By Anne L. Foster
Suffragettes, teachers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, ranchers, miners, artists, writers, wives and mothers. Pioneers all, the ladies honored in the Territorial Women’s Memorial Rose Garden at the Sharlot Hall Museum were invaluable participants in shaping what was to become the state of Arizona.
Visitors to the museum’s grounds often enjoy the beauty of the rose garden without realizing its deeper meaning. Truly a marvelous spot to picnic, the garden contains a wide variety of roses. In full bloom, the garden is also a favorite spot with wedding photographers. Upon close inspection, a bronze sign announces that the garden is the Territorial Women’s Memorial Rose Garden. But it takes a trip inside the Museum Center to visit the Rose Garden exhibit and to browse through the biographies of the ladies honored in the garden, for the significance to become apparent. To look at the historic photograph of a beautiful woman in gay nineties puffed sleeves and to read about how this woman went alone to far reaches of the county to teach school is to understand the realities of territorial Arizona.
The creation of a rose garden dedicated to Arizona’s pioneer women was apparently the idea of Dorothy McMullan. In the 1930s the national Federation of Garden Clubs had proposed an initiative to establish one historical garden, using native plants in each of the states. It was some time before the idea was widespread, but in 1948 the Arizona Federation of Garden Clubs appropriated $82 in support of a historical garden on the grounds of the Sharlot Hall Museum. The garden committee was soon “happily surprised when meeting at the museum when meeting at the museum to have Raymond D. Weaver, who was visiting here gave them $20 for a special planting on the grave of the early day scout, who is buried on the museum grounds.” The following year, on April 5, 1949, the Sharlot Hall Historical Society praised the Garden Club’s activities in support of the museum’s grounds.
However, it was not until June 14, 1949 that Mrs. McMullan proposed her idea to dedicate a rose garden. Meeting with the board’s approval, the Prescott Garden Club swung into action. With the help of the Alta Vista Garden Club and the Yavapai Cowbelles, the garden was well established and well cared for by 1951.
Originally, materials could be made in honor of any woman. In 1979, a new nomination policy was passed by the Sharlot Hall Historical Society’s Board of Trustees that restricted the honorees to Arizona pioneer women. Today, the Territorial Women’s Rose Garden honors those women who were born before 1900, lived in Arizona prior to 1912, and were part of the state’s development. Although many of the women memorialized in the garden were Yavapai County residents, the garden is open to any Arizona woman. More than 300 women have been so honored.
The garden’s honorees include women who chose to defy traditional “women’s roles.” Women like Frances Willard Munds, president of the Arizona Equal Suffrage Organization, who became Arizona’s first female legislator in 1914. Or Grace Sparkes, secretary of the Yavapai County Chamber of Commerce in the 1920s and 1930s, whose influence on Prescott can be seen in everything from buildings to the “hometown” atmosphere.
While these ladies might be considered exceptional, it should be remembered that all of Arizona’s pioneer women were exceptional. Ranch wives and mothers were just as strong and independent as their more recognized sisters. Mary Elizabeth Larremore Lange raised 10 children on various ranches throughout Arizona. In fact, several children were born in a tent.
Catherine Cecilia Healy Bennett’s love of children led to her care for five foster children in addition to four children of her own.
Living in harsh, isolated surroundings, Arizona’s women blazed new trails, regardless of their occupation. It is these women, Arizona’s territorial settlers, that the Territorial Women’s Memorial Rose Garden honors. Over the next four weeks you will get a chance to meet some of the ladies, and learn more about their lives as the museum celebrates Women’s History Month. For more information about any of the women represented in the Territorial Women’s Memorial Rose Garden or to nominate an Arizona pioneer woman, visit the Sharlot Hall Museum Archives and Library. Hours of operation are Tuesday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., or Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
(Anne Foster is assistant archivist at the Sharlot Hall Museum.)