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Isabella Greenway King (1886-1953) was a United States Representative from Arizona and a friend of both the family of Theodore and Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt and Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt.
Isabella Selmes was born in 1886 in Kentucky. Her father was Tilden Selmes, who worked for the Northern Pacific Railroad, and her mother was Martha Macomb Flandrau Selmes. She spent her early years on a ranch in North Dakota co-owned by her father and Theodore Roosevelt. She became friends with Roosevelt’s son Kermit Roosevelt and the two kept in touch through Kermit’s years at Harvard and beyond. After the death of Selmes’ father in 1895, the family moved around before settling in New York; Selmes eventually went to a school in New York where she befriended Eleanor Roosevelt. Selmes’ mother also kept in contact with Theodore Roosevelt and the families regularly visited each other. In 1905, Selmes was a bridesmaid in Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt’s wedding. Shortly thereafter, Selmes married Robert Munro Ferguson, who had been one of Roosevelt’s Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War. Soon after their marriage, Munro Ferguson contracted tuberculosis. Roosevelt urged him to take a vacation for his health and this led, in 1910, to the family relocating to the dry climate of New Mexico. The families remained friends, though, with Roosevelt sending Ferguson a card case made from the hide of a rhinoceros which Roosevelt shot on his African safari, visiting the Fergusons in New Mexico in 1913, and confiding in Munro Ferguson after the death of his son Quentin Roosevelt in 1918.
After her husband succumbed to tuberculosis in 1922, Ferguson married another Rough Rider, John Campbell Greenway. The Greenways moved to a ranch near Bisbee, Arizona, where her husband worked in copper mining. In 1926, John Campbell Greenway died unexpectedly; Greenway persisted, moving the family to another ranch near Williams, Arizona, which she expanded to nearly 130,000 acres. Greenway also invested in a California airline, founded a hotel, started a furniture factory, and got involved in Democratic politics.
At the 1932 Democratic National Convention, Greenway seconded the nomination of her friend Eleanor Roosevelt’s husband Franklin Roosevelt for president of the United States. The same year, she campaigned for and won Arizona’s at-large Congressional district. In Congress, Representative Greenway supported President Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation, sought relief for the distressed copper mining industry, and advocated powerfully for the veterans of her state. She was reelected in 1934 and, in 1936, chose to retire from politics despite her popularity and rumblings about a run for governor of Arizona. In 1939, she married Harry O. King, a New Deal administrator.
Breaking with President Roosevelt, in 1940, King campaigned for the Republican candidate, Wendell Wilkie. After her political retirement, the Kings split their time between New York and Arizona. During World War II, she supported civil defense training for women, chairing the American Women’s Voluntary Services organization. In 1953, King died in Arizona.
Sources and Further Reading
Fallows, Deborah. “Isabella Greenway, Pioneering American Woman,” The Atlantic, May 19, 2015, https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2015/05/eleanor-roosevelts-surprising-lifelong-friend/393347/.
“GREENWAY, Isabella Selmes,” Office of the Historian. http://history.house.gov/People/Detail/14116.
“Isabella Greenway King (1886-1953),” Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame. https://www.azwhf.org/inductions/inducted-women/isabella-greenway-king-1886-1953/.
Miller, Kristie. Isabella Greenway: An Enterprising Woman. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2004.
Entry contributed by John Hest, M.A.