Nellie T. Bush

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Nellie Trent Bush
Nellie T. Bush.jpg
Arizona House of Representatives
In office
Arizona Senate
In office
Arizona House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
Nellie Trent

(1888-11-29)November 29, 1888
Cedar County, Missouri
DiedOctober 27, 1963(1963-10-27) (aged 74)
Political partyDemocratic Party
Spouse(s)Joe Bush
Parent(s)William and Mary Smith Trent
Residence(s)Parker, Arizona
Alma materUniversity of Arizona

Nellie Trent Bush (November 29, 1888 – October 27, 1963) was an Arizona state legislator and justice of the peace. In her career, she was first a teacher, then a ferry-boat pilot and street car conductor. She was a business woman, airplane pilot, coroner, school principal, and a leader in Arizona women's clubs. Nellie rose to national fame in 1934 for piloting the National Guard across the Colorado River in her boats, in a political protest over the construction of the Parker Dam.

Early life and education[edit]

She was born in 1888 in Cedar County, Missouri to William and Mary Smith Trent. The family moved to the Arizona Territory in 1893 to ease her father's respiratory ailments, which prevented him from being in the work force. They initially settled in Phoenix-adjacent Mesa because of family already residing in the area. Mother and daughter became the sole financial providers. The family lived in a tent in the early years in Arizona.[1] Nellie shelled nuts to buy her clothes when she was in elementary school, where she first met another student named Joseph E. Bush. He would eventually become her husband and business partner.[2]

Determined to get an education, she enrolled in Tempe Normal School (now Arizona State University), financing her education by milking cows, plowing fields, and working in a laundry facility.[3] After earning her teaching license in 1908,[4] she taught in nearby Glendale. She lived in a Glendale hotel room and on weekends took the trolley back home to her parents. Joe Bush was the trolley inspector. During her later years, Arizona journalist Orien W. Fifer wrote about her learning how to drive the city trolley, when she and Joe transported riders during a labor strike.[5] Arizona was granted statehood, becoming the 48th state in the union on February 14, 1912. Their marriage on December 25, 1912, held in the Trent home, was a double wedding, with Nellie's brother Barney marrying Viola Sanders.[6]

Life in Yuma County[edit]

The couple established a residence in the Yuma County town of Parker on the Colorado River in 1915. During her lifetime, La Paz County, Arizona did not exist. It was created in 1982 out of Yuma, with Parker then becoming the seat of La Paz.[7]

Their son Wesley was born about three months after they moved there.[1] Joe bought a ferryboat as a business, and a riverboat as their residence. Nellie taught school in Parker, eventually becoming a school principal.[8] She also became the first woman in the United States to hold a riverboat pilot's license. Together they built a successful business transporting cargo and people across the river. The Bush family helped to develop Parker, investing in a hotel and a bank, and building a power plant.[9][10]

Prior to World War II, both Nellie and her son were licensed to fly airplanes, leading to the purchase of a family plane and their establishment of the first airport in Parker. She was a member of the Arizona Colorado River Water Commission and the Colorado River Basin States Committee.[11] Nellie had helped form the Glendale Women's Club, and helped start the Parker Woman's Club. She was active in both the American Federation of Women's Clubs and the BPW.[10]


Her political career began as a local school trustee. In 1918, she became Justice of the Peace, and coroner, for the city of Parker.[12] According to Orien W. Fifer, her pursuit of a law degree took six years, beginning with an attempt to accomplish it through a correspondence course. She enrolled in the James E. Rogers College of Law in Tucson, enrolling her son Wesley in elementary school there. During at least one summer break, she attended classes at UC Berkeley School of Law.[5]

Nellie successfully ran as a Democrat in 1920 for a seat as a representative in the Arizona State Legislature.[13][14] She passed her bar exam and in 1923 was admitted to the State Bar of Arizona, thereafter becoming a practicing attorney in Yuma County, and city attorney for Parker. Southern Pacific Railroad Company used her as their legal counsel. In 1927, she was the first woman in the legislature to chair the Judiciary committee.[15] That year, she submitted House Bill 50 to create the Arizona Children's Colony to care for children with mental challenges. Governor George W. P. Hunt vetoed the legislation, an action that was met with protest by the state Parent-Teacher Association. The legislature over-rode the veto.[16] When she was president of the American Federation of Women's Clubs, the individual clubs raised $400 to purchase furniture for the colony.[10] For years to come, funding of the colony became a pet cause for women serving in the legislature.[17]

