Opinion: New Mexico women, Native Americans struggled for right to vote

By Siena Sanderson, Arroyo Seco
Posted 1/10/19

When I was 12 years old I needed to do a report for my eighth-grade history class. My mother, who at age 43 had just returned to college to get her degree in history, suggested I write that paper …

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Opinion: New Mexico women, Native Americans struggled for right to vote

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When I was 12 years old I needed to do a report for my eighth-grade history class. My mother, who at age 43 had just returned to college to get her degree in history, suggested I write that paper about the Suffragettes. The research I did for that little assignment changed my life.

My mother was born in 1925, just five years after women were granted the right to vote by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. I discovered at age 12 that the struggle for women to achieve this most fundamental democratic right began in 1848. It took seven decades of organizing, marching, protests and arrests before Congress finally was moved (on its second try) to pass the measure in 1919, 100 years ago, that would finally result in ratification in 1920.

I can guarantee that neither my mother nor I have missed a vote since the writing of that middle-school report years ago. The remarkable history of suffrage and of the strong women who led that movement have motivated me throughout my life to be active in politics.

It is a history that is too often glossed over today. The Taos Democratic Party will offer a small remedy to that oversight.

On Jan. 14 at 5:30 p.m. the New Mexico State Historian, Rick Hendricks, will speak at the Taos Democratic Headquarters, 729-A Paseo del Pueblo Sur. He will talk about the checkered history of suffrage for women in New Mexico. Why were the good people of New Mexico so reluctant to enfranchise women when so many other Western states had done so long before the 19th Amendment was proposed? How did the women finally convince the legislature to ratify despite wide and deep opposition? Who was Adelina Otero-Warren and how did she influence the suffragette movement in New Mexico?

Sadly, it took Native Americans even longer than women to get voting rights here. Dr. Hendricks will explain, perhaps with some members of the Taos Pueblo, the wording in the 1910 New Mexico Constitution that barred Native Americans living on reservations from voting and the subsequent efforts of Miguel Trujillo Sr. to fight the legal battle that secured their rights in 1948. Still, many issues about Native American voting went unresolved or unchallenged until court decisions in 1962. New Mexico may have been the last state to fully guarantee Native American voting rights.

Voting, of course, is our primary and fundamental means to participate in our democracy. Government decisions impact every citizen's life every day. Courageous people have struggled and suffered to protect the rights of all people to vote. In this era when some would move to restrict voting, to make it more difficult for many, knowing and understanding the remarkable history of those who fought the battles for enfranchisement is to cherish the right to vote even more.

Perhaps there will be discussion of the role of all Taoseñas or Taoseños in these movements. If you have stories or memorabilia from your family histories to share, please come and relate them. If you believe, as I do, that familiarity with this history is crucial, bring your children and grandchildren so they can learn it. If you teach history, this is a good opportunity to encourage your students to expand their knowledge. Let this history motivate us all to exercise our right to vote in every election.

Please come: Monday, Jan. 14, 5:30 p.m. - Taos County Democratic Party Headquarters, 729-A Paseo del Pueblo Sur, Taos (corner of Cruz Alta). Free and open to all lovers of history from any political party or none.

Siena Sanderson is a resident of Arroyo Seco.

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