“Spanish American” Nina Otero-Warren (1881-1965) was a suffragist, Progressive educator, woman’s club member, public health and social welfare board member, and writer. She worked for formal and informal mediation between Hispanos, Anglo Americans, and Indians. She was instrumental in the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, was the first Hispanic woman to run for United States Congress, and she was the superintendent of the Santa Fe school system for many years.
Transcript for: Nina Otero-Warren: Suffrage and Strategy in New Mexico
Produced by Averill Earls, PhD and Elizabeth Garner Masarik PhD
Researched and written by Elizabeth Garner Masarik, PhD
Elizabeth: In 2020, the Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act authorized The American Women Quarters Program. This four-year program celebrates the accomplishments and contributions made by women of the United States. Beginning in 2022, and continuing through 2025, the U.S. Mint is issuing up to five new reverse designs each year for 20 total designs. One woman will be honored on each coin, selected for her outstanding contributions to the United States. The obverse of each coin will maintain a likeness of George Washington, but is different from the design we are used to seeing. This portrait of George Washington was originally composed and sculpted by Laura Gardin Fraser to mark George Washington’s 200th birthday.
Averill: This year (2022) the first five quarters are being released, with representations of Maya Angelou- writer, performer, and social activist; Sally Ride-physicist and first American woman in space; Wilma Mankiller- activist and first woman elected principal chief of the Cherokee Nation; Anna May Wong- first Chinese American film star in Hollywood; and Nina Otero-Warren- Hispanic New Mexican suffragist and reformer. Today we are going to explore Nina Otero-Warren’s life in New Mexico during the early twentieth century. She was a member of the Hispanic (commonly known as Hispano/a) elite of New Mexico and she fought for women’s suffrage and rights for Spanish-speakers in New Mexico.
Elizabeth: The Nina Otero-Warren Quarter is the fourth coin in the American Women Quarters Program this year and represents the first Hispanic American on U.S. currency. The quarter features an image of Nina Otero-Warren on the left, flanked by three Yucca flowers – New Mexico’s state flower. Emblazoned next to her image is “Voto Para la Mujer,” the Spanish version of the suffragist slogan “Votes For Women.”
Averill: Adelina “Nina” Otero-Warren was born in the late 19th century into an extended
“Spanish” land-owning family of New Mexico. She lived in New York City for a short time and worked in a settlement home while there. From 1915 to 1920 she was a tireless crusader for women’s suffrage and was instrumental in the passage and ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in New Mexico. She was also the first Hispanic women to run for the U.S. Congress.
Elizabeth: Otero-Warren’s life shows how traditional Hispano New Mexican culture and modern American culture and institutions intersected in the early to mid twentieth-century. She was a woman who balanced and expanded her positions in Hispano and Anglo culture by using the power structures in New Mexico to her advantage. In many ways Otero-Warren was the prototypical Progressive Era women reformer. She was a suffragist, an educator, member of numerous women’s clubs, advocate for public health and social welfare, and she was a writer. However, what makes Otero-Warren stand out was her unique position as both a formal and informal mediator between Hispanos, Anglo Americans, and Native Americans in the twentieth-century. Today we’ll dig into the fascinating life of Nina Otero-Warren.
And I’m Averill
And we are your historians for this episode of Dig: A History Podcast
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Elizabeth: As always we want to acknowledge that the work we do on this podcast is reliant on the excellent work of other historians. Today’s episode draws primarily on the works of Elizabeth Salas, Cathleen Cahill, Charlotte Whaley, Ann Massman, and Vicki Ruiz. Visit digpodcast.org to take a look at the full bibliography.
Averill: Before New Mexico became the 47th state in 1912, it was a territory of the United States. Before that, New Mexico was part of Northern Mexico. And before that, it was the northern part of New Spain. And…. before that, it was the domain of the Pueblo, who built planned villages composed of large terraced buildings.The largest of these villages, Pueblo Bonito, in the Chaco Canyon of New Mexico, contained around 700 rooms in five stories and may have housed as many as 1000 persons. The area now known as New Mexico was also land traversed by the nomadic Apache peoples, and Navajo peoples who later adopted Pueblo peoples style of farming.
