Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Theodora Marsh, 1867-1936

By Janolyn Lo Vecchio, independent historian

Nogales, Arizona suffragist and first woman state legislator from Santa Cruz County, Theodora Sprecher Marsh was born on January 5, 1867 in Illinois. Her parents were David and Henrietta (Fox) Sprecher. After graduating from Southern Illinois Normal School of Carbondale (now Southern Illinois University of Carbondale) in 1891, Theodora moved to Nogales, Arizona Territory where she taught school from 1894-97 and was the Santa Cruz County deputy treasurer from 1898-1902. When she was 35, Theodora married 39-year-old George Marsh, a prominent Nogales businessman, in Van Nuys, California on July 30, 1902.

George Marsh moved to the small border town of Nogales, Arizona Territory in 1881 and built the town's first two-story brick building which was the beginning of his many businesses. By 1911 he owned a large brick building which housed the post office and immigration office and also owned a hardware store, opera house, National Hotel, mortuary, furniture warehouse, and carriage business. He is credited with having a major role in the creation of Santa Cruz County when it separated from Pima County. George was a member of the first Nogales city council, Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, and Santa Cruz County Treasurer. He died in Nogales at age 48 in May 1911 after a brief illness. In 1917 at age 50, Theodora adopted 5-year-old twin girls (Georgia and Elizabeth) from Sallie Parr Derrick, a divorced mother with tuberculosis who lived in Globe, Arizona.

During her marriage, Theodora worked together with her husband at the Marsh hardware and furniture store. When he died in 1911, she assumed full responsibility for managing the Marsh businesses. The Arizona Republican described Theodora as "at her desk every morning at 9 o'clock often remaining long after the last clerk has gone." By 1915 Theodora's demonstrated business abilities led to her appointment to the board of directors of the International Gas, Ice, Electric Light and Power Plant in Nogales, and the board of directors of the Santa Cruz Valley National Bank. The Marsh businesses grew along with Nogales which had a population of 6,000 by 1916. Theodora continued operating George Marsh, Inc. until she sold her business firm to J. Rochlin, J.B. Robinson, and C.C. Cheshire in 1921.

In 1912, Theodora joined the Nogales Equal Suffrage League and became a prominent leader in the suffrage movement in Santa Cruz County. The Oasis newspaper published Theodora's rebuttal letter on suffrage to Josiah Bond which declared:

"One of the reasons we should be given the ballot is because our forefathers taught us that 'taxation without representation is tyranny'. We do not wish to take any rights from the men...But we think we understand the needs of women and children better than you do...Men of Arizona, we want your vote. And we do not think you will ever have cause to regret that you gave us the ballot...We are only asking for the privilege that belongs to the other half of the people."

Theodora helped organize the Elgin Suffrage League in Elgin, Arizona and celebrated when Santa Cruz County voters voted two for one for women's suffrage in November 1912. During 1922, the Nogales League of Women Voters organized at a meeting in Theodora's home, and she was elected charter president of the new organization.

Due to her business experience, community leadership, and suffrage activities, she was the unanimous choice of the Santa Cruz County Democrats as a candidate for the Arizona House of Representatives in 1916. The Nogales Oasis commented:

"That Mrs. Marsh has the necessary talent and practical experience to make her an able representative for this county is shown by the manner in which she has placed and kept among the leaders the business firm of George Marsh, Inc. The voters of Santa Cruz County will make no mistake in drafting to their service the force and executive ability of this energetic business woman."

Theodora defeated her male Republican opponent by 726 to 652 votes and was the only state representative from Santa Cruz County.

Described as the wealthiest state legislator by the Arizona Republican, she traveled by train to attend the 1917 state legislature in Phoenix with her 5-year-old twin daughters, cook, nursemaid, and chauffeur. Theodora was a member of the Ways and Means, Education, Public Health and Statistics, Public Institution, Efficient Government, and Accounting and Business Methods Committees. She tried unsuccessfully to introduce a bill for women to serve on juries. Of the three bills she introduced, two were signed into law: a child welfare board and a commission for public institutions. She also introduced a concurrent memorial from the Arizona State legislature to the United States Congress urging adoption of a federal suffrage amendment. The memorial passed both houses of the Arizona legislature and was forwarded to the United States Congress. In 1920, Theodora was selected by the Santa Cruz County Democrats to run for the Arizona Senate and agreed to become a candidate but later withdrew her candidacy.

