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  • Writer's pictureDavid Grassé

Something Different

Though most my previous books and articles have been about lawmen and outlaws and the justice system (if one can call it that) in the Arizona Territory, but I have decided I would tackle some different themes with my next book - the role of middle-class women, patriarchy, and domestic abuse in the Old West. I am set on telling the story of Mary Page Handy, the daughter of Larcena Pennington, and granddaughter of Elias Pennington, pioneers of early Pima County (Pennington Street in Tucson is named for the family). At the age of sixteen, Mary was married to Dr. John C. Handy, a prominent Tucson physician, with a ungovernable temper, and a contentious personality. Handy severely abused his wife, both mentally and physically. The unhappy union, which produced five children, finally ended in a scandalous divorce, and the good doctor being shot to death by Mary's attorney, Francis J. Henney. Unfortunately, Mary did not leave a diary or journal, so it is necessary to reconstruct her life as best I can from the period newspapers, the divorce papers, and concomitant and corollary sources, i.e. the stories of other women of her class, and generalized accounts and statistical information about women's lives in the late Victorian era in the United States. Most women in western countries, from prostitutes to housewives were victims of patriarchal rule. This is a fact most writers of western history have overlooked or simply ignored. Outside of books about trailblazers like Calamity Jane, Annie Oakley, and Belle Starr, and the seemingly endless tomes about the "wicked women of the west" (sex still sells), women's stories have been very much neglected. Then again, as the field has long been dominated by men, this is not particularly surprising. Being I have kind of become a bit of a champion of those who were unjustly maligned and victimized (John Heath, Augustine Chacón) by the powers-that-were (read: affluent,

bigoted white males) in the Arizona Territory, I could not resist telling Mary's story. I only hope I do her justice, as she never received it in life

Photo of Mary Page Handy in her wedding dress, 1878, courtesy of The Arizona Historical Society, #42625

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