Elizabeth: After the Spanish conquest of the region in the 16th century, New Spain became independent Mexico in 1821. However, the northern reaches of Mexico were sparsely populated and were coveted by Americans anxious to expand westward. Mexico attempted to develop the region of northern Mexico that we now know as central and south Texas by offering land grants to Americans from the U.S. in exchange for bringing settlers to bolster the population in the area. By 1830 the Mexican government, realizing it was losing its grip on the region, annulled existing land contracts and barred future emigration from the United States. In 1835, Mexico’s ruler General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana sent an army to Texas to impose central authority. This sparked alarm and revolt in Texas and led to the Texas War of Independence. After near defeat at the Alamo, Texas troops routed Santa Ana’s forces at San Jacinto and Mexico recognized Texas’s independence in 1836. Texas was admitted as a U.S. State in 1845.
Averill: In the United States, proslavery factions and the continuing ideology of manifest destiny pushed president James K. Polk to acquire California and further disputed lands in Texas. Polk sent an emissary to Mexico, offering to purchase California, which the Mexican government refused. At the same time however, Polk directed American soldiers under Zachary Taylor to move into the disputed lands in Texas, making conflict with Mexican forces almost unavoidable. When fighting inevitably broke out, Polk stated that Mexico had “shed blood upon American soil,” and called for a declaration of war, which became the Mexican American War. Spoiler alert, the U.S. won.
Elizabeth: The Mexican-American War 1846-1848 dramatically changed the geographical boundaries of the United States as well as its demographics. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican-American war was signed in 1848 and ceded thousands of acres of northern Mexico to the United States. That land became New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California, and parts of Texas. The treaty also defined the southern US border as running along the Rio Grande River. The annexation of northern Mexico affected an estimated one hundred thousand Mexicans and Indigenous peoples living in the area.
Averill: The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo laid out specific rights for former Mexican citizens. If they stayed and swore allegiance to the United States, their rights were supposed to be protected. Those rights included their claims to lands granted to their families, some dating back to the Spanish crown. The treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo did not apply to the “uncivilized” or bárbaros Indians such as the Comanche and Apache living in the region. In fact, the treaty stipulated that the U.S. was supposed to police the new border to keep the barbaros out of Mexico. The treaty and the U.S. did recognize the Spanish land grants of the “civilized” tribes, such as the Pueblos but later in the 1850s backtracked on those rights.
Elizabeth: In the New Mexico territory, Spanish speakers remained the predominant population. This allowed landed Spanish speakers to hold political power well into the twentieth century. The dominance of Spanish speakers however, also delayed New Mexico’s statehood as prejudice against a place with a large Spanish-speaking Catholic population becoming a state held strong in the U.S. Congress. New Mexico remained a territory for over 60 years.
Averill: Between the years of 1845 to roughly the 1890s immigration to the United States from Mexico was very low. Between 1848 and 1890 many Mexican citizens actually left the new U.S. territory to go and settle in Mexico due to either family ties or the racism they faced from their new American compatriots.
Elizabeth: In 1881 the railroad came to central New Mexico, which brought an influx of Anglos (whites) or “foreigners.” This also brought drastic changes to the region.
Furthermore, Immigration from Mexico picked up around the 1890s when the southeastern mining, railroad and agricultural industries experienced a boom in growth.
Averill: It was during this period that Maria Adelina Isabel Emilia Otero was born on October 23, 1881, at La Constancia, the family hacienda near Los Lunas, New Mexico. Adelina, later mostly known as Nina, was born into two aristocratic Spanish New Mexican families. Her mother was Eloisa Luna whose family traced their roots back to the original Onate settlement of New Mexico in 1598. Eloisa was educated at a Catholic academy in New York and returned to New Mexico during her teenage years.
