Used by permission from the Arizona Historical Society
“On the 29th of December, 1925, I was installed as secretary of the Arizona Pioneers’ Historical Society. That title ‘secretary’ was erroneous, for I had to be not only the corresponding secretary but also the librarian, researcher, entertainer, welfare worker and father confessor all in one.”Edith Stratton Kitt from her book Pioneering in Arizona: the Reminiscences of Emerson Oliver Stratton and Edith Stratton Kitt
Edith Stratton Kitt joined the Arizona Pioneers’ Historical Society in 1925 when it occupied a storeroom in a building at the corner of Main Avenue and Congress Street in Tucson. Among the documents in the room were rows of government publications of all kinds, including reports on fishing in Japan and accounts of expositions in Paris and Vienna. The bookshelves contained some old schoolbooks, an illustrated edition of Dante’s Inferno and the complete works of Sir Thomas More. In all this chaos, there was very little that had any connection with Arizona or the West.
Mrs. Kitt soon discovered what her job would be. For the next 22 years, she worked to organize and expand the collection of the society. In 1963 she was named the “First Lady of Arizona’s Territorial Centennial” for her historical contributions to the state.
Edith Stratton Kitt was a native Arizonan. She was born in Florence in 1878, the daughter of Emerson Stratton of Clyde, New York and Carrie Aines Stratton of Cotuit, Massachusetts.
When she was two years old, her parents moved to a cattle ranch north of the Catalina Mountains. Many of her childhood experiences on the ranch are recounted in her book, Pioneering in Arizona: ‘The Reminiscences of Emerson Oliver Stratton and Edith Stratton Kitt.
“My father called it the Pandora Ranch when he took it up,” she said. “He said everything was gone but hope.”
However hard ranch life was, the young Edith clearly enjoyed it. In her memoir, she takes pleasure in describing the cowboys, the semiannual roundups, hunting trips with her father, and afternoons spent riding horses with her sister.
Ranch life may have suited the young woman, but it was difficult for the Strattons to make ends meet. Eventually, the family was forced to leave, moving to Los Angeles where Edith graduated from the Los Angeles Normal School in 1900. She returned to Arizona to study briefly at the University of Arizona before accepting a teaching job at a ranch school near Liberty, southwest of Phoenix.
She taught for several years in Colorado and in Tucson before marrying George F. Kitt in 1903. The couple had two children, a daughter and a son. Although Edith Kitt’s college education was interrupted by her teaching career and marriage, she received her bachelor’s degree after attending classes off and on at the University of Arizona for 20 years.
She transcribed many oral histories over the years, including hers and her father’s. As secretary of the Pioneers’ Historical Society, which was renamed the Arizona Historical Society in 1970, Edith turned the society’s office into a kind of clubhouse where old timers would feel comfortable. And when they stopped by, she took down their reminiscences. While she was talking with these pioneers, Edith would inquire about old letters, documents and diaries. In this way, she was able to acquire and preserve many of these historical records that might otherwise have been destroyed.
Edith Kitt began many of the collections that are in the Arizona Historical Society today. She is credited with making its library one of the top research centers in the Southwest. She also worked to expand the society’s membership and to institute an annual membership fee that helped pay for expenses.
In addition to her research work and contributions to the Arizona Historical Society, Edith was an incorporator, director and president of the Tucson Woman’s Club. She also belonged to the Arizona Federation of Women’s Clubs, the American Legion Auxiliary and the Business and Professional Women’s Club.
She died on Jan. 18, 1968, at the age of 89 in Sacramento, Calif.