Contributed by Arizona Historical Society Library and Archives, Tempe
Arizona's Saints and Shady Ladies
The many wonderful photographs in the Arizona Historical Foundation's collections have inspired this exhibit of Arizona Women and their diverse contributions. Historians have often downplayed the role of women in the West, denying them individual as well as collective importance. Women from the East were cast in the Victorian role as fragile, dependent, and dainty, unsuited and unwilling to face the hardships of frontier life. Native American women were often romanticized as noble and anonymous princesses. The large number of Hispanic women remained largely invisible in the literature, while Asian- and African American women were non-existent to writers and photographers alike.
Research on the true place of women in history is ongoing. Careful and open examinations of the lives of a few have already demonstrated that their impact on the settlement, civilization and progress of Arizona was far greater than previously believed. Regardless of race or creed they all held firm in working toward a better life. These women raised children, tended the home and worked in the fields; they also owned mines, flew planes, planned roads and expanded the economic base.
The women of the West were both saints and shady ladies. They did not and could not fit the Victorian models of womanhood. Those artificial standards were impossible to maintain in the newly settled West. It would be ridiculous to ride twenty miles only to leave a calling card, and many of the other rules of conduct were equally inappropriate. While the spirit of gentility - care of family, consideration of others, and moral fiber - was present, the outward appearances could not be kept; therefore, none of these women could truly be considered "ladies." Instead they lived practically and industriously. Famous or "unsung heroines," their lives and works shaped the form and spirit of the state of Arizona.