Elizabeth: Adelina’s father was Manuel B. Otero whose family came to New Mexico from Spain in 1786, and whose reddish hair Nina inherited. He was educated at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and Heidelberg University in Germany. His cousin was Miguel Antonio Otero II, who became the first native New Mexican territorial governor (from 1897-1906).
Averill: The “Spanish American” identity, typically held by Hispanos like the Lunas and Oteros in New Mexico and Colorado became a marker of class distinction, in contrast to the term “Mexican.” However, this Hispano Spanish American identity did not reflect the true historical mixture of Native American, African, and European ancestry of the Spanish-speaking settlers who founded New Mexico– the settlers whom New Mexicans had whitewashed into pure-blood Spaniards. Hispano New Mexicans continued to embrace a Spanish identity, one rooted in a pioneer past separate from later Mexican immigrants well into the twentieth century.
Elizabeth: Eloisa Luna and Manuel Otero had three children, Eduardo (1880), Adelina (1881), and Manuel (1883). However, her idyllic childhood was shattered when her father was murdered when she was two years old.
Averill: Although the intercultural environment Adelina was born into was already firmly established before the railroad arrived in New Mexico, the railroad allowed Anglos to pour into the region in increasing numbers. These newcomers began to legally challenge the land grants that Hispano family’s like the Lunas and Oteros had held since the Spanish crown had granted them. Adelina’s father, Manuel Otero, had inherited his father’s share of the enormous Bartolome Baca land grant in the New Mexico Territory. The Otero’s Estancia (ranch) was coveted land.
Elizabeth: James and Joel Whitney from Massachusetts bought a portion of the Baca land grant and began to challenge the boundaries of the other land grant holders, including Manuel Otero. In 1883 James Whitney and a group of men arrived on the Otero ranch and ran the Otero overseer out of the ranch house. Whitney and his men then settled into the house and began drinking and playing poker.
Averill: Manuel received news of these squatters and went to the ranch the next day with his brother in law and two vaqueros (cowboys). He was met by Whitney who shot him point-blank in the chest. Maneul’s men shot Whitney three times but he survived. Manuel was not so lucky and died. It took two years to bring Whitney to trial and when tried, he was acquitted of Manuel’s murder on the grounds of self-defense.
Elizabeth: Overwhelmingly during this period American courts were favoring Anglo challenges to Hispanic and Mexican land claims throughout the region annexed by the Mexican-American war. In New Mexico, more Hispanic land claims were overturned than upheld. But this was not relegated to the New Mexico territory.
Averill: Tax rolls show that from 1900 to 1910 Spanish surnamed families lost more than one hundred and eighty-seven thousand acres of land in two counties in South Texas. Over half of Spanish-surnamed land was ceded to Anglos in Hidalgo County alone.
Elizabeth: The rights granted to Mexicans annexed in the Mexican-American war were slowly chipped away. Numerous court cases overturned Spanish/Mexican land provisions guaranteed in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and granted thousands of acres of land belonging to Mexicans to newly arrived Anglos.
Averill: Nina’s mother Eloisa soon remarried Alfred Maurice (“A.M.”) Bergere, who was from England. His family was originally from France, by way of Italy, and probably of Jewish heritage.
Elizabeth: Bergere highlights both the intercultural mixture of people in the New Mexico territory, as well as the heterogeneity of the group known as “Anglo” in the southwest. Bergere arrived in New Mexico in 1880 and worked in various business enterprises.
Averill: As evidenced by Eloisa’s marriage to AM Bergere, Manuel’s murder at the hands of Anglos did not seem to prejudice the Luna family against Anglos in general. In fact, many cross-cultural marriages took place among the Hispano population of New Mexico as Anglo Americans made significant inroads, politically and economically, into New Mexico after the American takeover in 1848. The Lunas and other elite Hispano families had economic and political reasons to form connections with the Anglos. However, even though Adelina’s new stepfather was highly educated, he was relatively poor compared to her mother.
