Famous Women in Arizona History

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Written by Gideon Batai

History is full of the contributions of Arizona women, the likes of Gabby Giffords and Sandra Day O’Connor. Many women from America’s 47th state have held influential roles. However, here are just a few of them.

Sandra Day O’Connor During the 1980 presidential election, then-candidate Ronald Reagan vowed to nominate the first woman to the Supreme Court. True to his word, following the retirement of Justice Potter Stewart, Reagan nominated Arizonan Sandra Day O’Connor to the highest court in the nation. Though she was born and raised in Texas, she had lived in Arizona since her 20s. Before her nomination, O’Connor had an exceptional resume. In the State Senate (including being the Majority Leader), she served as the Attorney General, on the Maricopa County Superior Court, and the Arizona State Court of Appeals. She made her mark on the court as a unifying moderate. One of her most notable cases was Planned Parenthood v. Casey. In a close 5-4 ruling, O’Connor co-authored the lead opinion in the majority opinion, upholding women’s rights in Roe v. Wade. As of March 2022, O’Connor is 91 and currently lives in Pheonix.

Gabrielle Giffords One of Arizona’s strongest gun control proponents is former representative Gabrielle Giffords. Though she had multi-decade political experience beforehand, she is known nationally for surviving a traumatic gunshot wound to the brain in 2011. Over the next few years, she re-learned how to speak, write, and regain motor skills. She regularly talks about gun control and her personal experiences through Giffords nonprofit. Today, her husband, Senator, and former astronaut Mark Kelly is serving in the Senate after being elected in 2020 to complete the late Senator John McCain’s seat. He is up for re-election this year, in 2022.

Rose Mofford In 1988, the state legislature impeached wildly unpopular Arizona governor Evan Mecham. He misappropriated state funding, appointed a felon as a prison official, and made countless offensive comments. After commenting that Martin Luther King Jr. “Didn’t deserve a federal holiday,” and subsequently issuing an executive order rejecting MLK Day as a federal holiday, a mass boycott of Arizona business and products started. The general public widely ridiculed Arizona for its nutty governor.

Such was the condition of Arizona when then-Secretary of State Rose Mofford ascended to the governor’s office following Mecham’s impeachment. She was the first-ever woman to become governor of Arizona, despite an unenforced technicality in the Arizona Constitution stating that only men could hold public office. The MLK day boycott had resulted in an economic downside and the downfall of Arizona’s national reputation. Most notably, the organizers of Super Bowl XXVII had chosen to move from Pheonix, Arizona, to Pasadena, California.

Under Governor Mofford’s leadership, Arizona rebuilt its national reputation alongside its economy. She advocated for multi-lingual education in public schools and quickly issued an executive order proclaiming MLK day a federal holiday. She was well-liked across the state with most demographics and was known for appointing many minority judges to the Arizona judiciary. Sadly, Mofford passed away in 2016. Out of the five Arizona governors who have taken office since the end of her tenure, three of them, Jane Hull, Janet Napolitano, and Jan Brewer, have been women.

Arizona has been home to countless more heroic women, including Cindy McCain, Kyrsten Sinema, and Martha McSally. Following John McCain’s death and the subsequent vacating of his Senate seat, Governor Doug Ducey appointed Martha McSally to finish his term until a special election in 2020. Her appointment and service alongside Senator Kyrsten Sinema marked the first time Arizona had been represented in the Senate by two women. Arizona women had come a long way in representation since the days when women were forbidden to hold public office. This year, countless women are on the ballot in local, state, and federal elections. The 2022 midterm elections will most likely bring an even more diverse electorate, which Mofford surely would be proud of.