By Mary Melcher

The Sharlot Hall Museum Territorial Women’s Memorial Rose Garden honors women living in Arizona Territory before statehood.  The diverse honorees represent nearly every ethnic culture and occupation.  While the majority married and had children, some remained single; others were divorced or widowed.  Dealing with primitive conditions during the nineteenth century, they worked hard to maintain their homes, ranches and farms while building their communities.  A number of women also worked in the political arena; others were artists, and some worked in business.

For the great majority who married and kept house, homemaking in early Arizona involved endless chores: scrubbing laundry on a washboard, cooking on a wood stove, churning butter, preserving food, and making bread.  Those who lived in the country often hauled water for these chores.  Only a minority could afford to hire help; most did everything themselves.  They also provided health care for their families, sewed and mended clothing.  In addition, women learned special skills like making cheese.

The women lacked reliable birth control, and their fertility rate was high, as was infant mortality.  For example, Ida Sarah Densmore Durbin had eight babies within a span of thirteen years.  She lost two children in infancy and raised six daughters.

In ranching and farming, which were economic mainstays, women played a vital role tending children, chickens and cattle.  Some did all of the work involved in ranching, including rounding up cattle and branding.  Others focused on gardening, cooking and preserving food, milking cows and caring for chickens.  The majority worked with their husbands, but some ran ranches independently.  Women also ran dairies with their husbands and other family members.  These hard-working ranch and farm women needed varied skills needed to run a ranch, feed a family and preserve food for the winter.

Rose Garden honorees commonly became involved in a variety of community organizations to build their towns, founding libraries, churches and women’s clubs.  In Prescott, the Monday Club, a women’s club, secured Carnegie Foundation funds to construct the town’s first public library.  Others helped to organize their churches.  Women also joined the Order of the Eastern Star, an auxiliary of the Masons, which is a service organization.  Twentieth-century ranch women belonged to the Cowbelles, which promoted the beef industry, as well as friendly, social relations among cattle people.  Others joined garden clubs.  Ten Old Maids, formed in 1891, was a social club made up of Prescott single women.

Among those who worked outside the home, teaching was a very common job in rural Arizona and all over the United States.  Teachers worked in varied environments, including one-room schools in rural areas and multi-grade schools in town.  Minnie Guenther taught Apache children on the White Mountain Apache Reservation.  Some taught for a few years while others made it a life-long career.  Women usually lost their teaching jobs if they married, but in some rural areas, wives were hired as teachers.  These women were essential in early Arizona where schools were often the first community institutions.

In addition to teaching, women worked a variety of other jobs.  Although traditional gender roles cast women in the domestic role, it was not uncommon for territorial women to work for pay, as bakers, laundresses, store clerks, cooks, hotel operators, bookkeepers, nurses, librarians and postmistresses.  A few became physicians, lawyers and county superintendents of schools.  Many of these women were single, widowed or divorced; their work was essential to their families.

Women also became involved in politics by organizing groups such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).  In 1883, the first local Arizona branch of the WCTU formed in Prescott.  Believing that men’s use of alcohol harmed women, WCTU members sought to outlaw it but soon realized that women needed the vote to influence laws and politics.  Frances Munds and Pauline O’Neill, both Rose Garden honorees, were leaders in the woman suffrage movement.  Munds was the president of the Arizona Equal Suffrage Association when Arizona women won the vote through an initiative measure in 1912.  Munds and O’Neill went on to serve in the state senate and legislature.  Yavapai women, such as Viola Jimulla, also took leadership roles.  Jimulla succeeded her husband as Yavapai Prescott Indian Tribe chieftess from 1940 to 1966.  Other honorees were artists and writers, including Kate Cory, Sharlot Hall and Marguerite Noble.

To learn more about territorial Arizona women and the Sharlot Hall Museum Rose Garden, visit the museum January 23, at 1 p.m. for a free panel discussion.  See the new Rose Garden-Discovery Kiosk, which includes a digital display of honorees’ biographies, as well as children’s activities.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International ( This and other Days Past articles are also available at The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at for information.