Elizabeth: Adelina spent the majority of her childhood on the hacienda in Los Lunas. At the age of thirteen the family moved to the more cosmopolitan Sante Fe when Miguel Otero, Adelina’s older cousin, was appointed governor in 1897. Otero appointed Bergere as a clerk to the Judicial District Court in Santa Fe. Eventually, nine more brothers and sisters joined the household during her mother’s second marriage. Nevertheless, Eloisa became active in Santa Fe’s educational and social welfare concerns, reflecting her ability to hire domestic help to take care of her children and household. Eloisa was elected as chairman of the board of education in Santa Fe in the mid 1910s, laying a path that her daughter would soon follow.
Averill: In 1892 Adelina was sent to St. Louis to attend the Maryville College of the Sacred Heart. It was primarily a Catholic finishing school. Although the wealthiest Spanish and Mexican families of New Mexico had been sending their children away to school for generations, primarily to Mexico City, and later to St. Louis, once the railroad reached the Southwest it made travel much simpler.
Elizabeth: In 1897, Adelina’s mother Eloisa wrote out her will, in which she bequeathed her first husband’s lands to her two sons by that marriage and bequeathed her Luna family landholdings to her daughter Adelina. Spanish/Mexican law had given women a legal identity and many rights. Some of these rights consisted of maintaining one’s maiden name after marriage, property ownership within the marriage, and community property in case of divorce. Hispanas could buy and sell crops, animals, and material goods, as well as operate stores, enter into contracts, and file lawsuits in court as well as testify. Eloisa followed a long tradition of Hispanas’ bequeathing the lands they brought into a marriage to their daughters in accordance with Spanish and Mexican customs.
Elizabeth: However, women’s rights were somewhat curtailed by statehood. The New Mexico constitution, written in 1910, contained provisions defending the ethnic, cultural, and linguistic rights of Hispanic New Mexicans. However, Article VII, which proclaimed these rights, also limited the political rights of women and only allowed them to hold public offices related to schooling, such as superintendent, director, or member of boards of education.
Averill: In 1908 Adelina married First Lieutenant Rawson D. Warren, the commanding officer of the Fifth U.S. Cavalry stationed at Fort Wingate. By all accounts it was not a happy marriage. She did not enjoy the restrictive life of an Army officer’s wife and she missed her large family and friends in Santa Fe. She seemed to buck against the rules whenever she had a chance. For example, once after being expressly forbidden to ride her husband’s stallion, she rode it anyway. While riding, the stallion reared back, hit Adelina’s face and broke her nose.
Elizabeth: However, restrictions as to her movements were probably not the only issues in Adelina’s marriage. She also found out that her husband had another family in the Philippines, a common-law wife and two children. She divorced him after only two years of marriage.
Averill: Even though she had justifiable cause, divorce was not acceptable to elite Hispano nor Anglo standards of respectability in early twentieth-century New Mexico. Adelina sidestepped any social ramifications due to her divorce by referring to herself as a “widow.” She also kept her married name and her birth name for the rest of her life, thus becoming Mrs. Nina Otero-Warren.
Elizabeth: After the divorce Nina Otero-Warren traveled to New York City, ostensibly to keep house for one of her younger brothers, Luna Bergere, who was attending medical school at Columbia University. While in New York, she volunteered her time at Anne Morgan’s Colony Club. Anne Morgan was the youngest daughter of J.P. Morgan. She was a union activist and part of the “Mink Brigade” that attempted to shield striking garment workers in the 1909 Uprising of 20,000 in New York City. She created the Colony Club, a residence for young women without family working in New York, in the vein of settlement work. Settlement houses were an important Progressive Era social welfare experiment that provided welfare needs to young, working class women in an urban environment. It was also a way for middle-class, educated women to engage with community building and activism.
Averill: Otero-Warren lived in New York City for two years, soaking in the city and working at Morgan’s settlement home. Unfortunately, her mother Eloisa died in 1914, prompting Otero-Warren to return to New Mexico to care for the Luna estate as well as her younger brothers and sisters.
