Born in Iowa and reared in Colorado, Polly Rosenbaum earned a degree in history and political science from the University of Colorado and a master’s in education from the University of Southern California. In 1929, Arizona became her adopted state. After teaching in Hayden, and working as secretary at Inspiration Copper Company, Polly took a stenographer position at the state capitol. In 1939, she married William “Rosey” Rosenbaum, Gila County Representative and later Speaker of the House. Following Rosey’s death in 1949, Polly was appointed to his House seat and then gained re-election every two years until 1994. For an unprecedented forty-five years, she capably and energetically represented her constituents, becoming Arizona’s longest serving legislator.
Rosenbaum served under twelve governors and fifteen House speakers; and between 1973 and 1995, was Speaker Pro Tem on opening day of the legislature. Many lawmakers considered her “the most influential person at the state legislature,” respected by Democrats and Republicans alike. She chaired the House Administration Committee for 16 years, keeping a firm rein on House finances. She also championed education and libraries, believing that both rural and urban Arizona needed strong libraries and schools. She chaired and served on the Education Committee for a number of years and passed a bill in 1964 providing education for homebound students. In 1982, her colleagues honored Polly with a resolution and title: “First Lady of the Arizona Legislature.”
During her legislative career, she rarely accepted political contributions. She campaigned by circulating petitions and purchasing a few ads in newspapers during the early years when her district included Hayden, Winkelman, Christmastown, and part of Globe. One year, she spent only $100 campaigning. Later after redistricting, her district included parts of 8 counties, and she used direct mailing.
Through her work establishing the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame, she hoped to demonstrate women’s impact in the state. “The women really won the West, not the men. The women are the ones who got the libraries and worked for the schools,” she said. Despite women’s many contributions, Rosenbaum realized females still faced discrimination. In 1968, as the Equal Rights Amendment was debated nationwide, she worked with a group of women lawmakers to make the Arizona state constitution gender neutral. Although Rosenbaum never voted in favor of the ERA, she and the other female legislators pushed through legislation to amend the state constitution establishing equal rights for men and women.
Enthusiastic, gracious, and generous, Polly became an unofficial protector of our heritage, advising on the old Capitol Museum and Carnegie Library restorations, and leading the fight to acquire a permanent home for Arizona Mining & Mineral Museum. She received countless awards and honors; a state building carries her name; the “Polly Award” and the “Polly Rosenbaum Writing Contest” continue the good work she began.