skip to main content
Back to Key Players

Ivy Baker Priest, A natural organizer with political ambitions

1905-1975

Ivy Baker Priest
Illustration by Brooke Smart

“I’m often wrong, but never in doubt.”

By Enid Mickelsen

 

Born in a small Utah mining town, Ivy Baker Priest became one of the most prominent political organizers of women in the 1950s, served as the Treasurer of the United States, and was twice elected Treasurer of the State of California. She was a lifelong advocate of involving more women in the political process, while acknowledging the challenge of balancing her professional responsibilities with raising a family. But none of it might have happened if Ivy’s mother had not insisted on clean floors.

Black and white image of Ivy sitting a chair sat in her home.

Ivy Baker Priest. Courtesy of Utah State Historical Society.

Ivy Maude Baker was born on September 7, 1905 in Kimberly, Utah to Clara Fernley and Orange D. Baker. The family settled in Bingham Canyon in 1912, where Orange worked at the copper mine. Orange was frequently injured, periodically leaving the family without financial support. Clara opened her home as a boarding house, where 20 or more miners would eat their meals each day. But Bingham’s streets and sidewalks were dirt, and snow or rain turned them into a muddy mire that was tracked into Clara’s home. Frustrated by the current mayor’s refusal to make street improvements, Clara supported the family physician’s run for mayor when he promised to construct wooden sidewalks.

Clara proved a natural organizer, helping Bingham residents establish citizenship and register as voters. Ivy became her “official errand-runner” as well as babysitter for parents whom Clara marched down to be registered. Ivy spent all of election day at the polls and when Dr. Straupp was declared the winner, she felt “as elated as a kingmaker.”[1] Her enthusiasm for politics was kindled and she became actively involved in Bingham High School student leadership.

At age 19, Ivy married a travelling salesman and left Utah. The marriage was unsuccessful and she returned to her family in Bingham following her divorce in 1929. To help support her family, she worked as a telephone operator while taking extension classes through the University of Utah. She also became active in the Utah Young Republicans.

In 1932, Ivy was elected as a delegate to the Republican State Convention. Two years later, she was defeated in a race for a seat in the Utah House of Representatives, but elected as Regional Co-Chairman of the Young Republican National Federation for 1934-36. During this time, she married Roy E. Priest, a wholesale furniture salesman from Bountiful. Roy supported and encouraged Ivy’s political involvement, which she continued as they had four children.

Ivy Baker Priest was President of the women’s Utah Legislative Council from 1937 to 1939, where she helped create a minimum wage for working women. She later became the Republican National Committeewoman from Utah and was elected Vice Chairman of the Western Conference of party leaders for the western states in 1946. Ivy was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1948, and in 1950 she unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Congresswoman Reva Beck Bosone. It was the only Congressional race in the country that year with two women facing each other for a seat.

Black and white image of Ivy in her older years.

Ivy Baker Priest. Courtesy of Utah State Historical Society.

In 1952, Ivy was one of the leaders of the “Young Turks,” a group of Republican party members who sought to nominate General Dwight D. Eisenhower for president instead of the frontrunner, Senator Robert A. Taft. When Eisenhower received the nomination, Ivy was appointed Assistant Chairman of the Republican National Committee in charge of the women’s division. She was credited with increasing the turnout of women voters, who made up 52% of Eisenhower’s margin of victory.[2] Eisenhower named her Treasurer of the United States. Ivy was only the second woman to serve in that position, which she held for eight years. On one occasion, Ivy’s table mate at a luncheon observed, “the people I have known in this world who have achieved things have all overcome some great handicap to reach their goal. I hope you won’t mind my asking you…what was yours?” “Poverty,” Ivy replied without hesitating. “And now you are in charge of all that money!” he laughed.[3]

In addition to her regular duties as Treasurer, Ivy used her position to encourage women to engage in politics, and to advocate for the American Red Cross, the Utah and National Safety Councils, and the National Society for Crippled Children and Adults. As part of a Presidential administration, Ivy acknowledged the inherent conflicts of family and professional life:

Any woman who has a career and a family automatically develops something in the way of two personalities, like two sides of a dollar bill, each different in design. But one can complement the other to make a valuable whole. Her problem is to keep one from draining the life from the other.[4]

Toward the end of Ivy’s term as Treasurer, her husband Roy died. Two years later, in 1961, she married Sidney William Stevens, a California real estate agent. In 1966, Ivy returned to politics to successfully run for Treasurer of the State of California, serving eight years alongside Governor Ronald Reagan. Once again, she leveraged her political position for charitable causes. In August 1968, Ivy became the first women to formally nominate the presidential candidate of a major political party when she nominated Ronald Reagan at the Republican National Convention. Six months after the end of her second term as Treasurer, Priest died of cancer on June 23, 1975 in Santa Monica, California.

 

Footnotes

[1] Ivy Baker Priest, Green Grows Ivy (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1958): 26-7.

[2] W. Paul Reeve, “Ivy Baker Priest: A Bingham High Coed Rose to the Post of U.S. Treasurer,” History Blazer, Utah State Historical Society, 1995.

[3] Green Grows Ivy, 3-4.

[4] Green Grows Ivy, 295.


Sources

W. Paul Reeve, Ivy Baker Priest: A Bingham High Coed Rose to the Post of U.S. Treasurer, History Blazer, June 1995. Ivy Baker Priest Is Dead; Ex‐Treasurer of U.S., 691, The New York Times, June 25, 1975.
Sign up at this link for our virtual Women's History Month celebration at 11:30 am on March 18 with games, stories, trivia, and prizes!
Vector Smart Object