Elizabeth: While Otero-Warren was in New York, New Mexico became the forty-seventh state admitted to the Union. Because New Mexico’s state constitution denied voting rights to “Indians not taxed,” (like many other state constitutions) the majority of New Mexico’s indigenous population was disenfranchised, including anyone living in the nineteen Pueblos, the Apache reservation, and the Navajo reservation. This primarily left New Mexico’s Hispanic and Anglo women to engage with the issue of women’s suffrage.
Averill: Across the nation, the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) was working to convince male state legislatures to amend their state constitutions and allow women to vote. Because of the high threshold the New Mexico constitution had for any amendments to the constitution, it was near impossible to move the state to the suffrage column. So the NAWSA strategy of gaining women’s suffrage state-by-state was not a viable option in New Mexico. (For more information about this period of suffrage you can dive into a few episodes about the American women’s suffrage that will be linked in the show notes on the blog.)
Elizabeth: Since changing the state constitution was practically out of the question, radical reformer Alice Paul’s organization, the Congressional Union (CU), with its focus on a national constitutional amendment held more promise for New Mexico’s women. CU organizers started working in New Mexico in 1914 and tapped existing networks consisting of primarily Anglo women, such as the state’s Women’s Christian Temperance Union. However, Hispanas for the most part were not members of the Protestant WCTU. The CU quickly realized that if they wanted to organize New Mexico, they needed Hispana women on their side.
Averill: Educated, bilingual, Hispanic women like Otero-Warren were integral in leading suffrage work in former Mexican territories like New Mexico. In 1916 the CU organized a statewide convention to establish an official New Mexican branch of the CU, adopt a constitution, and elect state officers.
Elizabeth: Although Hispanas were highly visible at the conference, the majority of officers elected to the CU branch were Anglo women. However, Otero-Warren was elected vice chair of the organization. The following year in 1917 when Sarah Raynolds stepped down as chair, Alice Paul personally tapped Otero-Warren to take the position of state chair.
Averill: Hispanas such as Mona Baca, who sold suffrage pins, and Aurora Lucero who solicited subscriptions to the CU magazine the Suffragist, were deeply involved in the conference. Otero-Warren’s sisters Dolores and Rosina Bergere worked as ushers at the event. Otero-Warren and these four women– and many others like them– were proud of their Spanish heritage and reminded others of their descent from conquistadors.
Elizabeth: According to historian Cathleen Cahill, “Just as Anglo-Americans celebrated their ties to the American Revolution and to the Daughters of the Confederacy, Spanish-speaking women [like Otero-Warren] retorted to the claim that Anglos were the only ‘true Americans’ by insisting that their ancestors had also come from Europe and helped to settle the continent, a vision that rested on the dispossession of Native peoples.”
Averill: 1917 was a momentous year for Otero-Warren. In addition to becoming chair of the New Mexico CU, she was also appointed interim superintendent of Santa Fe’s public schools. The next year, 1918, she ran for election for the position and won. She held this position for twelve years, until 1929. In her capacity as superintendent, she advocated for Spanish and English bilingual education and believed that public school curricula for New Mexico needed to incorporate the ethnic cultures and languages of the region. She particularly wanted to emphasize Spanish literacy and traditional artisan training such as weaving and tin metalworking.
Elizabeth: During World War I, she actively participated with women around the state in the Red Cross and the National Catholic War Council. She also joined the executive board of the New Mexico Federation of Women’s Clubs and led the organization in planning its legislative program, which focused on the welfare of delinquent girls and the care of children.
Averill: In 1919, Governor Octaviano A. Larrazolo appointed her to the state Board of Health, and she was promptly elected its chair. She was then appointed to the state Board of Public Welfare, and was again elected as chair of that board too.
Elizabeth: Meanwhile the 19th Amendment was making its way through Congress. On June 4, 1919 the Senate finally passed the amendment, which then sent the amendment to the states for ratification. Otero-Warren and five Anglo women made up the New Mexico “state committee for ratification of the amendment.” They sent letters to every member of the state legislature, urging ratification. However, as the special session for ratification opened, passage was not a done deal.
