Isabella Selmes Ferguson Greenway King
(1886 – 1953)
Born Isabella Selmes, to Tilden and Martha Selmes, March 22, 1886 at Dinsmore in Boone County, Isabella’s great-grandfather was James Dinsmore. Her father, Tilden Selmes, was a graduate of Yale University and in the 1880s headed west to settle in the Dakotas to establish a ranching enterprise. It was in the Dakotas that they became neighbors with Theodore Roosevelt. In 1895 Mr. Selmes passed away and a few years later her and her mother moved to New York, into the residence of Martha’s sister Sarah, where Isabella entered Miss Chapin’s School. It was at Miss Chapin’s that Isabella would meet Eleanor Roosevelt, eventually being a bridesmaid for Eleanor when she married Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In July 1905, Isabella married Robert Munro Ferguson, a former Rough Rider with Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy would attend this wedding, riding over from his Sagamore estate. Robert, having contracted tuberculosis, moved his family west. In 1923, Robert died leaving Isabella and their two children Robert and Martha. A few short months later, Isabella married her husband’s close friend Colonel John C. Greenway, also a Rough Rider whom she had met and fell in love with in 1911. Less than a year later, having moved to Ajo, Arizona, Isabella gave birth to her third child, John Selmes Greenway.
In 1923, after only two years of marriage, Isabella’s husband died leaving her a widow once again. But despite her grief, she endured and began buying ranch land in 1927, eventually acquiring over 130,000 acres, as well as several lots in the heart of Tucson. In 1930, a building permit was issued to construct what would become the Arizona Inn, a nationally recognized resort officially opening in December 1930 amidst the perils of the Great Depression.
Having entered politics a few years earlier when in 1928 she was elected a Democratic National Committeewoman, Isabella would in 1932 officially nominate Franklin D. Roosevelt for President at the Democratic National Convention. In 1933, during a special election, Isabella was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, becoming Arizona’s first Congresswoman. She ran the regular election in 1934 and won by a landslide, holding a two-year term, but refusing to run in 1936. It was presumed that she wanted to devote more time to her family, but speculation was she became increasingly disturbed with FDR’s politics. In 1940, during the reelection of FDR, Isabella stunned her party, and her friends, by endorsing FDR’s opponent, Republican candidate Wendell Wilkie. “All powers needed to create a dictator have been granted now…”, she claimed of FDR. In 1939, Isabella married her third husband Harry Orland King, a New York industrialist whom she had worked with while in Congress. During the next decade she divided her time between homes in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Tucson carrying on her philanthropies and volunteer services.
Isabella Selmes Ferguson Greenway King died in December 1953 after a series of heart attacks. Having inherited the Dinsmore farm in 1926 after the death of her great aunt Julia, the homestead would now pass to her three children. Buried in the family cemetery on the Dinsmore Homestead, Isabella returned to her place of birth, having left an everlasting mark on Arizona, Congress, the Presidency and countless other individuals and communities.
Click here for Isabella’s Congressional Biography.