor was active in several historical projects, but she is best known for her service in preserving Yuma Territorial Prison. Once the museum was established, Clara was selected as its curator and opened the doors of Yuma’s first museum on March 29, 1941. Clara collected thousands of artifacts relating to Yuma and Arizona history, and displayed them in the old prison. Her friends claimed that she not only had an uncanny way of ferreting out interesting and beautiful old articles, but a positive genius for obtaining them for her beloved museum by either purchasing, or coaxing them, from their reluctant owners.
In 1961, the museum was included in the Arizona State Parks system and became one of the state’s top tourist attractions. More than a half-million people visited this historic site while she served as the “Hostess/Curator.” In 1965, she retired after 25 years of service.
Recognized locally for her civic and historical work, Clarissa Winsor was named Yuma County “Man of the Year” in 1961, and a Clarissa Winsor Day was proclaimed in Yuma in November of 1965. She continued her service and club work until her death in 1974 at the age of 93. Her achievements in preserving local history have been of benefit to Arizona citizens statewide. The Territorial Prison State Park is one of the most popular historic parks in Arizona.