Presentation at Farmington library will focus on women's suffrage movement in New Mexico

Sylvia Ramos Cruz says contributions of early suffragettes all but forgotten

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • Ramos Cruz will speak at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 31 in the Multipurpose Room at the Farmington Public Library.
  • Admission is free,
  • Visit infoway.org or call 505-566-2210 for details.

FARMINGTON — In the course of her research into the women's suffrage movement in New Mexico in the early 20th century, Sylvia Ramos Cruz was not surprised to find that the effort was widespread, with the names of more than 100 women coming to her attention as participants.

But Ramos Cruz, who will discuss her findings in a presentation later this week at the Farmington Public Library, did not expect that every one of those women would be largely anonymous a century later, their contributions to the movement all but forgotten.

"These were women whose lives were not really known about in terms of their contributions to the history of New Mexico," she said, explaining that the legacy of the state's suffragettes was lost even to their own families.

"I found one living son of a suffragette in Las Cruces, and even he didn't know how much his mother had done," she said.

Sylvia Ramos Cruz

Over the last three years, Ramos Cruz — a physician who became interested in the history of women's suffrage several years ago — has set about trying to remedy that lapse by speaking about the movement around the state.

Her efforts have been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Ramos Cruz estimated she has spoken on the subject at least a half dozen times in live or virtual presentations to audiences around the state, although this is her first presentation in San Juan County.

The women's suffrage movement in New Mexico arose out of women's clubs, Ramos Cruz said, because those were the only mechanisms for social organization available to women of that era. Such clubs originally were created to provide women with a chance to get together to discuss a variety of topics, including current events, and organizers of the suffrage movement quickly realized they were an ideal vehicle for spreading their message and enlisting followers, she said.

But even as the suffragettes worked to secure women the right to vote in New Mexico, the movement initially operated under many of the same restrictions that were common in society as a whole in the early 1900s, Ramos Cruz said. Early on, the movement was almost exclusively the province of Anglo women, she said, with little or no participation by minorities.

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"Often, we tend to idealize our historical figures, and we're surprised to find that things weren't so even handed or egalitarian as we imagined," Ramos Cruz said of the segregated nature of the early movement in the state.

That changed when a young activist from New Jersey, Alice Paul, became a leader of the militant arm of the national women's suffrage movement, Ramos Cruz said. Paul helped suffragettes all over the country, including those in New Mexico, come to realize they needed all the support they could get if they were to succeed in getting the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed and guarantee all American women the right to vote.

Of course, that meant welcoming minorities to the movement — something that made obvious sense in New Mexico, Ramos Cruz said.

"In New Mexico in 1920, about 56% of women were Hispanos," she said. "But there had been very few in the club movement up until that time."

Once they were welcomed aboard, those Hispano women helped turn the tide, Ramos Cruz said, explaining that social organization already was a big part of their culture and came naturally to them.

The movement in New Mexico also included a fair number of men, she said, but that's where the diversity trend essentially stopped. Ramos Cruz said she has identified only two African-American suffragettes in New Mexico and no Native American women.

She said that failure to broaden the movement likely delayed the adoption of women's suffrage in New Mexico. Ramos Cruz pointed out that Arizona and New Mexico both were admitted to the Union in the same year, 1912, but the New Mexico Constitution did not include a provision allowing women to vote, while the Arizona Constitution did.

Ramos Cruz said another factor might have been involved in that distinction.

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"Sometimes it is said the church had an overwhelming influence on that because the Catholic Church was not in favor of women's suffrage," she said.

At least one other western state long before had taken a markedly progressive approach to the issue, Ramos Cruz said, noting that the Wyoming Territory had awarded women the right to vote in 1869. But she said policy makers in that state may have had an ulterior motive for doing so.

"They used it as an enticement for women," Ramos Cruz said, explaining that Wyoming leaders believed that the adoption of women's suffrage would help draw residents to the sparsely populated territory.

Ramos Cruz will speak at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 31 in the Multipurpose Room at the Farmington Public Library, 2101 Farmington Ave. Admission is free. Visit infoway.org or call 505-566-2210.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.