Used by permission from the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records
Arizona was one of 15 states that granted women’s right to vote long before suffrage was obtained nationally in 1920. In 1912, women won the vote through an initiative measure, shortly after Arizona became a state. With their new voting rights, women quickly recognized the equally important privilege of holding office.
In 1914, Rachel E. Berry became one of the first women in the United States to win election to a state legislature. A Mormon, who lived in St. Johns and represented Apache County, she took her seat in the Arizona House of Representatives on January 11, 1915. There she successfully advocated the adoption of the state flag we have today. She fought for bills concerned with education and child welfare and served as chairman of the Good Roads Committee. She also created a bit of a rumpus with her attempt to banish cigars and chewing tobacco in the Legislature. (She did not win that battle.)
Rachel Allen was born on March 11, 1859, in Ogden, Utah, and was the daughter of Mormon pioneers. She grew up in Kanarraville, Utah, and taught school there before her marriage to William Berry in 1879. The couple started to Arizona in the fall of 1881, traveling in covered wagons with a group of 18 other members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The party followed the tortuous Mormon Trail into the territory, crossing the Colorado River at Lee’s Ferry, a point near the present Navajo Bridge. Mr. Berry drove a large herd of cattle and about 50 horses into what is now Apache County, where he became a leading rancher and cattleman.
After a three-month trip, they arrived in St. Johns on January 27, 1882. At first, they set up housekeeping in the wagons and tents. Later, they built a log cabin, and in 1886 they built the first brick house in the county. Mrs. Berry had seven children, four daughters and three sons. Life in the territory was hard, especially on the young children. In 1889 she nursed her four children through an epidemic of diphtheria, then she herself got the disease while she was pregnant with her fifth child. The child was born, but lived only 16 days.
In December of 1903 tragedy struck again. Her eldest son Wiley was taking sheep through the mountains to the winter grazing land in the desert, according to an account written by Mr. Berry:
“He had with him as herders Santiago Vigil and his 16 year old boy Juan Vigil.”When he reached Gisela in Gila County he camped about seven miles from the town on the public sheep trail. On the morning of the 22nd of December, after Santiago Vigil had left camp with the herd and was about three quarters of a mile away, two brothers, John and Zack Booth, goat men whom our son or the others had never seen before, rode up to the herder and pointing their guns at him ordered him to leave. He answered them that he was not the owner of the sheep, but that the boss was at the camp.”
“They rode to camp and in a few minutes the herder heard shots and hurried to camp where he found both boys dead…”
Zack Booth was later convicted of the crime and hanged.
After her term in the Legislature, Mrs. Berry focused her energies back in Apache County. She was appointed chairman of the county’s Child Welfare Board and was involved in Mormon church work as president of the local Relief Society and the Mutual Improvement Association. She served many years as a trustee of the school in St. Johns. In 1928 she purchased a home in Phoenix where she spent her winters, returning to St. Johns each summer.
Many of her friends and relatives, including 18 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren, gathered in Phoenix on March 11, 1948, to celebrate her 89th birthday. According to a newspaper account of the reunion, the family matriarch was still nimble in mind and body. She loved to sew, and during the previous year had completed nine quilts and helped finish 18 others for her grandchildren. She said she wouldn’t dream of becoming “just an old lady with nothing to do.”
Although she was nearly 90, her mind was alert and she kept up with current events in the world, nation and state. In discussing the new fashions, Mrs. Berry dryly remarked that she “thought modern young women had more sense than to want to wear their skirts so long that they drag in the streets”.
“I like to keep up with the fashions,” she said, “but I had enough of long skirts when I was a girl. My dresses suit me fine when they’re just a little below the knee, and I hope sincerely that styles never take the hemline to the ankle again.”
Later that year, on Thanksgiving Day, 1978, Mrs. Berry died at her home in Phoenix.