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Posted on: November 22, 2016

Isabella Greenway (1886-1953)

TB brought her, she brought the Roosevelts

Isabella Dinsmore Selmes Ferguson Greenway King achieved a national reputation far away from Silver City. The first woman to serve as a U.S. Representative from Arizona, Isabella at the 1932 Democratic National Convention seconded the nomination of Franklin Roosevelt. A wealthy widow, she later built the Arizona Inn in Tucson.

Born on a North Dakota ranch, Isabella had charmed Teddy Roosevelt as a five-year old. She had lifelong friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt, whom she met at Mrs. Astor’s sixth debutante ball. A bridesmaid for Eleanor, Isabella then married one of Teddy’s Rough Riders, Robert Ferguson, a man 17 years older than she. The Roosevelts and the Fergusons spent part of their honeymoons together at Robert’s ancestral home in Scotland.

Isabella, who kept Greenway as her preferred name, never lived inside Silver City but only on its outskirts. In 1910 she and Robert moved into a tent in Cat Canyon, north of town, seeking relief from Ferguson’s tuberculosis, contracted in Cuba. Tent life didn’t seem dint their social lives. Franklin and Eleanor got off the train at Deming while on an inspection tour for the Navy. They rented a car, were stranded with punctured tires in a sandstorm and had to be rescued by the Fergusons.

In 1914 the Fergusons homesteaded a ranch to the west of what became the Tyrone mine on NM 90. Robert designed a magnificent house based on the hunting lodges of his boyhood. Called the Burro Mountain Homestead, the lodge stands today as part of a recreational vehicle park. The expansive main room, with its high ceiling, impressed visitors, though the two Ferguson children remembered winter evenings in the great room, shivering under blankets because their father, a T.B. victim, had included no heating other than a single, magnificent fireplace.

People were always dropping by the Homestead. Kermit, Teddy’s son and Robert’s godson, came for a hunt. Old Roughriders visited and lingered for as long as two months. Teddy with his two young sons Archie and Quentin spent several days while on a trip to the Grand Canyon. John Greenway, Robert’s best friend and a mining engineer in Arizona, often made the trip to Silver City.

In the 1914 presidential election Isabella campaigned for Teddy and his Progressive Party, though women still had no right to vote. Greenway, who from his visits had become more than Isabella’s mere friend, bragged that she had signed up 45 men for the Progressive pledge in the “reactionary” town of Silver City.

During the First World War the wife of New Mexico’s governor asked Isabella to organize support of the southwestern counties. The Fergusons hauled a piano up the mountain and held a fund-raising fair and dance for 450 people. The following year the governor appointed Isabella as the New Mexico head of the Women’s Land Army, harvesting crops because the men had been called away to war.

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