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Past & Present: Adelina 'Nina' Otero-Warren Achieved A Number Of 'Firsts'


Adelina “Nina” Otero-Warren was a woman’s suffragist, educator, politician, and was the “first Latina” in a number of political roles, including running for Congress. Born in 1881, into the Hispanic elite of New Mexico, Otero-Warren began her political career working with the woman’s suffrage campaign in New Mexico, becoming the first Mexican American woman to hold a leadership role in the Congressional Union, the precursor to Alice Paul’s National Women’s Party. Able to speak both Spanish and English, Otero-Warren was instrumental in reaching out to New Mexico’s mostly Spanish-speaking population. Because of her family’s prominent position, she also held leadership roles in both the Republican Party and Women’s Clubs in the state. For Alice Paul, Otero-Warren’s ability to reach a wide audience of New Mexicans, and lobby New Mexico’s political leadership, meant that she was instrumental in securing the state’s support for the 19th Amendment. 

Otero-Warren continued to advocate on behalf of women and New Mexico’s Hispanic population. In 1922, this led her to run for New Mexico’s only Congressional seat, making her the first Latina to do so. During her campaign, she spoke to New Mexicans in Spanish and English and she advocated for the preservation of Hispanic heritage, culture, and land ownership. Though she was defeated, she had made a name for herself, politically.

In the following decades, Otero-Warren achieved a number of other “firsts” in New Mexico and in the federal government, with a growing interest in education and public health. In Santa Fe, she served as the first Latina Superintendent of Instruction. She was appointed as state director of the Civilian Conservation Corps and, in 1930, President Franklin Roosevelt appointed her its Director of Literacy Education. Over the next decade, she continued to work toward improving adult education and literacy rates in the American Southwest.

Dr. Robin C. Henry holds a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Indiana University and is an associate professor in the history department at Wichita State University. Her research examines the intersections among sexuality, law, and regional identity in the 19th- and early 20th-century United States.