Averil: Rumors spread that Democrats in the legislature were responsible for the resistance to ratification but there were some Republicans who were backing away too. An ad was placed in the Sante Fe New Mexican newspaper reminding Republican legislators of their pledge to approve the amendment. The ad alleged the Republicans in the state would become a “howling joke” if they aligned themselves with southerners who were against suffrage because it would grant African American women the right to vote.
Elizabeth: However, the ad did not chastise legislators in the spirit of universal social justice but instead asked, “Is the opposition afraid to give the ballot to the hundred or two negro women resident in New Mexico? Or does it class all the womanhood of New Mexico on a par with the negro women of the south?” The ad went on to say that if Republicans didn’t ratify, they would be “slapping…the face of the splendid women of New Mexico.” Presumably Anglo and Hispana women only.
Averill: Diving headfirst into partisan politics, Otero-Warren whose family had long been Republican party leaders, served as chair of the women’s division of the Republican State Committee. During the ratification debate Otero-Warren and other Republican allies cajoled male legislators to vote for ratification. Most of this caucusing was done off the floor, in closed door sessions.
Elizabeth: Suffragists were successful and New Mexico became the thirty-second state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. Alice Paul personally commended Otero-Warren’s “splendid leadership” in guiding New Mexico through the ratification process.
Averill: However, the 19th Amendment’s passage was stalled when one southern state after another did not ratify the amendment. The nationwide campaign for women’s suffrage that had lasted decades came down to the votes of a single legislative chamber in Tennessee.
Elizabeth: A special legislative session was called in Nashville, to determine if the state would ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. At first voting ended with a tie.
Averill: However, when another vote was called, a young legislator who had formerly voted no, voted yes and brought the amendment over the finish line. Nevertheless, the Nineteenth Amendment had come dangerously close to not being ratified.
Elizabeth: After ratification, suffrage organizations across the nation began transforming themselves into League of Women Voters groups. However, women of color, particularly Black women, were well aware that they still had a long journey towards equal citizenship. It wouldn’t be until the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that women of color universally had the right to vote.
Averill: In New Mexico, Otero-Warren continued to be a major player in state politics. She was elected vice-chair of the state Republican Party and a number of other Hispanic women held key positions in the New Mexico Republican Party. They designed the GOP state platform and proposed, among others, an amendment that would allow women to hold any public office in the state (not just those related to education). One Santa Fe New Mexican commentator said the platform was “the most drastically progressive program…since statehood.” New Mexican voters approved the amendment that allowed women to hold any public office.
Elizabeth: Shortly thereafter, Otero-Warren decided to run for Congress. In fact, both parties in New Mexico nominated two women, both of whom were Hispanic, to run for election in 1922. These were some of the first women of color in the nation to run for offices after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.
Averill: Nationally, the Republican party nominated three women to run for national offices and Otero-Warren became the first Hispanic woman to run for a U.S. congressional seat and the only woman of color running in a national election.
Elizabeth: Because of New Mexico’s comparatively small population, the state only had one member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Therefore, when Otero-Warren decided to run for Congress she was aiming for an extremely influential position.
Averill: Otero-Warren handily defeated the Republican incumbent in the primary. She received 466½ votes to Montoya’s 99½ votes. Otero-Warren was known for being charismatic and newspapers touted “her ease of manner, for her vivid personality to say nothing of her [red] hair and for the sweet graciousness of manner seldom found except in convent-bred women.”
Elizabeth: She vowed to try to get New Mexico’s communal land grants returned to their Hispano owners, overturning years of Anglo domination in the courts. She believed that if Hispanos owned their own lands, they would have the money to support education, child welfare reform, and pensions for teachers.
Averil: Remember, Otero-Warren was also the superintendent of Santa Fe schools during this time, and the education and support of Spanish-speaking children were one of her greatest concerns. Otero-Warren’s campaign promises called for the preservation of Hispanic culture and heritage while promoting the need to bolster forward-looking education, health care, and child welfare initiatives. She was insistent that election literature was printed in both English and Spanish.
