Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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Meg & Carly’s Ivy League Adventure

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CA State Treasurer Ivy Baker Priest, pioneering Republican woman (love the hat!!)

Get used to hearing this name from now through the first Tuesday in November: Ivy Baker Priest.

In the year of Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina at the top of the California Republican ticket, the late Mrs. Priest is the answer to this trivia question:

Who’s the last (and only) Republican woman to hold a statewide office in the Golden State?

Answer: IBP, twice elected State Treasurer in 1966 and 1970, the same years Ronald Reagan ran for governor.

So who was Ivy Baker Priest?

She had the sort of hard-knocks biography both Meg and Carly would kill for. She was the daughter of a Utah gold miner who struck out instead of striking it rich. The family lacking income, her mother opened a boarding house for transient miners.

That led to her mother’s interest in the larger quality of life in their community (muddy floors got her to thinking about dirty streets), which led to young Ivy getting dragged to the polls on Election Day, which in turn sparked the daughter’s lifelong fascination with politics and public service.

As a young woman, Ivy Baker Priest worked as a telephone operator and department-store clerk in Salt Lake City to support her family during the Great Depression. Meanwhile, she tried and failed at winning public office. A run for Utah’s legislature in 1934 didn’t pan out; neither did a bid for Congress in 1950 (the only race that year that featured two women vying for the same congressional seat — and a race in which IBP was unfairly smeared as a derelict housewife for leaving the husband and kids behind for the campaign trail).

All the while, though, Ivy Baker Priest organized women for Republican causes — in Utah, and across the western U.S. And she did so for Dwight Eisenhower’s presidential run in 1952 (she was the lone member of the Utah delegation to back Eisenhower instead of Ohio Sen. Robert Taft), running the women’s division of his national campaign.

Ike returned the favor by naming her U.S. Treasurer — meaning, her signature went on greenbacks. She wasn’t the first female U.S. Treasurer (Georgia Neese Clark preceded in the Truman Administration), but she was California’s first State Treasurer (Elizabeth Whitney and Kathleen Brown also have held the post in the 1980s and 1990s).

Two other things to know about Ivy Baker Priest:

Pat Priest, aka "Marilyn Munster"

1) She had a wry sense of humor, once observing: “We women don’t care too much about getting our pictures on money as long as we can get our hands on it.”

2) Like many a California politician (Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Murphy, Sheila Kuehl), she had a Hollywood connection.

Ivy’s daughter, Pat Priest, grew up to become an actress. If you’re a fan of 1960s’ sitcoms, you might recognize her as Marilyn Munster, Herman’s anything-but-scary niece on “The Munsters”.  

As we say so often: only in California . . .

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Written by Bill Whalen

June 9, 2010 at 7:50 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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