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Mary M. Costigan  (b. 1885, d. unknown)
Mary M. Costigan Orpheum Theater
Mary M. Costigan became the first Arizona woman licensed as a commercial radio broadcaster, breaking into a male-dominated field. In 1925 she put Flagstaff's first radio broadcast on the air, on station KFXY, which first operated out of the Orpheum Theater and later, the Monte Vista Hotel. She also ran the Orpheum Theater and became active in several community organizations.

Region: Northern Arizona
Theme: Women at Work

Mary Costigan was born in Detroit and raised by her mother who ran a general store. Mary wanted to study law but her mother opposed this "radical" notion so Mary attended business college instead. Mary's brother John was a gifted pianist who composed music and wrote plays. When John contracted tuberculosis, the family moved to San Antonio where Mary worked as a bank cashier and a bookkeeper. In 1906 John and his wife relocated to Flagstaff, seeking a cure for his illness. In 1913, with local businessman John Weatherford, he invested in the Majestic Opera House. There the first silent movies were shown in Flagstaff. But two years later the roof and most of the walls of the building collapsed after a New Year's Eve snowstorm. Fortunately, the movie projector was retrieved and the partners built the new Orpheum Theater on the same site. It opened in August of 1917, showing movies along with John's plays and musical performances. But by then John's health was deteriorating so he asked Mary to move to Flagstaff to help manage the Orpheum.

Mary Costigan became a licensed motion picture machine operator and secured an appointment as temporary postmaster in Flagstaff. She also opened a flower shop and the first beauty shop in town, both of which she later sold at a profit. After the death of her sister-in-law in 1918, and her brother John in 1921, Mary assumed custody of her two young nephews and took over her brother's lease of the Orpheum. She became a licensed commercial radio broadcaster—the first female to do so in Arizona and, reportedly, the second woman in the world to be granted a radio broadcasting license—and began Flagstaff's first radio broadcast on December 10, 1925, out of station KFXY, a 25-watt station set up back stage in the Orpheum.

Arthur Riordan of the locally prominent Riordan family was in the Army Signal Corps during World War I and built the radio set for her. In 1929, Mary moved KFXY, 1420 on the AM dial, to Room 105 of the Monte Vista Hotel, and the 100-watt station began broadcasting three hours a day. Four hundred local residents showed up for the inaugural broadcast! Even though the world of radio broadcasting was male-dominated, Mary moved into the field without fear or hesitation.

Mary excelled at public relations and delighted local residents with her free Christmas shows for children. She also arranged personal appearances for movies stars in town. She was a charter member of the Flagstaff Business and Professional Women's Club and joined the Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce and the Flagstaff Woman's Club. She planned to open her own theater in partnership with Philomena Babbitt and Dr. E.S. Miller across from the Orpheum, but the Great Depression put an end to that aspiration. The Orpheum lease was awarded to another movie operator, so Mary moved her projection equipment to the C.A. Lark Building on Leroux Street.

She left Flagstaff with her nephew in 1931, returning to her native Detroit. She sold the radio station to a local physician, and KFXY was moved to Yuma in 1932, reappearing as Kuma.

For more information, see Jan LoVecchio, Women Who Made a Difference, Vol. III

Photo Credit:
Photos courtesy of the NAU ClineLibrary. Costigan: Troxell/Carson Collection. Item 8371; Orpheum Theatre: AHS .0774.00011.

 

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