Stories of strong, pioneering women are fascinating to me, and during a recent stay in Tucson at the Arizona Inn, I was reminded that sometimes we don’t need to look far to find inspiration. The Arizona Inn has been family owned and operated for four generations, since its creation in 1930 by Isabella Greenway, Arizona’s first Congresswoman, entrepreneur and lifelong friend of Eleanor Roosevelt. The hotel has over 90 rooms housed in a desert-pink brick structure spread over 14 beautifully manicured acres.
The history of the Arizona Inn starts with the (now defunct) Arizona Hut, located in a Presbyterian church near the present day Arizona Inn. Founded by Isabella as a furniture workshop in 1927 to employ disabled veterans of WWI, the Arizona Hut hit hard times after the market crash of 1929. Isabella opened the Arizona Inn in the midst of the Depression as a hotel to spur the local economy and provide a demand for products of the Arizona Hut. Today, much of this furniture is on display at the Inn and there is an onsite master craftsman to restore and provide new “Hut” furniture.
Isabella Greenway, neé Selmes, was born in Kentucky in 1886, and spent much of her childhood at her father’s ranch in North Dakota, where she became acquainted with family friend and neighbor, Theodore Roosevelt. She attended school in New York City, where she met Teddy’s niece, Eleanor (whose maiden name incidentally is Roosevelt, and Franklin was her fifth cousin once removed). Isabella served as a bridesmaid in Eleanor and Franklin’s wedding, and remained close to the Roosevelt’s throughout their lives. Isabella was widowed twice from Robert H.M. Ferguson and John Campbell Greenway, each gentleman having served as a member of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. Isabella persevered through grief and adversity, and her list of accomplishments is impressive. Most notably, she was a female entrepreneur in charge of an airline, the first Congresswoman from Arizona elected to the House of Representatives (and the sole representative from Arizona), and a speaker at the 1932 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Isabella remains a shining example of female leadership in Arizona, paving the way for other AZ female leaders, such as Sandra Day O’Connor and Janet Napolitano.
What kept her out West after the death of two of her husbands (she married a third time to Harry O. King) when she could have returned to back to the East Coast? Was it the wide open spaces and the beautiful sunsets? Was it the spirit of the West and entrepreneurship where one can blaze their own path to success? I think one could make an argument for all of the above. In any case, I think this biography of Isabella Greenway by Kristie Miller is next on my reading list. Happy Reading! xo M