An alumnus of the New Mexico school system, I’m grateful for the rich and rewarding education I received. What surprised me, however, is that it wasn’t until decades after my graduation that I learned about the important role Adelina “Nina” Otero-Warren played in not only New Mexico history, but women’s suffrage and politics. Her incredible impact on history has recently been profoundly acknowledged when she became the latest woman to be featured on the quarter dollar as part of the U.S. Mint’s American Women Quarters program.
Socialized among the political and cultural elite of Santa Fe, Otero-Warren was committed to securing women’s right to vote: suffrage. Her tireless efforts led her to chair the National Women’s Party’s New Mexico branch in 1917. During her tenure she insisted suffrage materials be published in both English and Spanish in order to reach the widest audience and forcefully lobbied the state Legislature to ratify the 19th Amendment, which it did on February 21, 1920.
Passionate about education, Otero-Warren was appointed Santa Fe’s superintendent of public schools in 1917, and in 1922, she brought her strong state bonafides to the national stage as the first Hispanic woman to run for Congress, winning the Republican Party’s nomination. Although she lost the general election by a slim margin, she continued her government work, serving as New Mexico’s director of literacy education for the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and director of the Works Progress Administration in Puerto Rico the following decade.
Such impressive accolades would be well known in school curricula were they attributed to a man, yet women are widely underrepresented in history books. A report looking at the Status of Women in U.S. Social Studies Standards found women’s topics are often an addendum to the main storyline and these standards do not collectively address the breadth and depth of women’s history. Rather, they focus on a minority of topics and groups and overwhelmingly emphasize women in domestic roles.
History that does not acknowledge women’s contributions is incomplete. The American Women Quarters program is one important step toward recognizing historical figures who have been overlooked. An opportunity exists to make more in-depth explorations of how women’s history is taught and shared.
Nina Otero-Warren is one of many Latinas underrepresented in the retelling of the monumental battle for voting rights – a fight that continued for many women of color long past the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. The fight for the vote is not ancient history. In fact, some suffragists who waged this battle pre-1920 were alive in my lifetime. Yet their stories are missing from contemporary retellings. As we chart our course forward, it’s imperative we document and champion women’s representation and inclusion, not just in history books but in every place where stories are being told and decisions are being made. Inclusive history is good history, and it is being made now.
Jennifer Herrera, an Albuquerque native, holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of New Mexico and a Master of Arts in Media Arts from the University of Arizona.