Elizabeth: According to historian Elizabeth Salas, Otero-Warren emphasized her Hispano heritage when she spoke in Spanish to New Mexicans. She called herself “a native daughter,” reminding voters that Hispanos were the earliest settlers of New Mexico. Otero-Warren navigated the 1920s with one foot in the traditional Hispano way of life and another in the modern world of the New Era.
Averil: 1922 was not a great year for Republicans in New Mexico elections and Otero-Warren’s campaign was a casualty of the trend that swept Democrats into office across the state. However, an old family feud between her and her cousin, the former governor Miguel Otero, also doomed Otero-Warren’s congressional hopes.
Elizabeth: With intent to harm her political career, Miguel Otero revealed that Otero-Warren was not a respectable “widow” as she claimed to be, but was actually a divorcée.
Averill: Enraged, Otero-Warren’s brother Eduardo, beat up Miguel Otero, which resulted in more negative press for Otero-Warren’s campaign.
Elizabeth: As Democrats were swept into office across the state, news of her divorce made the election that more dramatic and ultimately harmful to Otero-Warren’s congressional hopes. But even though she did not win the race, she did meet a woman who became her life partner for the next thirty years.
Averill: Otero-Warren met Mamie Meadors while Meadors was working as a volunteer for her congressional campaign. Although the intimate details of their lives together is unknown, they bought land together and lived on it in separate houses, for the rest of their life. They were always together and were referred to as “Las Dos,” or the two women.
Elizabeth: In the fall after her failed congressional run, Otero-Warren was the first woman appointed in New Mexico to be the inspector of Indian schools. These schools were part of the American colonial system that took Indigenous children away from their homes in the attempt to assimilate them into American society. The Sante Fe Indian School was one of the largest federally-run Indian Boarding schools in the country and what Otero-Warren found there was shameful.
Averill: The school was severely overcrowded with children sharing towels, toothbrushes, and beds. The food preparation areas were fly-infested and forty-six percent of the children there suffered from trachoma, a highly contagious conjunctivitis which can cause blindness. Otero-Warren immediately sent a scathing report to the Washington commissioner of Indian Affairs requesting an investigation as well as an increased budget.
Elizabeth: Even though the conditions in the school were deplorable, Otero-Warren fully supported the goal of assimilation for Indigenous people even while she argued that Native students should be taught to appreciate their history and traditions. She also maintained that Christianity should be part of their schooling. According to historian Cathleen Cahill, Otero-Warren “approached Native people in New Mexico with a paternalism that she also often exhibited toward poor Hispanics in the state, emphasizing their ignorance, especially women, who only needed to be shown the right way to do things for the community to prosper. She also believed that the Spanish conquest of New Mexico had been positive for Native people.” Claiming that “Spain’s was the most comprehensive, humane, and effective ‘Indian policy’ ever framed.” Even so, in speeches about Native American education, Otero-Warren emphasized, “the Indians are not a vanishing race, as many suppose.” She also advocated against sending Native children to boarding schools off of their reservations, and sought better cooperation between Indigenous families and schools.
Averill: Although a staunch Republican in her early political life, she went on to work for the Roosevelt administration during the New Deal, becoming the Director of Literacy Education for the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935. It was also during the 30s that she embarked on her role as a writer.
Elizabeth: In May 1931, she wrote “My People” for an issue of Survey Graphic with the theme of “Mexicans in Our Midst: Newest and Oldest Settlers of the Southwest.” Other contributors to this issue included Ansel Adams, Diego Rivera, and Georgia O’Keeffe. Her book, Old Spain in Our Southwest was published in 1936.
Averill: In 1941 was appointed by the Works Progress Administration as Director of the Work Conference for Adult Teachers in Puerto Rico, helping to set up bilingual education programs for Puerto Rican children. She also organized a language program for U.S. soldiers at Borinquen Field where officers attended Spanish-language classes taught by teachers whom she had personally trained.
Elizabeth: Upon returning to New Mexico she embarked on a new career with her life partner outside of politics. In 1947, at the age of sixty-five, Otero-Warren and her partner Meadors started a real estate business in Sante Fe: Las Dos Realty and Insurance Company. Meadors wrote insurance policies, while Otero-Warren sold homes. By all accounts they were very successful.