In her 1928 first run for a seat in the state senate, she was defeated in the primary election by Hugo B. Farmer,[18] but was successful when she again ran for the state senate seat in 1934 for a two-year term.[19] In a disagreement with the state of California over permission to build the Parker Dam, Arizona Governor Benjamin Baker Moeur designated Nellie "Admiral of Arizona's Navy" and engaged her boats to transport National Guard troops to protect the state's river rights.[20] The incident propelled her to national fame.[21] At the end of her term in the state senate, Nellie made an unsuccessful run to be Arizona's representative in the United States Congress.[22] In 1940 she was again elected to the state senate, serving one term.[23]

Later years[edit]

After her retirement from public office, Nellie continued to be active in women's clubs and local organizations. She died on October 27, 1963.[24]


  1. ^ a b Fifer, Orien W. (January 16, 1963). "Nellie Bush: West Can Be Proud Of Her". Arizona Republic – via (subscription required). p. 10, col. 1. Retrieved December 17, 2017.; Fifer, Orien W. (January 16, 1963). "More About: The Nellie T. Bush Story". Arizona Republic – via (subscription required). p. 18, col. 1. Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  2. ^ Osselaer 2011, pp. 129, 83.
  3. ^ Osselaer 2011, p. 83.
  4. ^ "The Normal Graduates: Their Day of Rjoicing Is At Hand". Arizona republican. June 12, 1908. p. 4, col. 2. Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  5. ^ a b Fifer, Orien W. (January 17, 1963). "Trolley to Ferries, Nellie Could Run 'Em". Arizona Republic – via (subscription required). p. 12, col. 1. Retrieved December 17, 2017.; Fifer, Orien W. (January 17, 1963). "Nellie Bush Story: Continued". Arizona Republic – via (subscription required). p. 13, col. 1. Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  6. ^ "Double Wedding on Christmas Day". The Arizona Republican. December 27, 1912. p. 2, col. 4. Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  7. ^ "History of Yuma County". Yuma County, Arizona. Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  8. ^ "Schools of Northern Yuma County are in Flourishing Condition". Arizona Sentinel. November 30, 1916. p. Image 4, col. 3. Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  9. ^ Osselaer 2011, pp. 94, 130.
  10. ^ a b c Fifer, Orien W. (January 18, 1963). "'Not Enough Time' Her Only Complaint". Arizona Republic – via (subscription required). p. 16, col. 1. Retrieved December 17, 2017.; Fifer, Orien W. (January 18, 1963). "More About Remarkable Life Of Nellie Bush". Arizona Republic – via (subscription required). p. 17, col. 2. Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  11. ^ a b "Nellie T. Bush | Women's Plaza of Honor". The University of Arizona. Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  12. ^ "Parker News". Arizona Republican. August 2, 1920. p. 6, col. 6. Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  13. ^ "Arizona Law-Makers". The Border Vidette. December 18, 1920. p. Image 1, col. 3. Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  14. ^ Osselaer 2011, pp. 58–59, 94, 96–97.
  15. ^ Osselaer 2011, pp. 130–131.
  16. ^ "For Mentally Deficient". Arizona Republic – via (subscription required). January 25, 1927. p. 2, col. 2. Retrieved December 17, 2017.; "Parents-Teachers Express Protest Following Veto of Children's Colony Measure". Arizona Republic – via (subscription required). March 20, 1927. p. 2, col. 6. Retrieved December 17, 2017.; "Final Action Pending on Five Bills In Efforts To Override Governor's Veto". Arizona Republic – via (subscription required). April 20, 1927. p. 9, col. 3. Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  17. ^ Osselaer 2011, p. 104.
  18. ^ "Nellie T. Bush Is Defeated In Primary At Yuma". Arizona Republic – via (subscription required). September 14, 1928. p. 2, col. 4. Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  19. ^ Osselaer 2011, p. 108.
  20. ^ Brouwer, Bree (August 2014). "Whoa, Nellie! | History". Phoenix Magazine (August 2014). Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  21. ^ Osselaer 2011, pp. 131–132.
  22. ^ "Advertisement: Compare the Candidates". Arizona Republic – via (subscription required). August 20, 1936. p. 16, col. 1. Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  23. ^ "Nellie Bush Talks Here". Arizona Republic – via (subscription required). December 6, 1940. p. 12, col. 1. Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  24. ^ "Nellie Bush Early Arizonan, Dead at 75". Arizona Republic – via (subscription required). October 29, 1963. p. 1. Retrieved December 17, 2017.; "Nellie Bush Early Arizonan, Dead at 75 (Cont. from page 1)". Arizona Republic – via (subscription required). October 29, 1963. p. 3, col. 1. Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  25. ^ "Nellie T. Bush (1888–1963) – Arizona Women's Hall of Fame". Arizona Women's Hall of Fame. Retrieved December 17, 2017.


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