Barry Morris Goldwater was born January 1, 1909, in Phoenix to Baron and Josephine Williams Goldwater. Baron was the son of Michael “Big Mike” Goldwasser, a Jewish immigrant from Poland who arrived in the Arizona Territory after operating a saloon and brothel in gold rush–era San Francisco. Goldwasser established the family fortune through a chain of clothing stores. Josephine, an Episcopalian who descended from Rhode Island founder Roger Williams, worked as a nurse in Chicago before settling in the Arizona Territory in the hopes of ameliorating a lung condition. She met Baron Goldwater in 1906 while shopping in one of the family's stores.
Upon Goldwater's birth, the Arizona Territory was on the verge of statehood; Goldwater's earliest memory of his mother was of her sewing the 47th and 48th stars on to their U.S. flag to commemorate the new states of Arizona and New Mexico. As a boy, Goldwater lived a small-town life, ingrained with the ruggedness, self-reliance, and frontier ethos of the American West. As a teenager, he was a mediocre student, failing nearly half of his high school courses. Hoping to improve his scholastics, his parents sent their son to the Staunton Military Academy in Virginia. There he excelled in his studies, graduating in 1928 and eventually enrolling at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Yet without the rigorous structure of military school, Goldwater left the university after his freshman year.
Upon returning to Phoenix, Goldwater worked in the family business and discovered that he had a flair for merchandising. Specifically, he designed desert fashions for men inspired by his personal exploits and hobbies of river rafting on the Colorado, nature photography, hiking, and aviation. Though he proved successful in running the family business after Baron's death in 1929 and was fully in charge by 1936, Goldwater believed he was destined for a different path. As a young man, his politics were heavily influenced by his uncle Morris, a former mayor of Prescott, Arizona, and a states’ right advocate who was suspicious of large government. During the Great Depression, New Deal programs directed hundreds of millions of dollars to Arizona. Goldwater expressed resentment toward federal assistance, believing private citizens and not the government were responsible for their own livelihoods. In 1934, he removed the National Recovery Administration's emblem from his stores’ windows to protest its price setting. In 1938, Goldwater drafted an open letter to President Roosevelt, stating that the president's economic policies, tax regulations, and relief programs catered too much to labor and hamstrung private business owners.
Goldwater's trajectory from retail merchant to politician began in the late 1940s. He sharpened his public speaking skills by lecturing on the history and geography of Arizona. Delivering speeches and presentations to the Lions’ Club, Rotary Club, and numerous parent-teacher associations, Goldwater spoke at length on topics such as Navajo culture and Arizona's national monuments. In 1946, he began community drives and campaigns in Phoenix to raise private funds for a new hospital and civic center. In that same year, Goldwater was appointed to the Colorado River Commission, the agency entrusted to secure the state's claims to the Colorado River water. From his position, he fought a rapidly growing California's claims to the water, claims that he believed would hamper Arizona's postwar development.
Also in 1946, Indianapolis newspaper publisher Eugene Pulliam arrived in Phoenix and purchased the Republic and the Gazette. Politically, Pulliam sought to create a Republican presence in the state. Eventually Pulliam and Goldwater joined forces. In 1949, with Pulliam's editorial backing, Goldwater won a seat on the Phoenix City Council. From his councilman's perch, he was the leading Republican office holder in the state. Guided by theories of fiscal responsibility and limited government, Goldwater sought private solutions for issues such as municipal transit, parking, and road repair. In 1949, he became president of the Phoenix Country Club, giving him added stature and prominence.
With his business connections and success on the city council, Goldwater set his sights on the U.S. Senate. In 1954, he ran against incumbent Ernest McFarland, who had authored the G.I. Bill. While many in Arizona felt Goldwater had little chance of unseating McFarland in what was then a heavily Democratic state, he believed that his long association with and dedication to Arizona would prove indispensable. With President Eisenhower's popularity as an asset, Goldwater won McFarland's senate seat by more than 7,000 votes. Following his victory, Goldwater campaigned for other Republican hopefuls around the country and joined his party members in trying to dismantle the New Deal. After Senator Joseph McCarthy's censure in 1953, Goldwater emerged as the Republican standard-bearer. In 1958, with Arizona voting on the right-to-work issue, Goldwater campaigned against the requirement that all workers needed union membership as a condition of employment. He also faced off publicly with United Auto Workers president Walter Reuther, whom he accused of sponsoring socialism and whom he labeled more dangerous than the Soviet Union.
In 1968, Goldwater reentered the Senate, where he remained until 1986. He was a firm supporter of Richard Nixon, who won the presidency in 1968. As the Watergate scandal grew in intensity through 1973, Goldwater maintained that Nixon was innocent of any wrongdoing. But as the scandal reached higher into the White House, it was Goldwater who, in 1974, convinced Nixon that his only choice was to resign. In his last years in the Senate, Goldwater was critical of other Republicans. During the 1980s, as the Republican Party advanced a new conservatism under Ronald Reagan, Goldwater expressed disdain for the religious right. Singling out figures such as Rev. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, Goldwater stressed that the Republican Party had aligned more with the teachings of the Bible than with principles of democracy.
When the issue of gays in the military surfaced politically in the early 1990s, Goldwater, whose grandson had a gay friend facing discharge from the Air Force, championed the cause, stating that sexual orientation had minimal effect on one's defense of his country. When the Democrats captured the White House in 1992, Bill Clinton often consulted Goldwater on political matters. In 1996, Goldwater suffered a stroke that greatly affected his memory. Finally, on May 29, 1998, Barry Goldwater died of natural causes at his home in Paradise Valley, Arizona.
Stephen E. Nepa
See also: Great Society ; McCarthy, Joseph (1908–1957) ; New Deal ; Reagan, Ronald, Populist Rhetoric of ; Tea Party
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Goldwater, Barry M. With No Apologies: The Personal and Political Memoirs of United States Senator Barry M. Goldwater. New York: Morrow, 1979.
Kazin, Michael. The Populist Persuasion: An American History. New York: Basic Books, 1995.
Perlstein, Rick. Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus. New York: Perseus Books, 2009.
Reisner, Marc. Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water. New York: Penguin Books, 1986.