In tiny Ajo, Arizona, a low-slung white stucco pueblo-reminiscent house stands at the top of a hill, just across from where the massive open-pit New Cornelia Copper Mine was heading toward full-tilt production almost a century ago. The house, prominent in a quiet way, commands a view of Ajo and the desert below. Even from the outside, you can tell that the house was built to resist the sun and the heat of the summer months. If you turn west toward higher territory, you see a bright white cross at the top of another hill.
Anyone in Ajo can point out this Greenway Mansion, as the house is often still called, although it has since passed from the Greenway family to other hands. Most Ajo residents aren’t quite sure who owns it now; maybe someone from back east or up north, or maybe someone from somewhere else in Arizona. John C. Greenway, the house’s namesake, who came to Ajo to open the mine, was an imposing figure; a Rough Rider with Teddy Roosevelt, an engineer and mining executive, a candidate for the vice-presidential nomination at the 1924 Democratic National Convention, and a husband of Isabella Greenway. The cross was placed on the hill in his memory by his wife.
It was Isabella, with her string of last names, Isabella Selmes Ferguson Greenway King, who caught my attention. The headlines of Isabella Greenway’s life: a privileged and beautiful young woman who traveled on the edges of early 20th-century political and social power; close and dear though under-celebrated lifelong friend of Eleanor Roosevelt; twice a young widow of swashbuckling, pedigreed men; fearless entrepreneur and businesswoman; first woman elected to the House of Representatives from Arizona.
Where, I wondered, had she been all my life? As an impressionable girl, I was reading Nancy Drew when I should have been reading about Isabella Greenway. And later, how had I missed the connection during our American Futures adventures, when we visited tiny Eastport, Maine, and gazed over to Campobello Island, easily spotting the Roosevelts’ summer home, where Isabella had visited Eleanor.