Rose Garden PhotographsNellie May (Trent) Bush was born on November 29, 1888, in Cedar County, Missouri, the daughter of Mary Smith and William Amos Trent. She moved with her parents to Mesa, Maricopa County, Arizona Territory, at the age of five.

Very familiar with farm chores from an early age, she worked on nearby farms before and after school and on weekends to finance her education. After graduating from Tempe Normal School with a lifetime teaching certificate, Nellie became a teacher in a Glendale elementary school and helped found the Glendale Woman’s Club.

On December 25, 1912, she married Joseph Everett Bush. Joe, an electrical engineer, was a trailblazer who became captivated by the possibilities in Parker, Arizona on the Colorado River. Nellie joined him there in 1915, and the couple bought an interest in the Parker ferry, the first in a series of their remarkable enterprises. Nellie became the first woman to obtain a ferryboat license to navigate the Colorado River.

Their son Wesley Amos was born in September 1915.  As a young wife and mother, she taught the four upper grades in the Parker three-room school and served as the school principal for a semester.  Often school boards refused to hire married women, but Parker was a small town where teachers were in short supply.  In addition to teaching, Nellie began studying the law in 1917 through a $90 correspondence course.

Nellie also became interested in politics and was elected as school trustee in 1916 and as justice of the peace in 1918.  In 1920, she was elected to the Arizona House of Representatives. While a state legislator, she attended University of Arizona Law School and passed the Arizona Bar examinations in 1923. She became the second Arizona woman elected to the state Senate, serving from 1932-36 and again in the early 1940s. She was a member of the Colorado River Water Commission and the Arizona Stream and Boundary Commission.  While serving in the legislature, she was bestowed the title “admiral of Arizona’s navy” by Governor Ben Moeur during the Parker Dam controversy. This conflict related to water issues concerning Arizona and California.

Nellie helped her husband develop and operate the Parker light plant, water works, a first class hotel, a motion picture theater, a bulk gasoline station and gas utility in addition to the operation of the ferry and freight business on the Colorado River. They later constructed a pontoon bridge across the river.

After Parker was incorporated, Nellie served as the town attorney and magistrate in addition to maintaining her own private law practice. She took up flying and painting as hobbies.  She was active in the Arizona Federation of Women’s Clubs and a member of the Arizona Heritage Council and the advisory board of the Pioneer Arizona Foundation.

Nellie died on October 27, 1963, in Phoenix, Arizona.  Her newspaper obituary in the Arizona Republic, October 29, 1963, reported her accomplishments:  “In chronological order, Mrs. Bush became a school teacher, businesswoman, mother, ferryboat and inland waterways freight boat pilot, legislator, lawyer, airplane pilot, state official and leader in women’s club activities.  She also was one of the founders of the Arizona Children’s Colony.”

Nellie was buried in the Parker Community Cemetery where her headstone reads “Our Nellie T.”  Nellie was inducted into the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame in 1982. 

Donor: Saguaro Chapter of the DAR - in honor of Dawn Dollard
Photo Located: Original Photo at Arizona State Archives - RGC MS-39, Box B, F-Bush, Nellie
Updated: 8/11/2015, D. Sue Kissel