Para Nuestra Hermana Nina
by: María R. González
The women’s suffrage movement had a bold, fiercely independent Hispanic woman at the top of its ranks. Her name was Adelina Otero-Warren, an educator, politician, and suffragist from New Mexico. She spent her entire life defying those who dared to think less of her humanity because she was a woman. Unfortunately, women today are still struggling to fend off those who refuse to acknowledge that we are human. In Adelina’s life story, we see fragments of our own stories that, when pieced together, give our ongoing movement the courage and fortitude we need to make us whole.
Adelina, or Nina, was born to an influential family of Spanish descent in New Mexico in 1881. Thanks to her social and economic status, she studied at St. Vicent’s Academy in Albuquerque and earned her university degree at the College of the Sacred heart in St. Louis, Missouri. Receiving a university education was difficult for a woman during a time when when women were expected to live a domestic life and to go from the house of her father to the house of her husband without having a voice of her own. Nina was ahead of her time, a fact she proved more than once.
At the height of the women’s suffrage movement in 1917, Alice Paul, then head of the Congressional Union for Woman’s Suffrage (later National Women’s Party), appointed Nina to lead the Congressional Union’s New Mexico chapter. Nina worked diligently to fight for the right to vote for the women of her state, and her work paid off when the 19th Amendment was ratified by Congress in 1920. The right to vote marked a significant change in Nina’s life, as well as in the lives of all New Mexico’s women. With the right to vote came the opportunity to run for elected office, and for the first time, women could strive for equal representation in government.
True to her progressive, audacious nature, Nina fought to be on the ballot in 1922, just two years after the women’s suffrage movement claimed their deserved victory. She ran for Congress.
The Oteros were well-known Republicans, prolific members of a political party that was vastly different from today’s party. Obtaining the Republican nomination came easy for Nina thanks to her established career as an educator, public servant and activist, but she lost in the general election by less than 9 percent.
Despite her loss, the stone had been cast for the next generations of Hispanic women to run for office. Nina became the first Hispanic woman to run for national office in the United States, and her action left a significant mark in women’s politics. She did earn the distinction of being one of the first Hispanic women to hold public office in New Mexico. In 1917, she was appointed and then elected superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools. Late in her career, she served as Chair of the State Board of Health and State Director of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a position to which she was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Her life’s story was as prolific as it was progressive for her time.
Now more than ever, we need to learn the history of women like Nina Otero-Warren. Women across the nation need to hear the stories of those who broke glass ceilings and who fought for our rights. We need their inspiration and their strength. We need their lessons. We need their gumption.
Why? Because our nation has a presidential candidate who brags about sexual assault against women.
Because after Nate Silver posted a statistic noting that if only men voted, Trump would win the presidency, #RepealThe19th became a trend.
And because we cannot sit still and let our rights and our agency continue to be stripped away.
Nina refused to do so, and thanks to her courage, today women can vote and run for office. We owe it to her and to the rest of the women who braved ridicule and punishment so that future generations of women could have civil rights. It’s on us, hermanas.