New Mexico
Soledad Chavez Chacon
Soledad Chavez Chacon.
Public domain.

The previous examples show how important women’s honor and reputation was for New Mexicans: family elders closely guarded young women, and their sexuality was strictly supervised. Nevertheless, there were events in community life where opposite sexes could meet and interact with minimum supervision, especially during holiday fiestas. The behavior that reigned at such galas often provoked church officials to demand moderation. In a sermon in the early 1800s, one priest exhorted women to abstain from dance: “You women, dancers of the devil, scandalous persons, you are the damnation of so many souls. Oh! What a horror!...you provocative women, dancers of the devil, scandal, nets of the devil, basilisks of the streets and windows, you kill with your stirrings.”

As the century turned, an 1800 census revealed that New Mexico’s population consisted of 13,786 men and 11,780 women. Census takers divided them into three ethnic categories, showing about 7,500 Hispanic men; just under 6,000 Hispanic women; more than 4,000 each of Native American men and women; and almost 2,000 casta (mixed ancestry, including African) men, as well as 1,600 casta women. The addition of 8,690 children brought the population to a total of 34,256.

New Mexico largely remained cut off from the world, and thus New Mexicans were unaware of Mexico’s 1810 revolt against Spain until it had ended. As a result of more far-off battles, New Mexico was transferred to the United States in 1848, but it did not become a state until 1912.  Much more than other western states, it was uninvolved with the movement for the vote:   when New York became the first eastern state to grant women the vote in 1917, New Mexico was the only western state that had not already done so. Latina heritage remained strong, however, and when New Mexico’s women got the vote with the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1920, they elected Soledad Chavez Chacon at the first opportunity:  in 1922; she became the nation’s first female secretary of state.