Friday, September 25, 2020

SOLEDAD CHAVEZ DE CHACON: AN EARLY ROGUE

by Lisa Black

To celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, I thought I’d take a look at the lesser-known trailblazing women of politics, women who were the first to break through the barriers of their time.

Only two years after the 19th amendment was ratified so that women could vote at all, Soledad Chavez de Chacon became the first Hispanic woman elected to a statewide office. That state was New Mexico, and Soledad—“Lala” to friends and family—did not stop there. It had been only one year since NM women had a right to run for any office, at any level of government (other than within the educational system).

Soledad would not strike anyone, then or now, as especially radical—other than to be well-educated as the graduate of a high school and a business college when most young people didn’t even achieve the former. She was married with two children, bright, and accomplished in many endeavors—excellent at cooking and crochet, could play bridge and the mandolin and taught piano. Like the rest of her family she stayed active in artistic and philanthropic organizations. 

According to lore she had been baking a cake when five men, including her newspaper editor brother-in-law, stepped onto her porch. They had come to ask her to run as the Democratic candidate for secretary of state. The proper lady discussed it first with her father and her husband, then accepted. She was not alone; the Democrats also picked a woman for a different office and the Republican slate included two women as well. But the Democrats won. 

Soledad needed a good assistant secretary of state and asked her close friend Imelda Chavez, but Imelda’s husband didn’t want to make the move to Santa Fe. Soledad and other Democrats talked her own husband into taking the position. He didn’t want to, having looked forward to operating his own branch of the furniture business that employed him, but he agreed to take one for the family team. 

Soledad ran the office efficiently and effectively, winning a hearty reelection in 1924. But the real record-breaker came in the summer of 1924 when the governor left for two weeks to attend the national convention—and Soledad Chacon became the first female (acting) governor of a U.S. state. Normally it would have been the lieutenant governor, but he had died that spring. 

Soledad didn’t just warm the man’s seat. Among other duties she requisitioned the war department for funds for the state national guard, issued some public certificates, and traveled to Las Vegas with the poll books to settle a bitterly contested election of the San Miguel county sheriff. She also pardoned someone named Joseph Maloney and extradited a ne’er-do-well named Frank Ellis, otherwise known as Frank Shadows, for grand larceny. I can’t find any more information on either case, but someone calling himself Shadows surely needed scrutiny. 

But Soledad went on. In 1934 she became the first Hispanic woman elected to the state legislature from her county. There would not be another for forty-one years.

Tragically, her ground-breaking progress came to an abrupt end not by politics, but by health. Soledad Chavez de Chacon died of peritonitis in only the second year of her two-year term, one week shy of her 46th birthday. 

Undoubtedly, she would have gone much further—but even in her brief tenure she opened countless doors for those who would come after her.

Who do you think of when asked about a less-well-known trailblazer--of either gender, or occupation?

3 comments:

  1. what a wonderful human being, she was. I hadn't known all of this about her. So brave, smart, & insightful. Thank you for your excellent profile, Lisa!

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  2. Great story, Lisa. When it comes to trail-blazers, one of my favorites was a women who, just before WWII married (at 18) a rich industrialist in Austria who made bombs, rockets and guidance systems (and sold them to the Fascists). She was gorgeous so her husband, Felix Mandl, had her as his hostess at dinner parties with those dictators (whom she didn't like!!) She listened to their war plans and munitions discussions, left her husband, made her way to the US and had an idea about a new way for our Navy ships to communicate by quickly changing the frequency so the Nazis could not locate and torpedo them. She called it "Spread Spectrum." She and a partner went to DC to try and talk our military into using it so save lives. The generals dismissed her as "just another pretty face." Years later her invention WAS used by the military and everywhere else -- it's in your cell phone, bluetooth etc. but she never made any money as her patent ran out. What was her name? She was the famous (yes "pretty) actress Hedy Lamarr. My favorite trail-blazer.....Karna Small Bodman

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    1. Hedy Lamarr is one of my all-time favorites, too, Karna! What a remarkable person!!!!

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