Adelina 'Nina' Otero-Warren put in her two bits' worth to advocate for causes - Albuquerque Journal

Adelina ‘Nina’ Otero-Warren put in her two bits’ worth to advocate for causes

Adelina “Nina” Otero-Warren was a New Mexico educator and advocate for women’s right to vote. Her likeness is now featured on a series of quarters being released by the United States Mint. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico’s Adelina “Nina” Otero-Warren put in her two bits’ worth when it came to advocating for such causes as women’s right to vote and better education, so it’s appropriate that her image will soon appear on a quarter issued by the U.S. Mint.

Otero-Warren’s likeness will be among those appearing on the reverse side of a series of quarters featuring prominent women in U.S. history. Issued from now through 2025, the series will include representations of up to 20 women.

Otero-Warren (1881-1965) was the first Hispanic woman to run for a seat in Congress, and is among the first five women selected to be represented on a quarter.

New Mexico writer/researcher Sylvia Ramos Cruz said Otero-Warren is worthy of the recognition.

“All of her life, she worked for communities – in the political realm, but also the social realm,” she said.

Ramos Cruz said all five of the women selected for the American women quarters series so far are terrific.

In addition to Otero-Warren, those include Maya Angelou (1928-2014), writer, poet, performer, teacher and civil rights activist; Sally Ride (1951-2012), astronaut, physicist and the first American woman in space; Wilma Mankiller (1945-2010), social worker, community developer and the first woman elected principal chief of the Cherokee Nation; and Anna May Wong (1905-61), an actress considered the first Chinese American Hollywood movie star.

“They are very representative of the diversity of this country and made contributions not only to women’s lives, but also to the general public,” Ramos Cruz said.

Unique images

The Mint has already started shipping quarters with Angelou’s image. Coins featuring images of Ride, Mankiller, Otero-Warren and Wong will be released later. Each depiction on the quarters will be unique to the woman featured.

On the obverse, or front, side, however, each of the quarters in the women series will display Laura Gardin Fraser’s right-facing portrait of George Washington, created 90 years ago. Fraser’s creation had been used previously on a 1999 five-dollar gold piece commemorating the 200th anniversary of Washington’s death.

The Otero-Warren quarter portrays Otero-Warren with blossoms of New Mexico’s state flower, the yucca, and the Spanish words “voto para la mujer,” which translates to the vote for women.

“Many, many women pushed for suffrage in New Mexico,” Ramos Cruz said. “(Otero-Warren) should not get all the credit. But she was needed to recruit Hispanic women (to the suffrage campaign) and she was certainly instrumental in moving Republican votes to ‘yes’ for suffrage in 1920.”

Ramos Cruz, 75, is a surgeon who was born in Puerto Rico, educated in New York and who moved to New Mexico in 1990. Since retiring from her medical practice several years ago, she has focused on writing poetry and women’s history, and advocating for women’s rights. She said Otero-Warren merits commemoration in the women quarters series for her work in the suffrage movement.

But she notes that was only part of Otero-Warren’s life.

“She was a feminist, suffragist, educator, writer, politician, businesswoman, homesteader, leader and champion for Hispanic cultural heritage,” Ramos Cruz said.

An active life

Otero-Warren was born in 1881 in her family hacienda near Los Lunas. She was part of two prominent Hispanic families. Her mother’s family, the Lunas, had settled in New Mexico in the late 16th century. Her father’s family, the Oteros, came to New Mexico from Spain in the late 1700s. She was related to Miguel Antonio Otero II, New Mexico Territorial Governor from 1897 to 1906.

Otero-Warren was educated at a Catholic boarding school in St. Louis from 1892 to 1894. Back in New Mexico, she married a U.S. Army officer in 1908, but divorced him two years later. Because of the stigma attached to divorce at the time, she referred to herself as a widow.

Her education in St. Louis had instilled in her a social consciousness and the conviction that women could be community leaders. In 1917, she became one of New Mexico’s first female government officials when she took on the job of Santa Fe superintendent of schools, a position she held until the late 1920s. In that role, she was committed to improving the education of Hispanics, Indian peoples and all students in rural areas.

The Otero-Warren quarter. (Courtesy of the U.S. Mint)

“She managed the schools very well,” Ramos Cruz said. “She recognized that, for Spanish-speaking children to come into the mainstream, they needed to know English, as well as other subjects. But she also pushed for the preservation of the history, culture and traditions of the Hispanic West.”

Otero-Warren’s writings about her young life on the family hacienda were published in a 1936 book titled “Old Spain in Our Southwest.”

In 1922, she ran for the U.S. House on the Republican ticket, but lost to the Democratic candidate. She received 45.6% of the vote.

Otero-Warren became director of New Mexico’s Civilian Conservation Corps in 1930, and worked later with the CCC and the Works Progress Administration on adult education.

The front side of the quarters in the American women series features an image of George Washington created by Laura Gardin Fraser. (Courtesy of the U.S. Mint)

During the last years of her life, she was in the real estate business in Santa Fe.

Nancy Kenney of Santa Fe, Otero-Warren’s great-niece, remembers weekly gatherings in the family house in Santa Fe when Kenney was a child. She said there would be a dozen or so adults there, family members, including Otero-Warren, and other people from the community, including a parish priest and about five children, including Kenney.

“We’d all come in and sit at the feet of the great-aunts,” Kenney said of herself and the other kids. “We looked up to her (Otero-Warren) in many ways. She held court. She was a good listener and had a loving face, but she was not a big hugger. She was a go-getter. She was trying to make a difference in the world.”

Otero-Warren died in Santa Fe at the age of 83. And, now, in a tribute to a life well spent, she will be the first Hispanic American woman to be depicted on U.S. currency.


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