LPM Staff

Arizona Trailblazers

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Christine Marin

In celebration of National Women’s History Month we salute formidable Arizona women; trailblazers, risk takers and trendsetters; lawmakers, business owners, educators, activists, academics, public servants. Thanks to their efforts and their examples, others have followed. Women have come a long way in the Wild, Wild West. Remember during Gov. Hull’s Administration Janet Napolitano was Attorney General, Jan Brewer was Secretary of State and Margie Emmerman was head of Tourism? Here’s to those who have cracked the glass ceiling.

Trinidad Mejia Escalante marries Jack Swilling, a Missouri native and ex-Confederate soldier, at St. Augustine Cathedral in Tucson. If Jack Swilling was the “father of Phoenix,” as historians call him, then his beloved wife, Trinidad Mejia Escalante Swilling, was the “mother of Phoenix.”

Sarah Herring Sorin was the first woman admitted to practice law in Arizona.

Viola Jimulla first Chieftess  Yavapai-Prescott Tribe.

The Asociación Hispano-Americana de Madres Y Esposas, the Mexican American Mothers and Wives Association, was founded in Tucson by Rosa Rodriquez Caballero. The organization was founded to help support the war effort in Tucson, and to provide economic and moral support to the Mexican American soldiers abroad in World War II. The women published a community newspaper, The Chatter, and raised more than $1 million in war bond sales in
a 12-month period.

Mercedes Zapien, a Mexican American woman, established El Portal Restaurant.


Luisa Ronstadt Espinel published a collection of songs, “Canciones de mi Padre,” Spanish folk songs from southern Arizona.

Anastasia Frohmiller  became the first woman to run for governor. She won the Democratic nomination for governor over five male candidates.

Annie Wauneka became the first woman elected to the Navajo Tribal Council, serving  until 1978.

Lorna Lockwood  was the first woman in Arizona and in the U.S. to become  Chief Justice of a State Supreme Court.

Ramona Acosta Bañuelos, native of Miami (Ariz.), and others founded the Pan-American National Bank. By 1969 she became the chair of the board of directors. In 1979, Pan-American National Bank held deposits of $38.8 million and assets of $41.4 million. She was named U.S. Treasurer in 1971 by President Richard M. Nixon.


Graciela Gil Olivarez

Graciela Gil Olivarez made history and beat the odds when she graduated from Notre Dame Law School in 1970. She became the first woman and the first Hispanic to graduate from Notre Dame Law, and she did it all without a high school diploma. In 1977 she was selected by President Jimmy Carter to head the Community Services Administration program in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Christine Marin (curator/ archivist and historian) is among the founders of ASU’s Chicano Studies Collection. Renamed the Chicano Research Collection in 1989, it seeks to acquire and strengthen holdings of primary resources relevant to Mexican Americans in the Southwest in general, and in Arizona in particular. Without her vision and diligence, many Latino stories would remain untold.

Margarita Alcantar Reese became the first female Mexican American mayor of El Mirage.

Ramona Cajero became the first Mexican American woman to pass the physical abilities test of the Tucson Fire Department.

The Hispanic Women’s Corporation was founded, its mission to serve as a proactive leader in the development of Hispanic women. Current President Linda Mazon Gutierrez, an Arizona State University graduate, is on the National Board of Directors for Girls Scouts USA.

President Ronald Reagan nominated Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court, its 102nd justice and its first female member. In Arizona, she served as Assistant Attorney General from 1965 to 1969. In 1974, she ran successfully for trial judge, a position she held until she was appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals in 1979.

Cecilia Esquer went to the Democratic National Convention as the first Latina delegate from Arizona, along with 13 other Chicanos. “The Democratic Party was shocked, because in those days there were no minority delegates to the National Convention,” she says. In 1978 she was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation. In September 2001, Cecilia, along with husband, Elias, a retired professor of Spanish, was honored in Valle del Sol’s Profiles of Success. They were the first couple inducted into the organization’s Hall of Fame for their community activism.


Mary Rose Garrido Wilcox

Mary Rose Garrido Wilcox, a native of Superior, became the first Mexican American woman elected to the Phoenix City Council. She has devoted her life to the service of her community and currently serves as a Maricopa County Supervisor.

Rosie Lopez created the Arizona Hispanic Community Forum in 1985  because she felt Valley Hispanics “needed a forum to debate, speak out and influence public policy.” She chaired the Maricopa County Democratic Party and ran for Phoenix City Council in 2003.

Rose Mofford became the  first female governor of Arizona.

Virgina L. Yrun became the  first Arizona Latina to run for the U.S. Congress.

Janet Napolitano became the first female to serve as Arizona Attorney General. She is also the first female governor of Arizona to win re-election.

Marie Lopez Rogers was elected mayor of Avondale. She was appointed mayor in January 2006 then won election to the seat in September 2007.

The Women’s Plaza of Honor was established on the University of Arizona campus. Among those honored are State Representative Linda Lopez – and even Comandanta Ramona, an officer of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN).

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