This year marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving women the right to vote. Various events were in the making to honor such a monumental time in American history, but due to the current pandemic, many events have been put on hold or canceled due to limits on social gatherings. At the local level, on February 22, before the news of COVID-19 and social distancing, the Southern New Mexico Suffrage Alliance organized an event at the Plaza de Las Cruces, where panelists gathered to discuss the theme “If Every Woman Voted.” After the panel session, a peaceful walk around the downtown area demonstrated the importance of the women’s suffrage movement.
At the Archives and Special Collections (ASC), we were in the preliminary research phase to create an exhibition to commemorate the anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment. We spent several days researching dozens of women’s organizational records in our collections to capture meaningful information for the much-anticipated exhibit. Since we are teleworking and unable to install the exhibition in our gallery, we decided to highlight the importance of the amendment via the Open Stacks. The exhibit, which will be installed once we are able to return to work in Branson Library, is titled “Extraordinary Women: Advocacy, Activism, and Sisterhood” and focuses on archival collections of local women’s organizations, and notable women and their instrumental role in women’s rights.
During the suffrage era, New Mexico did not appear in the scene in terms of organizing a platform to address women’s suffrage. Cities and towns within the state were too remote; an assembly was complicated. Although there was no official platform to discuss women’s suffrage, women around the state convened in 1911, and the New Mexico Federation of Women’s clubs formed. The formation paved the way for the unstoppable women’s clubs.
Over a century ago, the social norm was for women to stay at home and perform domestic duties. The right to vote was a new concept. The ratification of the 19th Amendment forever changed the landscape of American democracy. As the years progressed, women had the opportunity to join forces and develop civic organizations, leading to the rise and societal debut of the women’s clubs. Between the 1870s and 1920s, women’s clubs became the outlet in which females could demonstrate their developing talents to shape the world beyond the home front. Some of the goals of the new women’s clubs were to increase literacy, improve public health, educate society, and provide social opportunities for females.
“Extraordinary Women: Advocacy, Activism, and Sisterhood” spotlights various women’s clubs and notable women that were/are influential to our region. Over a century ago, women’s clubs served as outlets in which women could convene and express their thoughts and ideas to improve the welfare of local citizens. The women’s club movement proved to be more than a social movement. The women honored in the exhibition stood together for the greater good of society and to change the social landscape. The following organizations served as advocates and formed a sisterhood bond to contribute to the greater cause.
The Woman’s Improvement Association (W.I.A.) Ms 0152 was founded in Las Cruces in 1894. The organization joined the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1897 and the New Mexico Federation in 1911. The W.I.A. was fundamental to the City of Las Cruces and its development.
Donated to Las Cruces its first hearse, park and swimming pool
Provided a water wagon which sprinkled the dirt streets
Assisted in installing traffic lights and paving streets
Launched the Thomas Branigan Memorial Library
Established a clinic where parents could take children for free check-ups
Pan American Round Table (PART) (Ms 0472)
The Pan American Round Table was organized by Florence Terry Griswold in San Antonio, Texas, in 1916. The local Las Cruces chapter was established in 1931 by Mrs. George Frenger as part of the Alliance of Pan American Round Tables. The PART records note that the primary purpose of the club was to bring Spanish and English–speaking people together, mostly in social events, to promote neighborliness and understanding. Alliance founder Terry Griswold drafted the following motto: “One for all and all for one!” or “Una para todas y todas para una.”
Notable accomplishments: Advocates for literacy, education, and protection of cultural heritage.
League of Women Voters (Ms 0495)
The League of Women Voters (LWV) of Greater Las Cruces was founded in 1967. It has since worked to register and educate voters on a variety of issues affecting Southern New Mexico. The LWV started as a provisional chapter, but in 1969 the local league was recognized by the national and state-level organizations. The LWV-Las Cruces chapter is active and continues to study local issues, including controversial topics such as land use and health care.
Notable accomplishments: Active in voter services assisting with voter registration, holding candidates’ forums, and publishing information about candidates and elected officials.
Progress Club (Ms 0165)
The Progress Club was organized in Las Cruces in 1914 and was known as the Women’s Club of State College. In 1915, the club joined the General Federation of Women’s Clubs and changed its name to the Progress Club. The Club’s purpose when it was first initiated was to provide service to New Mexico State University and the Las Cruces communities and to serve as an outlet of expression for local talent.
Wednesday Literary Club (Ms 0306)
Katherine Hadley and a small group of women in 1892 organized a literary society in Las Cruces called the Arcadian Club. With seven members, it was the second women’s Club in New Mexico and the first in Las Cruces.
In 1896 the name changed to the Wednesday Literary Club. The club continues to meet the second Wednesday of every month to hear a review of a book presented by a club member.
American Association of University Women (Ms 0290)
In May 1923, the first branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) in New Mexico was founded at the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts in Las Cruces. Shortly after that, on June 25, 1923, the national association of AAUW formally recognized the branch as an affiliate. Mrs. Mary Lizzy Curtis Foster was a founding member and became its first president that year.
Notable accomplishments: Campaigned for a woman on the college’s Board of Regents. In August 1954, the Board welcomed its first woman member, Mrs. Elda Corn, from Dexter, New Mexico.
P.E.O. (Ms 0134)
The P.E.O. (Philanthropic Educational Organization) Sisterhood is a philanthropic and educational organization interested in bringing women increased opportunities for higher education. The civic organization started as a sorority group in Iowa in 1869, then later changed to a community group. On January 21, 1909, Mrs. Viola Whittlesay, second vice president of the Supreme Chapter, came to Carlsbad, New Mexico, to charter Chapter A, the first P.E.O. chapter in the state.
Notable Accomplishments: Educational philanthropies, including the Program for Continuing Education, established in 1973 to provide grants to women in the United States and Canada for purposeful educational goals for self or service.
As we researched the Rio Grande Historical Collections, we came across a scrapbook of the Crescent Club. The club originated in Anthony, Texas, and its mission was “mutual helpfulness and the promotion of higher intellectual, social and moral conditions for the women of the community.” The Club dissolved in the 1990s; however, the following quote continues to be relevant today.
“With the challenging future which faces us, members of the Crescent Club may well gather inspiration, enthusiasm, and courage from these women of yesterday.”
The uncertain and challenging times during the inception of women’s civic organizations are not unlike those we are currently facing. The extraordinary women associated with these civic organizations demonstrated characteristics of bravery, courageousness, and showed extraordinary leadership. The women formed a bond and, most importantly, paved the way for other women to voice their opinions. The clubs highlighted had a common mission: to move forward and come together for a greater cause. This post is just a small sampling of the contributions to the quality of life services initiated by the women’s clubs for the citizens of Las Cruces. In conclusion, we dedicate this upcoming exhibition to all New Mexican women, true trailblazers – the past, present, and future…