“I want the women to realize that they will have to make a concerted demand for the things they want, and not merely present a bill and ask someone to put it through for them. I want them to get into the battle themselves,”
Frances Willard Munds, April 24, 1915
By the time a woman becomes a grandmother, she’s not expected to step out of her home and into a political career, even these days. But that is exactly what former schoolteacher Frances Willard Munds did January 11, 1915, when she took office as a senator in the second Arizona Legislature. She was the first woman senator in Arizona and the second in the United States.
Momentous as the occasion was, it was not her first foray into the public limelight. Frances Munds was an active clubwoman from Prescott who became involved in the Arizona Women’s Christian Temperance Union. This led to her involvement in the Arizona Equal Suffrage Association in 1903. She served as president of the state suffrage association from 1909 to 1912. The women struggled for years to convince male legislators and voters to grant women the right of franchise. During Arizona’s constitutional convention, Munds lobbied for a pro-suffrage plank but was unsuccessful. Finally Arizona women won the right to vote in 1912 through an initiative measure, shortly after Arizona became a state.
Born in June 10, 1866, in Franklin, California, Frances Willard’s earliest wish was to go to school. She got her chance when she moved to Maine where she lived with her sister’s family, attending Central Institute in Pittsfield. Meanwhile, her parents moved from California to Prescott, where her father, John Willard, became a well-known cattleman.
In 1885, when Frances was 19, she joined her parents in Prescott, teaching school in Yavapai County. Her paternal grandfather had been a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and her maternal grandfather, Col. James R. Vineyard, was a member of the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature. Maybe it was this heritage, or possibly it was her educational background, but Frances was deeply involved in the suffrage campaign by the time she was married five years later to John L. Munds.
In 1914, at the age of 48, Frances Munds won election as senator from Yavapai County. “The women were splendidly loyal in the way they supported me,” she said later. “There were seven candidates in the field with only two to be elected. Four of the other candidates were lawyers and one was a cattle king who was backed by the corporations and a portion of the liquor men. Fortunately, the saloon men did not support this particular candidate, and so I won the race.”
Her margin of victory was wide–she won 600 votes more than the second place candidate. The victorious new senator said, “We believe that we have proved ourselves worthy of the ballot. Women have been earnest in their endeavors to support the best candidate and to work by the right means for the right measures.”
Frances Munds took her place in the upper legislative chambers January 11, 1915, commenting to a newspaper reporter later, “Our friends, the trueblue conservatives, will be shocked to think of a grandmother sitting in the state Senate.” Shocking or no, she got right to work and introduced several bills. In her two year term, she served on the Land Committee, which formulated policy dealing with control and disposition of all state lands, and the Committee on Education and Public Institutions, of which she was chairman.
The women of Arizona nominated Frances Munds to another public office in 1918, the office of secretary of state, but she was defeated 17,325 to 12,034 in the primary election. That was the last time she ran for office, withdrawing from public life in her later years.
She died at age 82 on December 16, 1948.