She was a 23-year-old pioneer woman in 1882 when she and her husband arrived in a covered wagon in Arizona Territory from Utah. With a group of 18 other members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Rachel and William Berry had endured a three-month trip over the tortuous Mormon Trail, bringing with them all their earthly belongings, along with a large herd of cattle and 50 horses. They settled in St. Johns.
Her first house was a tent. Her second was a log cabin. Her third was the first brick house in Apache County, where the couple raised seven children. And the fourth house that would welcome her in was the Arizona House of Representatives, where Rachel Berry was one of the first women in the United States to win election to a state legislature.
She had been among the Mormon women who joined forces with Anglo suffragettes to convince Arizona men to vote for women’s suffrage on November 5, 1912. A month later, on December 5, the governor signed the election results and Arizona women joined many of their western sisters in getting the vote. (December 5, by the way, is the date many years later that the author of this blog was born, and Nov. 5 is the date my mother was born. Coincidence, I think not!)
It was a hop, skip and jump before newly enfranchised Arizona women decided to run for office, and Rachel Berry led the way. She was elected to the Arizona Legislature in November of 1914 and took office on January 11, 1915. She represented not only her hometown of St. Johns, but all of Apache County.
Arizona’s state flag—say thanks to Rachel Berry, who was one of the strongest voices for its adoption She fought for bills on education and child welfare and chaired the Good Roads Committee. Not all her campaigns were successful—she couldn’t get the all-male-but-her legislature to ban cigars and chewing tobacco.
After her term, she went home to St. Johns where she continued her political activism with the local Relief Society. And then in 1928, she purchased a home in Phoenix for winters, when the weather is mellow. But she returned to her St. Johns home for the summers, when Phoenix is an inferno.
Rachel Berry died in her Phoenix home on Thanksgiving Day, 1948. And to the end, she stayed sharp and observant.
“I like to keep up with the fashions,” she said in her last years, “but I had enough of long skirts when I was a girl. My dresses suit me fine when they’re just a little below the knee, and I hope sincerely that styles never take the hemline to the ankle again.”
Rachel Berry has been inducted into the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame as one of the state’s “remarkable women.”