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Rosa Lyon McKay  (b. 1881, d. 1934)
Rosa Lyon McKay Arizona Capitol Museum
A tireless advocate for workers in the state, Rosa McKay served in the Arizona Legislature as a representative from Cochise and Gila counties between 1916 and 1924. Her most important legislative accomplishment was the passage of a woman's minimum wage bill in 1917.

Region: Tucson and Southern Arizona (site is in Phoenix, Central Arizona region)
Theme: Women in Politics and Government

Rosa Jane Lyon McKay was a native of Colorado who moved to Arizona territory in 1904 due to her first husband's health problems. After his death, she remarried in 1912, and through her second husband, Hugh McKay, became active in labor union causes in the state. She was a member of Alice Paul's National Woman's Party and campaigned to win woman suffrage in Arizona in 1912. In 1916, she was elected on the Democratic ticket as the first female representative to the Arizona House from Cochise County. She gained re-election in 1918. In 1917, against enormous opposition, she was able to get a woman's minimum wage bill passed in the state legislature. The pro-suffrage newspaper, Woman Citizen, declared it "The greatest victory ever won by women's votes, and won by a woman against tremendous odds."

McKay was serving as representative from Cochise County on July 12, 1917, during the Bisbee Deportation. On that day, several thousand striking mine workers were rounded up by local business owners and the county sheriff for deportation to New Mexico. During World War I, many Arizona citizens became wary of radical labor unions and sought to suppress their activities. McKay opposed the deportation and was knocked down by a gunman as she tried to enter the Western Union telegraph office to notify President Woodrow Wilson, Governor Tom Campbell, and U.S. Senator Henry Ashurst of the incident. She later organized local women to collect and deliver desperately needed supplies to the deportees who were stranded in New Mexico. When her train returned to Arizona, however, she was fired upon by vigilantes and forced to flee Cochise County in fear of her personal safety. While remaining loyal to labor, McKay continued to battle increasing attacks by the local press.

In 1922 she became representative to the Arizona House from Gila County and then unsuccessfully sought the position of county supervisor in 1924. She served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1923, as a member of the Board of Visitors for Tempe Normal School, and as member of the Arizona Child Welfare Board in the 1920s. She died in 1934 in Phoenix and was hailed in the press as a champion of the working man and woman. Visit the Arizona Capitol Museum, where Rosa served in the legislature. Located at 1700 W. Washington, it is open to the public Monday through Saturday. Call for hours 602-926-3620.

For additional information see the following:
Osselaer, Heidi J. Winning Their Place: Arizona Women in Politics, 1883-1950, Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2009.

Photo Credits:
Rosa Lyon McKay - Courtesy of Arizona Library, Archives and Public Records, Archives Division, 97-7254
Arizona Capitol Museum - Courtesy of Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records, Museum Division

 

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