By Heidi J. Osselaer, Ph.D
Barry Goldwater once joked that prior to the 1950s, the Republican Party in Arizona was so unpopular with voters that, "a state Republican convention could have been held in a telephone booth." Although Goldwater, Congressman John Rhodes and Publisher Eugene Pulliam are often cited by historians as the men who resuscitated the GOP in Arizona, political insiders say the groundwork laid by Margaret Adams Rockwell in the 1940s paved the way for the party's subsequent successes.
Margaret Adams grew up in a political environment. Her father, John C. Adams, moved his family to Phoenix from Illinois in 1894 when Maggie, as she was known, was four years old. He erected the Adams Hotel on the corner of Central and Adams and provided the best food and whiskey in the Southwest. The hotel drew so many politicians it became known as the "third branch of the state legislature."
John Adams, a Republican, was an attorney. He served as mayor of Phoenix in the 1890s, founded the state fair and the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. Phoenix was still a small town in those days; Maggie rode her pony down Central and hunted jackrabbits with a bow and arrow.
In 1912, Maggie married Foster Rockwell, coach of the Phoenix Union High School football team. The couple was raising two children and living in New York in the 1920s when Maggie's father passed away. After his death, the couple returned to Phoenix to run the family hotel.
As her children grew to help manage the hotel, Maggie found time for politics. In the 1940s, she became president of the Maricopa County Republican Woman's Club, and in 1944, she ran unsuccessfully for Congress, the first woman GOP candidate in Arizona. Maggie then served as Republican national committee woman for Arizona from 1948 to 1956, promoting candidates known as the Young Republicans, including Goldwater, Rhodes and Governor Howard Pyle. It was not glamorous work.
She traveled countless miles, sleeping in rickety motels and surviving on an endless diet of truck stop milkshakes and hamburgers. But, her efforts paid off with a dramatic increase in new Republican registered voters. Steven Shadegg, Goldwater's campaign advisor, later noted that it was Rockwell and the Young Republicans who "had done more than breathe new life into a complacent organization."
In the years to follow, Republicans would gain dominance in Arizona state politics, and Maggie's daughter, Betty Rockwell, would serve in the state legislature for twenty-three years. Today, the Adams Hotel is run by the Wyndham chain and is a designated Arizona Women's Heritage Trail site on the Phoenix and Central Arizona Driving Tour.
Infolink: Women's Heritage Trail
Heidi J. Osselaer, Ph.D., is on the Scholars' Committee for the Arizona Women's Heritage Trail. She is also a faculty associate at ASU and is the author of "Winning Their Place: Arizona Women in Politics, 1883-1950."