Looking at the New Mexico heroines that left their mark on history

Looking at the New Mexico heroines that left their mark on history

“New Mexico Heroines of the Twentieth Century: Role Models for Today” by Ron Hamm

Photographs of five women are on the cover of Ron Hamm’s book “New Mexico Heroines of the Twentieth Century: Role Models for Today.”

The five are a multicultural sample of the hundreds of women profiled inside. There are Anglo-Americans, Mexican Americans, Black Americans and Native Americans.

They are, clockwise from the top:

n Suffragist-businesswoman-educator Maria Adelina Emilia “Nina” Otero-Warren. She served as Santa Fe County schools superintendent and director of literacy programs for the federal Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression.

n Maria Martinez of San Ildefonso Pueblo, who was internationally known for her black-on-black pottery.

• Alice Geneva “Gene” Kloss was a Taos artist and printmaker, much of whose artwork was of pueblo ceremonies and the New Mexico landscape.

• Author-cultural preservationist Mary Hunter Austin. She advocated for Hispanic and Native causes. She wrote novels, short stories, poems and plays. In 1919, she founded the Santa Fe Little Theatre (now the Santa Fe Playhouse).

• Clara Belle Williams who is believed to be the first African-American graduate of New Mexico A&M College (now New Mexico State University) in 1937. Later a teacher in Las Cruces, she and her husband also operated a drugstore and farmed 600 acres.

Inside “New Mexico Heroines of the Twentieth Century: Role Models for Today” are a total of 364 entries. However, two of those entries are of groups. One is the Indian Detour Couriers, elegantly dressed, college-educated young women who gave motorized tours of the pueblos and pueblo ruins in New Mexico and Arizona in the 1920s and ’30s.

Ron Hamm

The other entry is for the Harvey Girls. Young women who, from the late 19th century through the 1930s, were waitresses at the Fred Harvey restaurants at stops in Western states along the Atcheson, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway.

“These are such gutsy, strong, deserving women who left an impact on the entire state, on sections of it or on family,” Hamm said in a phone interview, referring to all the women in the book.

“It’s not the kind of book one has to read from cover to cover. You can drop in at any place,” the Silver City author added. “I never thought of it as complete, but I did think of it as an ambitious effort.”

In the book’s introduction, Hamm acknowledges his biases for those who were writers and artists. He admired them for their creativity and their contributions to society.

He said it was impossible to include every worthy contender. “I’m sure I can’t tell you why. It might be weariness,” the 87-year-old Hamm said.

He hopes the reader “will make some new friends and find sources of inspiration and that she will learn more of these remarkable molders and shapers of New Mexico. I did, time and again, in researching and writing this book.”

Of course, there are some famous women featured. Besides Martinez, the famous include artist Georgia O’Keeffe, photographer Laura Gilpin, author Willa Cather and “grand dame” Concha Ortiz y Pino de Kleven.

Some are relatively obscure or perhaps known for their contributions in a particular field or endeavor.

Among the many lesser-known women noted are bilingual education advocate Manuelita “Mela” de Atocha Lucero Leger; Christy Meta, the daughter of slaves, is believed to have been the first African American osteopath in the nation with a practice in Las Vegas, N.M.; Susan Parks, who called for help from a switchboard she operated in Columbus in the face of Pancho Villa’s raid on the New Mexico border town in 1916; tobacco-chewing Fern Sawyer, who was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame; and Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert, tireless promoter of healthy nutrition for New Mexicans and a memoirist who wrote the book “We Fed Them Cactus,” about Hispanics on the Llano Estacado.

Someone dropped the ball by listing several people whose fame came in the 21st century – former New Mexico governor Susana Martinez, current Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, and Secretary of the Interior Debra Haaland.

And the entry for the late Anne Noggle,a World War II pilot who later taught at the University of New Mexico, misspelled her last name.

“It isn’t a perfect book. I’m the first to say that,” Hamm acknowledged. “But it’s the first by anyone who has tried something of this magnitude (on this subject). So you’re bound to have some issues. … I would like to do a second edition and I’d clean up those kinds of things.”

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