Editor's note: This is the first installment of the series Luminous Women of New Mexico History.
The scant descriptions of Doña Dolores Elizabeth “Lola” Chávez de Armijo are so packed with action and activism that they read like a feminist poem cast on a landmark plaque. She was a leading librarian, gender discrimination nonsense-ender, anti-cronyism success story and, as if that wasn’t enough, she has a seven-part name flowing behind her like a cape.
Lola (we’re on a quotation-name basis now) was the State Librarian in 1912 when the first governor of New Mexico attempted to replace her with a man, citing in his court order Lola’s lack of primo qualifications known as male anatomy. At the time, female anatomy seriously inhibited successful librarianship through blockage of the card catalog by breasts and the uterus’s notoriously bad reference skills, in which every patron found themselves inexplicably in the children’s section. Luckily, women have evolved to currently hold 83% of the library jobs in the United States.
The real leverage behind the governor’s move was to replace Lola with a friend to whom he owed a political favor. Ah, you might be saying, so it was not truly because she was a woman! Yes, such a motive would lessen the trademark gender discrimination of this his-story if it weren’t for the fact that, of all the ways a person might undermine another, the governor felt certain that the public and fellow State administrators would find “woman” the most convincing disqualification.
Now, some of us might have packed up our cat-eye glasses and perhaps circulated a nasty pamphlet, but not Lola. For one thing, cat-eye glasses wouldn’t be in for another 40 years. More importantly, she filed and won a gender-discrimination lawsuit in the New Mexico Supreme Court, keeping her position and setting a precedent for women in public office in New Mexico. Soon after, the New Mexico House of Representatives enacted legislation reiterating women’s rights to hold public office in New Mexico. All of this took place within the first year of New Mexico’s statehood, and while Soledad Chavez Chacon is recognized as the first woman holding a statewide office for her Secretary of State position in 1922, Lola’s appointed-slash-grandfathered-in position gives her the honor of the first woman and first Hispanic woman to serve in a statewide capacity.
Beyond her role in women’s rights, Lola’s story exemplifies how corruption of State government has been a New Mexican tradition from the first governor through our current scandal cycle. More importantly, Lola is one of the first in a long tradition of whistle blowers, activists, and litigators pushing back for the benefit of State and nationwide issues.
Lola was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1858, and died in Santa Fe in 1929. A New Mexico Historic Women Marker is placed on Tramway Road NE in her honor, where one may leave celebratory paper flowers made from circulation notices.
(Historical marker photo by Bill Kirchner via HMdb.org)