Used by permission from the Arizona Historical Society
“Mrs. Hughes was one of the few pioneer women in the territory who left a lasting impression both in the minds of the citizens and the character of the community.” — Tombstone Epitaph, April 24, 1926
Throughout her life, Josephine Brawley Hughes was a formidable woman in defense of the causes she believed were right. The protection of the home and its values were of primary importance to her, but she also championed education, religion, temperance, and women’s right to vote. In all her quests, she showed pluck in the face of danger, determination, and a strong will.
One of six children, she was born as Elizabeth Josephine Brawley on December 22, 1839, in Meadville, Pennsylvania. She dropped her first name later in life. Her parents, John R. Brawley and Sarah Haskins, were longtime residents of Pennsylvania. Her father, a prosperous farmer and lawyer, had influential connections, giving Josephine an early introduction to the ways of the political game. She attended a rural school, several miles away from her home, and then studied at Edinboro State Normal School.
Upon graduation, Josephine taught for two years in public schools. While attending Edinboro, she met Louis C. Hughes who was studying law at her father’s law office and working at the local newspaper. They were married in July of 1869. Two years later, the effects of a wound received during the Civil War combined with overwork forced Louis to seek the warmer climate of Arizona, where his brothers Samuel and Thomas had gone many years before. In Tucson, he opened a law office and within a year had saved enough money to bring Josephine and their newborn child Gertrude to his new home.
Josephine traveled by rail to San Francisco, by boat to San Diego, and the last five hundred miles by stage to Tucson. Due to danger from Apaches on this part of the journey, the young mother carried a loaded rifle at her side while holding Gertrude in her arms. During the rough ride, there was constant fear that the rifle might accidentally discharge. At one point, the baby flew out of the lurching stage. Josephine climbed out, retrieved her baby who had landed unhurt in soft sand, and yelled to the driver to continue as she climbed back on.
Once in Tucson, Josephine set about “civilizing” her sparse adobe house. The only light available was a burning rag in a sauce of grease. She immediately had her parents ship her some candle molds, and soon candies illuminated her house and her neighbors. To further improve living conditions, she installed a cistern (possibly the first in Arizona), laid a carpet in her parlor, made colorful paper fly brushes to use at the dining table, and kept chickens in her yard to help control insects. Several years after setting up house in the desert, she even planted a grass lawn.
The Hughes family extended the hospitality of their home to many important visitors. During the Apache wars of the mid 1880s, General George Crook was their guest. In 1886, General Nelson Miles also frequented their home, planning ventures against the Indians. In the meantime, the Hughes family grew. Son John was born in 1874, followed in 1877 by another daughter, Josephine. Unfortunately, the youngest baby died in 1879, shortly before her second birthday. Mrs. Hughes refused to let her daughter be buried in the town cemetery as coyotes regularly dug up the bodies. Instead, she interred the infant in the Hughes’s front yard, planting a rose bush at the head and foot of the grave.
Shortly after her arrival in Tucson, Josephine was called upon to use her teaching abilities. At this time, boys and girls were taught separately. In 1871 a public school for boys opened, but girls either had to attend the school at the Sisters of St. Joseph convent or be taught at home. In 1872, Louis had been appointed probate judge, thus acquiring the position of county school supervisor. Upon establishing a public school for girls, Josephine became the teacher using a classroom in the Pioneer Brewery building at Levin’s Park. When she resigned in April of 1873 because of failing health, Arizona Governor Anson P. K. Safford ordered the hiring of permanent teachers, who arrived the following October.
In managing her household, Josephine followed firmly held ideals of how life should be led. To her, preserving the home as the center of religious and moral values was important above all else. She was so outspoken in defense of her beliefs that she alienated her in-laws and some Tucsonans. Nevertheless, her community recognized her as a woman of principle and ability, fit 1875, she was appointed as the Commissioner for Arizona to the Women’s Department of the Centennial Exposition to be held in Philadelphia the next year. The entire Hughes family traveled to Philadelphia, retracing the route Josephine had taken a few years earlier.
In 1876, Josephine Hughes joined several other women in organizing the first Protestant church in Arizona. Over the next couple of years, Josephine was instrumental in raising money for a church building, which opened in August of 1879. Even though she had worked to organize the Protestant Church, Josephine’s religious roots were in the Methodist Church. When Reverend George E. Adams arrived in Tucson to organize a Methodist church, Josephine left the Presbyterians and pledged support for Reverend Adams. She was among the first people to sign up as a member and once again worked to raise money for a Church building. In 1881, the Methodists opened their new brick church, which was to become a pulpit for social reforms.
Meanwhile, her husband had entered the newspaper business. In April of 1877, Louis became a partner with Charles H. Tully in the Weekly Star, with Hughes serving as editor. In 1879 he bought out Tully and began publishing the paper every day, making it the first daily in the territory. Through the Arizona Daily Star, Louis and Josephine advocated various issues, including the complete removal of Apaches from the region to Florida and higher education. They vigorously opposed capital punishment and gambling. Louis, who was interested in politics, turned the paper into a democratic journal. He wrote the editorials, but Josephine held much sway in the choice of topics. Outwardly, she served as business manager, bookkeeper, and cashier.
One of the first issues that the Hughes’ espoused in the columns of the Star was temperance, and Josephine found ways to promote temperance in the workplace with newspaper employees. She changed payday from Saturday night to the first of the week; otherwise, the men spent their money on liquor and showed up for work with hangovers.
Josephine Hughes was at the peak of her influence in the 1880s and the early 1890s having two powerful means at her disposal to promote her causes: her husband’s office as governor and the Arizona Daily Star. Though first lady of the territory, she remained in Tucson to run the Star. She took over the editorial position and helped with the printing of the paper. At the time, she was the only woman in Arizona who actively participated in the management and control of a newspaper. Inevitably, however, Josephine’s power began to fade with her husband’s removal from office in 1896 when he loudly disagreed with President Cleveland’s administration on public land policy. In 1907 Louis Hughes sold the Star, and in 1915 he died of pneumonia.
In 1912 Josephine saw her son John become a senator in Arizona’s first state legislature. He introduced a resolution for a constitutional amendment to enfranchise women, paving the way for an initiative on the November 1912 ballot. The measure passed, and women in Arizona secured the vote through the initiative measure.
A couple of years after Louis’s death, Josephine moved to Hermosa Beach, California, to live with her daughter Gertrude. In 1925 she broke her leg, weakening her health, and she passed away on April 22, 1926.
Throughout her life, Josephine Hughes worked diligently to better humanity, accepting any discomfort or danger to herself or anyone else for what she deemed a worthy end. Her tactics sometimes alienated people, but with her death, enmity towards her died. Her admirers held a memorial service in Tucson shortly after she passed away. The speakers all praised her courage and spirit as a pioneer in righteousness, education, and culture. Grover C. Linn, a dean at the University of Arizona, commented that the “ideals of Mrs. Hughes became the ideals of the Daily Star, and through the Star she molded public opinion in the community and made her paper a strength for righteousness.”
In tribute to her work, fellow Arizonans placed a bronze tablet in the rotunda of the state capitol building in Phoenix, the first in memory of a woman. The inscription reads:
“In Memoriam, E. Josephine Brawley Hughes, Wife of Governor L. C. Hughes and Mother of Hon. John T. Hughes: Mother of Methodism, Founder of W.C.T.U. and Founder of the First Daily Newspaper in Arizona….”