Ivy Maude Baker Priest
Ivy Maude Baker Priest
A long-time activist in the Republican Party, Ivy Maude Baker Priest (1905-1975) served eight years as treasurer of the United States under President Dwight Eisenhower. She also twice won election as treasurer of California under Governor Ronald Reagan.
Ivy Maude Baker Priest was born on September 7, 1905, in Kimberly, Utah. She was the first born of the three daughters and four sons of Orange Decatur Baker and Clara Fearnley Baker. Her father was the grandson of one of the earliest Utah settlers and worked as a miner in Kimberly. Her mother was a domestic worker prior to her marriage. Orange and Clara met while on a mission to England for the Church of the Latter Day Saints.
Ivy Baker spent her school years in the Utah mining town of Birmingham, about 30 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. After her father was disabled in a mining accident, she came home from school each day to assist her mother in running a boarding house for 30 miners. She also helped her mother, who was known locally as "Mrs. Republican," by babysitting for voters on election days. In this manner Priest received her first practical political experience.
Ivy Baker graduated from Bingham Canyon High School. She had hoped to go on to college or to law school, but her family's poverty led her to take a job selling tickets at a movie theater in order to help support the Baker household. In 1924 she married Harry Howard Hicks, a North Carolina travelling salesman. The marriage to Hicks was unsuccessful, and in 1929 the couple divorced. Baker returned to her family, now living in Salt Lake City. Here she continued to help support the Baker household, first as a long distance telephone operator and then as a department store merchandiser. After the work day ended at the department store, she made her way to a night school where she taught classes in American history.
Baker married Roy Fletcher Priest on December 7, 1935. Priest, 21 years older than Baker, was a travelling wholesale furniture salesman based in Bountiful, Utah. Moving to Bountiful, Priest was able to deepen her involvement in Utah Republican politics. She quickly proved herself to be a dynamic public speaker as well as a woman with superb organizing ability. From 1934 to 1936 she served as the president of the Utah Young Republicans. From 1936 to 1940 she was the chairwoman of the Young Republicans for 11 Western states. From 1937 to 1939 she also served as Republican committeewoman for Davis County, Utah, and as the president of the Utah Legislative Council. From 1944 to 1952 she served as the Republican national committeewoman from Utah. During these years Baker-Priest made two bids for office, both unsuccessful. The first was in 1934, when she ran for the Utah state legislature; the second, in 1950, when she ran for Congress against Reva Beck Bosone, the Democratic incumbent. Among Baker Priest's political projects during this period were her efforts to enact the first minimum wage law for Utah's working women.
The Priests had four children: Patricia Ann, Peggy Louise, Nancy Ellen, and Roy Baker Priest. Ivy Baker Priest later said that her church taught her to believe that each individual is given a particular set of talents that must be used. Her mother and husband encouraged her political activity when it was most difficult to continue, especially after the death of daughter Peggy in 1939.
Ivy Baker Priest was an early supporter of the presidential candidacy of Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952. During Eisenhower's successful campaign she served as the assistant chairwoman of the Republican National Committee in charge of women's affairs. Her efforts for Eisenhower earned her an appointment as the 30th treasurer of the United States. She was the second woman to hold this position. Priest chose to be a politically active, visible member of the administration, averaging ten speeches a month. She was also a skilled administrator in her Treasury post, overseeing the federal government's banking facility and the issuance of much of the nation's currency. While a member of the Eisenhower administration she was also active in the American Red Cross, the International Soroptimist Club, and the Utah National Safety Council. She was chosen as one of the 20 outstanding women of the 20th century by the Women's Newspaper Editors and Publishers Association and received many honorary degrees.
Roy Priest died in 1959. Two years later Ivy Baker Priest retired from her position as treasurer and moved to California. There, on June 20, 1961, she married Sidney Williams Stevens, a Beverly Hills real estate developer. In 1966 she ran a successful campaign for treasurer of California, her first elective office. She served two four-year terms under Governor Ronald Reagan. In office, she worked to fulfill her campaign promise to invest California's revenues for high returns. She retired after two terms in office, choosing not to seek reelection because of failing health. Ivy Baker Priest died of cancer in June 1975 in Santa Monica, California.
Ivy Maude Baker Priest's personal papers are held by her family. They will be deposited at the University of Utah in the future and thus will be available to the public. Her autobiography, Green Grows Ivy, was published in 1958 and covers her life through the period when she was United States treasurer. No full biography of Priest has yet been done. Other sources do exist, however, including a news-clipping file on Priest maintained by the Utah Department of Development Services and extensive obituary notices that appeared in the Salt Lake City Tribune and in the New York Times on June 25, 1975. □