Two strong-willed women led local political parties for decades
For 30 years or more, they were known as Mesa County’s Mrs. Republican and Mrs. Democrat — Marguerite Vorbeck and Estella Brumbaugh.
The two women were totally unlike, but they shared a couple of things in common. They didn’t exactly run their respective political parties, but they certainly exerted a strong influence over them in their heydays in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. And each was convinced that her political party was the only right one, and that everything the opposing party supported was wrong.
Only Vorbeck and Brumbaugh knew how they marked their ballots when they entered the curtained voting booth, but it’s highly probable that neither ever voted for a candidate from the other party.
In the first 20 minutes after a stranger was introduced to Brumbaugh, the new acquaintance was calling her “Brum,” and that’s the way she preferred it. On the other hand, if anyone ever referred to Vorbeck as “Marge” or “Maggie,” it was news to me, and only her intimates addressed her as “Marguerite.”
In addition to being a Republican bigwig, Vorbeck was the wife of a prominent local merchant. Her husband, Herman, owned Vorbeck’s Sporting Goods near Fifth and Main Street for many years. She was a member of the prestigious Reviewers Club, one of the older organizations in the city. Its literary-minded members were carefully selected, and initiates basked in the honor of being asked to join.
Brumbaugh was Mesa County Democratic vice chairman through the regimes of a number of male chairmen, and she always made sure they listened to what she had to say. Her husband, F. A., was a railroader, and she belonged to several women’s organizations. But her major project outside politics was the Red Cross, where she relished her role as county chairman and total boss for a number of years.
Marguerite Vorbeck was a force in the Mesa County Republican Women’s Club, and Estella Brumbaugh was her counterpart in the Jane Jefferson Democratic Women’s Club.
In keeping with their influence in their parties, both were automatic delegates to numerous state political conventions and some national conventions.
They also shared a kind of no-holds-barred politics.
One particular incident springs to my mind, when, as a relatively new women’s reporter, I was called to fill the shoes of Estelle Walker Reese, sister of Daily Sentinel Publisher Walter Walker and, at the time, the newspaper’s editorial writer. Reese, an opinionated and respected Democrat, had been scheduled to debate Vorbeck at the Mesa County Republican Women’s Club on the merits of the two political parties. But Reese called me the morning of the meeting to whisper that she had laryngitis and obviously couldn’t give a speech that afternoon.
Would I fill in for her if she sent her speech down to me, she asked. I agreed, and the speech arrived at the office about 11 a.m. for presentation at 2 p.m. that day. I had time to glance through it quickly before heading hesitatingly into the maws of the Republican women.
Vorbeck spoke first, and I, grudgingly, had to admit her speech was reasoned, well-prepared and convincingly given.
I tried to sound as though I was familiar with the context of my speech, but the minute I was finished, Vorbeck was at my throat, attacking what she considered weaknesses in my presentation.
She was right, of course. I really didn’t know what I was talking about, and I certainly wasn’t able to back up all those facts Reese had so painstakingly prepared. Even I had to declare that Mrs. Vorbeck had won that round, while wishing in my heart that feisty, knowledgeable Estelle Reese had been available to give her a decent run for her money.
Either in spite of or because of what I considered my fiasco, Vorbeck and I remained quite good social friends. However, I couldn’t get up the nerve to call her “Marguerite.”
I never found myself in the identical political situation with Brumbaugh. But, to put things into perspective, I am confident that, given the same opportunity, she would have reacted in exactly the same way as Vorbeck. To each woman, there was only one political view — hers — and she never hesitated to show it.
As I recall them, they were a couple of ordinary-looking, middle-aged women, neither of whom would stand out it a crowd. Like every person in the limelight, each had her share of detractors and admirers.
But whatever their strengths and weaknesses, ” Brum” and Marguerite left their own unmistakable marks on their political parties. They were a couple of strong-minded women who did their own thing in an era when the majority of women were content to cook, sew and be social butterflies.
Mary Louise Giblin Henderson is a former political reporter for The Daily Sentinel. She now lives in California.