Priest, Ivy Baker (1905–1975)
Priest, Ivy Baker (1905–1975)
American political organizer and U.S. treasurer. Born Ivy Maude Baker on September 7, 1905, in Kimberly, Piute County, Utah; died of cancer in June 1975, in Santa Monica, California; daughter of Orange Decatur Baker (a miner) and Clara (Fearnley) Baker; educated in public schools and at the University of Utah; married Harry Howard Hicks (a traveling salesman), in 1924 (divorced 1929); married Roy Fletcher Priest (a furniture dealer), on December 7, 1935 (died 1959); married Sidney William Stevens (a real-estate agent), in 1961 (died 1972); children: (second marriage) Patricia Ann Priest (b. 1936); Peggy Louise Priest (b. 1938, died young); Nancy Ellen Priest (b. 1941); Roy Baker Priest (b. 1942).
Was active in Utah state Republican organizations (beginning 1930s); ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House of Representatives (1950); became second woman to be named treasurer of the U.S. (1953–61); elected California state treasurer (1967–74).
Ivy Baker Priest, who was appointed treasurer of the United States under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, was born on September 7, 1905, in Kimberly, Utah, the eldest of seven children of Orange Decatur Baker and Clara Fearnley Baker , who had met while Orange was on a Mormon mission to Clara's native England. After Priest's grammar school years, the family moved to Bingham, Utah, near Salt Lake City, where her father worked as a miner and she attended high school.
Following a mining accident in which her husband was injured, Clara Baker sought to supplement her family's income, opening a boarding house for miners. She also became very interested in politics. Dubbed "Mrs. Republican" by friends and associates, she frequently sent ten-year-old Ivy out to babysit for friends so they could go to the polls and vote. (Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado had enfranchised women in the late 1800s.)
Although Priest pursued a higher education after high school by taking extension courses at the University of Utah, this endeavor was cut short by her father's illness and the family's poverty. Instead, she helped out at the boarding house and worked as a ticket seller in a local theater. In 1924, she married Harry Howard Hicks, a traveling salesman, with whom she moved to North Carolina before their marriage ended in divorce in 1929. Priest then returned to her family in Salt Lake City. As the Depression gripped the country, her family went on the welfare rolls, and Priest took local jobs, including telephone operator and, later, supervisor, to help out. She became interested in merchandising, and met her second husband, Roy Fletcher Priest, a wholesale furniture salesman whom she married on December 7, 1935. Although he was 21 years older than she, the marriage proved a good match. The couple lived in Bountiful, Utah, and over the next eight years they had four children, one of whom died in infancy.
Meanwhile, Priest's interest in government and politics, which her husband encouraged, continued to grow. She began to teach American history and citizenship in evening classes, and in 1932 started doing organizational work for the Young Republicans. Priest developed effective speaking skills, and was president of the Utah State Young Republicans from 1934 through 1936. She was also co-chair of the Young Republicans for the western district of 11 states from 1936 through 1940, while holding the post of president of the Utah State Women's Legislative Council from 1937 to 1939. The following year, she became a member of the Utah State Republican Committee and in 1944 was appointed to the Republican National Committee for Utah. As she grew busier in her public life, Priest's mother and one of her mother's sisters, both of whom were highly supportive, helped her to care for her young children. In 1950, she made an unsuccessful run for the U.S. House of Representatives as a
Republican candidate from Utah, losing to Democratic incumbent Reva Beck Bosone .
When Eisenhower was nominated for the presidency in August 1952, Arthur E. Summer-field, chair of the Republican National Committee, named Priest as the assistant chair of the women's division of the committee. "The 1952 election is one of the most vital to women in our history," he noted, "and no one knows this better than Ivy Priest. The significance of her appointment lies in the realization … that women will play a greater role in this election than ever before." Drawing on her previous experience with women's issues, she coordinated national efforts among women's groups to ensure a victory for Eisenhower and his running mate, Richard Nixon. Simply getting women involved in the election was one of Priest's major priorities, and The New York Times quoted her as saying: "From all over the country, we've been getting requests from women's clubs and groups asking for information about the issues and how to get out the vote. Our big job will be to see that this information gets the widest possible distribution."
After Eisenhower's election as president, Priest's efforts on his behalf were rewarded with her appointment in 1953 as treasurer of the United States. She was only the second woman to hold that post, following Georgia Neese Clark , who had served under Harry Truman from 1949 to 1953. With no formal training for the job, Priest earned high marks and praise from her colleagues. She made frequent speeches, and her name appeared on some $30 billion of currency.
In 1958, Priest wrote her autobiography, Green Grows Ivy, which reflects on the conflicts of motherhood and a career. She also wrote of a White House dinner, shortly after the Eisenhower administration took office in 1953, and the thoughts the event triggered of how far she'd come: "I found myself staring at the place card in front of my plate, which said: Ivy Baker Priest, Treasurer of the United States. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed by the wonder of it all. And my thoughts went racing back through the years … back to Coalville and Bingham Canyon, the somber little mining towns where I had lived my girlhood … back to days when there was not enough money for food and clothing, or any of the basic amenities of living."
Though Priest's husband died in 1959, she continued as U.S. treasurer until the end of Eisenhower's two-term administration in January 1961. Later that year, she retired to California and married Sidney William Stevens, who sold real estate in the Beverly Hills area. In 1966, she returned to politics, running for the post of California treasurer. She won the election and served as treasurer under Governor Ronald Reagan from 1967 until 1974, becoming the first woman to nominate a presidential candidate when she put forth his name at the convention of 1968, during his first failed bid to garner the Republican ticket. She was also active in the American Red Cross and in the General Federation of Women's Clubs. Priest died of cancer in June 1975 in Santa Monica, California.
Current Biography 1952. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1953.
Priest, Ivy Baker. Green Grows Ivy. NY: McGraw-Hill, 1958.
Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green, eds. Notable American Women: The Modern Period. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1980.
Don Amerman , freelance writer, Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania