On August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving the right to vote to more than 26 million American women. But the 19th Amendment was about more than equality in voting: women’s suffrage helped American women advance in all aspects of their lives.
Nineteen-twenty was only 100 years ago, not ancient history, yet when the amendment was enacted many states had laws on the books prohibiting women from owning and inheriting property, signing contracts, opening bank accounts and serving on juries. Job opportunities outside the home were limited, and wages were menial. Newly enfranchised women voters endorsed candidates and ran for office themselves to improve not only the government but also their families and their communities.
With the amendment’s ratification, voting women could use their votes and voices to advocate for job opportunities, fairer wages, higher education and health care. Those advances have not come easily, but voting rights represented a key step. Native American women did not get the right to vote in New Mexico until 1948, and not all Asian American women could vote until 1952.
Here in New Mexico, women have broken glass ceilings throughout history. Women have served in elected office since before statehood: the first Hispanic female legislators in the United States served in New Mexico’s territorial Legislature in 1895. Soledad Chávez Chacón was elected secretary of state in 1922 and was the first woman to serve as acting governor in the United States. Following statehood in 1912, Fedelina Gallegos and Porfirria Hidalgo Saiz, who both served in the New Mexico Legislature from 1931 to 1932, were the first Hispanic women state legislators in the United States.
New Mexican women continue to be history makers and influencers. According to Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics, two of the three women of color who have ever been elected governor are from New Mexico, including our current governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham. New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland is one of two Native American women to ever be elected to Congress. And we have made recent leaps in women’s representation in the Legislature – 35% of our legislators are women and nearly 50% of our New Mexico House members are women.
New Mexican women have held commanding roles in other sectors, too. New Mexico ranks first in the nation for female-owned businesses, with nearly 52% of New Mexico businesses owned or co-owned by women, in comparison to the national rate of 42%.
When women are represented in leadership, everyone wins. In just the past few years, our women colleagues in the Legislature have sponsored and passed bills into law to ensure that New Mexicans with preexisting conditions will never be denied health care, create the first education “moonshot” to increase education funding, provide incentives to attract and retain qualified teachers for our kids, and address the statewide gap in retirement savings by encouraging employers to offer their employees access to a retirement savings plan.
How can New Mexicans honor and advance the legacy of our trailblazing women ancestors and celebrate the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment? If the last 100 years has revealed anything, it’s that more work must be done. In the Legislature, we will continue to prioritize education, health care and public safety and uplift the voices of families and small businesses. As community members, we’ll continue activating New Mexicans of all ages, especially young women, to become informed voters and to be engaged with issues that affect their lives. As elected women we will encourage other women to run for elected and appointed office, be involved in their communities and lift their voices to make a difference.
Representation matters, and when New Mexican women step forward, New Mexican women make history.