Averill: In 1951 Mamie Meadors died, leaving Otero-Warren grief stricken. She continued their Las Dos business, working up until the day she died in 1965. She was eighty-three years old. Adelina Otero-Warren is buried next to her beloved mother Eloisa and her stepfather A.M. Bergere in the Rosario Cemetery in Sante Fe, New Mexico.
Elizabeth: Scholar Ann Massmann argues that Otero-Warren was “well-positioned by her birth and her family’s political and economic power to take on the role of the influential cultural broker, a position that was still unique for a woman of her time and place. Through her roles as suffragist, Progressive educator, woman’s club member, public health and social welfare board member, and writer, she worked for formal and informal mediation between Hispanos, Anglo Americans, and Indians. She was perhaps the most important Hispana woman for her generation…” and in many ways this Spanish heritage facilitated a group identity that led to the Hispano elite’s extensive participation in local and state politics and community organizations in New Mexico.
Averil: Otero-Warren offers us an opportunity to explore the impact that women of color had on the twentieth-century suffrage movement. Scholars like Cathleen Cahill and Marsha Jones among others are doing important work on this but there is still a lot to be done. Otero-Warren also helps us understand how “Latino” (like when pundits talk about the “Latino Vote”) is not a monolithic entity. It wasn’t in the twentieth century and it certainly isn’t today.
Elizabeth: So that does it for our discussion of Adelina Otero-Warren. If you are interested in the upcoming American Women Quarters: Quarters for 2023 are Bessie Coleman – first African American and first Native American woman pilot; Edith Kanakaʻole – indigenous Hawaiian composer, custodian of native culture and traditions;
Eleanor Roosevelt – first lady, author, and civil liberties advocate; Jovita Idar – Mexican-American journalist, activist, teacher, and suffragist; and Maria Tallchief – America’s first prima ballerina and member of the Native American Osage Nation.
Averil: Follow us of Facebook, Twitter (for how long Elon?), YouTube, and Instagram at @dig_history
Cahill, Cathleen D. Recasting the Vote: How Women of Color Transformed the Suffrage Movement. The University of North Carolina Press, 2020.
Massman, Ann. “Adelina ‘Nina’ Otero-Warren: A Spanish-American Cultural Broker.” The Journal of the Southwest. Volume 42. No. 2, 2000: 877-896.
Ruiz, Vicki. From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America. Oxford University Press, 1998.
Salas, Elizabeth. “Adelina Otero Warren: Rural Aristocrat and Modern Feminist,” in Latina Legacies: Identity, Biography, and Community, eds. Vicki Ruiz, Virginia Sanchez Korrol. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Whaley, Charlotte. Nina Otero-Warren of Santa Fe. New Mexico University Press, 1994.
 Charlotte Whaley, Nina Otero-Warren of Santa Fe (Albuquerque: New Mexico University Press, 1994), 106.
 Elizabeth Salas, “Adelina Otero Warren: Rural Aristocrat and Modern Feminist,” in Latina Legacies: Identity, Biography, and Community, eds. Vicki Ruiz, Virginia Sanchez Korrol (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 136-137.
 Cathleen D. Cahill, Recasting the Vote: How Women of Color Transformed the Suffrage Movement, (The University of North Carolina Press, 2020), 51.
 Cahill, Recasting the Vote, 146.
 Cahill, Recasting the Vote, 197.
 Vicki Ruiz, From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America, (Oxford University Press,1998), 91.
 Cahill, Recasting the Vote, 211.
 Whaley, Nina Otero-Warren of Sante Fe, 92
 Salas, “Adelina Otero Warren,” 140.
 Cahill, Recasting the Vote, 240.
 Salas, “Adelina Otero Warren,” 142.
 Salas, “Adelina Otero Warren, 146.
 Ann Massmann, “Adelina ‘Nina’ Otero-Warren: A Spanish-American Cultural Broker,” The Journal of the Southwest, Vol.42, No. 4, 2000:877-896.