After serving as a state legislator, Theodora continued to be active in state politics and the Democratic party. In 1918, Governor George Hunt appointed her to the executive committee of the State Council of Defense as the sole woman member of that board. Theodora was an alternate district representative to the Democratic national convention in 1920 and a national committee woman of the Arizona delegation to the Democratic national convention in 1924. She was also a member of the state executive committee for the Arizona Democratic Party.

Theodora enjoyed traveling and attending national and international conferences. In 1920, she attended the International Council of Women in Christiana, Norway and toured extensively through Europe afterward. During 1921, she traveled to Mexico City as the Arizona Federation of Women's Clubs representative to attend the Mexican Centennial where she was the guest of her friend, President Alvaro Obregon's wife (Maria de Tapia Obregon). From April 20-29, 1922, Theodora was an Arizona representative at the Pan-American Conference of Women in Baltimore, which was held in conjunction with the third annual convention of the National League of Women Voters as a representative from Nogales and Arizona.

In 1923 Governor George Hunt appointed Theodora to the Arizona Board of Regents. She was the second woman appointed to the Board of Regents and first woman to be the board's treasurer. During her tenure on the board, she became embroiled in issues relating to University of Arizona President Cloyd Heck Marvin's controversial presidency, which divided the university's faculty into opposing factions. After two hearings conducted by the Board of Regents, the situation was resolved when President Marvin resigned. She served on the Arizona Board of Regents from 1923-1936.

An energetic woman, Theodora was a charter member of Nogales Business and Professional Women's Club, and president of both the Nogales Woman's Club and Santa Cruz Ladies Auxiliary. In 1916 she organized the Nogales Red Cross with a membership of 100 women. After selling her business firm, she owned residences in Nogales, Tucson, and Venice, California. While traveling from her home in Venice to Nogales, Theodora Marsh died in Phoenix on April 17, 1936.


Arizona Federation of Business and Professional Women: Women Who Made A Difference: 1921-2003. Tucson: Arizona Business and Professional Women's Foundation, Volume 3, 2003: p. 320.

Journal of the House of Representatives, State of Arizona, Third Legislature, 1917, pp.10-13, 177, 594-595.

Abbott, Mary Huntington, "The Marvin Affair," Journal of Arizona History 23:1 (Spring 1982), 59-80.

"Passing of George Marsh," The Oasis, May 15, 1911, p. 5.

"George B. Marsh, Incorporated," The Oasis, December 30, 1911, p. 7.

"For Equal Suffrage: A Strong and Effective Organization Formed at Elgin to Work for the Cause," The Oasis June 29, 1912, p. 1.

"To Josiah Bond and the Men Who Have Made Up Their Minds to Vote Against Women Suffrage," The Oasis November 2, 1912, p. 6.

"Red Cross Society: Nogales Chapter Organized With Over 100 Members," The Border Vidette, July 29, 1916, p. 2.

"Mrs. Geo. B. Marsh for State Representative," The Border Vidette, August 19, 1916, p 2.

"For The Legislature," The Oasis, November 4, 1916, p. 1.

"Laws Touching Women and Children Will be Supported by Three Women Legislators," Arizona Republican, January 9, 1917, p. 4.

"Busy Woman Takes Time to Serve Her State and Nation," The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, April 30, 1917 p. 7.

"Arizona's Men Legislators," The Woman Citizen, July 27, 1918, p. 175.

"Tribute to Mrs. Marsh," The Border Vidette, February 14, 1920, p. 2.

"Hon. Theodora S. Marsh Will Run for State Senate," The Daily Morning Oasis, April 7, 1920, p. 4.

"The Good Ship Patria: Why Mrs. Marsh Was Not a Candidate for State Senate," The Border Vidette, September 18, 1920, p. 1.

"Mrs. Theodora B. Marsh Extends Greetings to her Successors," The Border Vidette, May 21, 1921, p. 2.

"Local News," The Border Vidette, October 8, 1921, p. 3.

"League of Women Voters," The Border Vidette, April 1, 1922, p. 2.

"Local News," The Border Vidette, April 22, 1922, p 3.

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