New Mexico Historic Women Marker Initiative
46 New Historic Markers Honor Women's Accomplishments
Stopping to read historic markers along New Mexico highways might lead a motorist to believe that men settled the entire state. Of the 500 Historic and Scenic Markers—the large, brown, monument signs that show maps on one side and history briefs on the other— only one fully mentions a woman’s contributions to state history and she is Maria Martinez, the renowned potter from San Ildefonso Pueblo, and it is the pueblo that is the subject of the marker.
But men of every walk of life—a hanged train robber named Black Jack Ketchum; Billy the Kid’s “gravesite,” the route Vasquez de Coronado took in search of the cities of gold; and Geronimo’s Spring—are represented throughout the state, along with markers denoting geographic formations, early transportation routes such as the Santa Fe Trail and El Camino Real and numerous churches, pueblos and parks. In all, 174 of the markers are devoted to the accomplishments of men.
“When we traveled throughout New Mexico, we often stopped to look at the historic markers that dot the state’s roadways,” said Pat French, who is chairwoman of New Mexico Historic Women’s Marker Initiative Selection Committee. “Rarely did any of the markers mention a woman, and when one did it usually was in the context of talking about the man who was the topic of the marker. Most of the women were unnamed.”
But that is changing. Thanks to a legislative initiative, the state’s 33 counties and the Apache, Navajo and Pueblo tribes will each be represented by a historic marker commemorating the contributions of local women. The Historic Preservation Division (HPD), as the keeper of the program and historic marker text, and the Cultural Properties Review Committee (CPRC), as the governor-appointed body that approves the candidates and wording, will work with the committee and the state Department of Transportation (DOT) on the initiative. The goal is to have 54 markers completed an installed by June 30, 2010. To date 46 markers have been approved. Two have been installed: a marker to The Sisters of Loretto in Santa Fe and a marker to Esther Martinez of Ohkay Owingeh (formerly San Juan Pueblo).
First Lady Barbara Richardson and Governor Bill Richardson were early supporters of the effort, which began when French, Alexis Girard and Beverly Duran—both co-chairs of the marker initiative committee and members of the New Mexico Women’s Forum— began working with the Richardsons in 2005. First Lady Richardson, who is honorary chairwoman of the selection committee, advised them to seek Department of Cultural Affairs Secretary Stuart Ashman’s support, which bore fruit with legislative funding secured earlier this year.
Currently, the committee, composed of representatives of the New Mexico Women’s Forum, DOT, the Commission on the Status of Women and several historians, has selected all candidates for the markers and the historians for the project, Dr. Tom Chavez and Kim Suina, are researching and writing the remaining eight markers to present before the CPRC. Once completed, there will be an even distribution of markers honoring the major cultural groups of New Mexico, with 18 markers each for Anglo, Hispanic and Native American women.
While the women's historic markers honor individual contributions, several markers also honor groups of women who have collectively helped to shape the course of New Mexico history. Recognizing those contributions for communities that honor the collective is especially important. Women played pivotal rules in establishing and stabilizing communities by fostering social service networks, establishing schools, libraries and businesses, and creating environments friendly to the appreciation of the arts. Every corner of the state owes a debt of gratitude to the early women of New Mexico.