Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Biography of Frances Willard Munds, 1866-1948

By Heidi J. Osselaer, PhD, historian (Arizona State University)

Teacher, Politician, and Leader of the Arizona Suffrage Movement, 1866-1948

Laura Gregg, a field worker for the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), described Frances Willard Munds best: she was "a one-woman show." The two suffragists first met in 1909 when Gregg was sent to Arizona to work with Munds, who had recently become the president of the territorial suffrage association. It was quickly apparent to Gregg that Munds was "full of practical ideas," understood "the people and the political situation," and was "an indefatigable worker." Achieving the vote for women in her rough-hewn territory consumed Munds.

Born in 1866 near Sacramento, California, Munds grew up in a political family of abolitionists, temperance advocates, and woman suffrage supporters (Frances Willard of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union was a distant relative). Her early life was spent riding horses on the family's cattle ranch in Nevada, but at age fourteen she pestered her mother for a proper education until she was sent to boarding school in Maine, where she grew to become an outgoing and independent woman, dubbed "the Nevada wildcat," by classmates.

After graduating with her teaching degree in 1885, she joined her family in Cottonwood, Arizona, where they had moved for her father's health. She held a variety of teaching positions in rural Mormon communities and mining towns before marrying rancher John Munds in 1890. Even after the birth of their first child, Frances continued to work in the classroom. She rejected the notion that women should remain confined to the domestic sphere, stating, "When I think of the narrow limits of the so called ‘woman's sphere' my blood boils to think of the opprobrium she meets when she dares to step over the limit."

The Arizona suffrage movement was founded in 1891 by newspaper editor and temperance advocate Josephine Brawley Hughes of Tucson who believed that "women could not wage effective battles for reform without political recourse." Munds joined the movement in the 1890s while she was living in Prescott—a former territorial capital--and where she was active in the local woman's club. She was well-acquainted with many political leaders and by 1903 became an officer in the territorial suffrage movement. Working with Pauline O'Neill, who had assumed control of the organization, Munds rejected the NAWSA's admonition to avoid partisan politics, and the two women entered into bargains with members of the territorial legislature to pass a suffrage bill in 1903, only to see it vetoed by the federally appointed governor.

In 1909, Munds became president of the Arizona Equal Suffrage Association and that same year Congress passed enabling legislation allowing the territory to become a state. Political elites insisted legislators would not support suffrage because they feared backlash from mining corporations, the saloon industry, and voters, but Munds was convinced the political climate was changing to benefit her cause. Arizona's voters were clamoring for progressive legislation, so she partnered with the burgeoning labor movement to support a constitution that included liberal labor laws and woman suffrage.

At the constitutional convention held in Phoenix in 1910, delegates asked Munds to preside over hearings to determine whether woman suffrage would be included in the constitution. Despite the intelligent arguments presented, delegates deemed suffrage "a dangerous and radical thing," and left it out of the constitution. Munds denounced those "machine politicians," as she called them, and argued that continuing to work with them "was useless, for we soon found that although the majority was labeled ‘Progressive' that only a few were the genuine article."

However, the delegates had given Arizona voters the power to amend the state constitution with the initiative and referendum, so Munds and her followers quickly formed a campaign to gather the needed signatures to put the issue on the ballot in November 1912. She then won the endorsement of almost all the state's labor unions and newspapers and all four political parties: Republican, Democrat, Bull Moose Progressive, and Socialist. At the Arizona State Fair, held the week before the election, she and her followers handed out thousands of leaflets to visitors. She was rewarded with a resounding victory (68 percent), which led Munds to conclude "the men of Arizona need and want the help of our women in solving the problems which confront us."

Munds continued to advocate for woman suffrage and women's issues after her victory. In 1913 she was appointed a representative to the International Woman Suffrage Alliance and traveled to Budapest on their behalf. In 1914, she successfully ran for the state senate, telling the press, "Our friends, the true blue conservatives will be shocked to think of a grandmother sitting in the state Senate," and introduced bills to protect women. NAWSA asked her to help with the ratification of the Susan B. Anthony amendment, so in 1919 she traveled to New York and Connecticut to work with those state politicians. Only when the national battle was won did she retire from politics to her home in Prescott, where she died in 1948.

A photo of Frances Willard Munds can be found at:


Women's Suffrage Collection, Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records, Phoenix, Arizona

Progressive Weekly, February 15, 1913

Prescott Journal Miner, September 1, 1914

Heidi J. Osselaer, Winning Their Place: Arizona Women in Politics, 1883-1950 (University of Arizona Press, 2009)

Susan B. Anthony and Ida Husted Harper, History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 4 (Salem, NH: Ayer Company, 1900) [LINK]

Sally Munds Williams, History of Valuable Pioneers of the State of Arizona (Private printing, 1979), Arizona Collection, Hayden Library, Arizona State University

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