The 54th legislative session opened in January 2019 in Santa Fe with a historic first: Of the State’s 112 legislators, 39 were women.
The moment was furthered when Michelle Lujan Grisham, herself a former congresswoman, became the second woman to be elected governor of New Mexico, on the heels of the state’s first female governor, Susana Martinez.
In 1912, Doña Dolores Chavez de Armijo, the first woman to serve in the New Mexico Legislature, initiated a landmark lawsuit that secured the right of every New Mexican woman to participate at the state’s highest level of governance.
Nearly a decade before the suffrage movement would earn women nationwide the right to vote, Chavez de Armijo’s courage and tenacity opened the doors for generations of New Mexican women.
To recognize these powerful women and in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women nationwide the legal right to vote, the USA TODAY Network is naming 10 American women from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, who have made significant contributions to their respective states and country as Women of the Century.
Nominees for Women of the Century were expected to have a track record showing outstanding achievement in one areas such as arts and literature, business, civil rights, education, entertainment, law, media, nonprofits and philanthropy, politics, science and medicine or sports. Other requirements included U.S. citizenship and having lived between 1920 and 2020.
Choosing just 10 women proved to be challenging given the number of amazing women who have called the state home. Some women almost made the list, like artist Henriette Wyeth Hurd and New Mexico's first female Supreme Court Justice, Mary Coon Walters. Holly Holm, a champion mixed martial artist and the youngest nominee, and singer Chevel Shepherd were also contenders.
All were worthy choices, but in the end, did not make our top 10. Our final list is made up of women who represent New Mexico with honor, fortitude and the true spirit of the Land of Enchantment.
Who is your Woman of the Century? Did we miss a woman you think should be on our list? We’d like to hear from you.
Adelina “Nina” Otero-Warren
First New Mexican woman to run for Congress
In 1922, Nina Otero-Warren made history by winning the Republican nomination for the U.S. House of Representatives. The state's first woman to run for Congress, she lost the general election, only to take up the cause of suffrage.
Otero-Warren's passionate advocacy for the right of each woman to vote in all state and federal elections was eclipsed only by her passion for the preservation of the Spanish culture unique to New Mexico. Otero-Warren's work was critical in winning the vote for New Mexican women in 1920, but she is also remembered as an educator, entrepreneur and writer.
A 2011 National Geographic article on the extensive damage of post-fire monsoons in the Jemez Mountains described Phoebe Suina as a woman on a mission to save her people. Suina worked during the historic rains to safeguard communities and New Mexico treasures from natural and man-made threats, later taking up the fight to mitigate toxic hazards.
A member of the Cochiti Pueblo and owner of High Water Mark Consulting, Suina grew up in New Mexico. Suina earned an engineering degree at Dartmouth College, pursuing work in environmental advocacy. Her company focuses on environmental strategic planning with New Mexican tribes and pueblos.
Her work consists of management of emergency and disaster relief projects, and she has continued to be a staunch advocate for the state's natural resources.
Michelle Lujan Grisham
Michelle Lujan Grisham was elected the 32nd governor of the State of New Mexico, only the second woman to win the seat.
She is a lawyer who previously represented New Mexico's 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2013 to 2019.
Lujan Grisham prioritized landmark legislation in her role of governor to address the state's failing public education system, signing an unprecedented appropriations budget to raise teacher salaries and invest in student learning.
Prior to her election, she served as secretary of health of New Mexico from 2004 to 2007, and was a Bernalillo County Commissioner. A native of Los Alamos, she comes from a long line of New Mexicans.
At the age of 12, Nancy Lopez won the 1969 New Mexico State Amateur golf tournament. She proceeded to hold the title for the next two years.
A Californian by birth, Lopez was transplanted to Roswell, New Mexico as a child, graduating from Goddard High in 1975, the same year she took second place in the U.S. Women's Open.
Lopez became the face of women's golf, paving the way for women in the sport. She was inducted into the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame and LPGA Hall of Fame, and carries 48 tour wins, including three major championships.
Dr. Leslie Erin Strausbaugh Strickler is a forensic pediatrician at the University of New Mexico Children's Hospital in Albuquerque.
Strickler, an educator and advocate for children as well as a physician, oversees two child abuse clinics, including the Child Abuse Response Team or CART founded in 2004. In January 2019, the State of New Mexico honored her with a humanitarian award for her work in child abuse.
She is a graduate of Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, and the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Maria “Concha” Concepcion Ortiz y Pinio de Kleven
Politician, human rights activist
Maria "Concha" Concepcion Ortiz y Pinio de Kleven was born into a long legacy of public service. At 26, she became the sixth member of her family to serve in the New Mexico Legislature, eclipsing that historic marker by becoming the state's first female Democratic whip in 1941.
Years before, in 1929, she helped found the Colonial Hispanic Crafts School in Galisteo, dedicated to traditional Hispano crafts. Her cultural advocacy also extended to bilingual education. She would ultimately sponsor the state's first bill on the issue. Later, she would take up the cause of women, seeking passage of legislation allowing women to serve on juries.
She received several presidential appointments, including to the national commission on Architectural Barriers which would lead ultimately to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Dolores “Lola” Chavez de Armijo
In 1912, Dolores "Lola" Chavez de Armijo filed landmark legislation to win back an appointed seat in the New Mexican government. Chavez de Armijo was state librarian when Gov. William McDonald attempted to replace her with a male crony.
As the territory transitioned into the newest state in the union, her successful gender discrimination lawsuit resulted in protection for generations of New Mexican women seeking to hold public office. The state soon passed legislation upholding a woman's right to seek and hold public office.
Chavez de Armijo was the daughter of a politician and a member of one of the state's most prominent families.
A world-renowned artist, Georgia O'Keeffe called New Mexico and its stark and vast landscapes near Abiquiu home.
Dubbed the Mother of American modernism, O'Keeffe's stills and landscapes captured the attention of audiences nationwide. She rose to prominence following a 1917 exhibit of her work by Alfred Stieglitz in New York, whom she later married. Pursuing a career as an artist following her marriage, O'Keeffe produced dozens of original work in various mediums that continue to inspire generations of artists.
She died in 1986 in Santa Fe. For many Americans, her work was an introduction to the beauty of New Mexico's landscapes and the grace of the female spirit.
Jayann Sepich is the mother of Katie Sepich, a University of New Mexico student murdered in 2003.
From that tragedy, Sepich created a legacy of justice for victims of violent crime and rape nationwide. Sepich campaigned for the passage of legislation which would require the collection of DNA from accused felons bolstering the Enhanced DNA Collection Act of 2010.
After learning that the man ultimately convicted of her daughter's death had been arrested and incarcerated for a year, Sepich and her husband, Dave Sepich, sought the passage of Katie's Law in New Mexico, and similar laws that have led to the identification of serial rapists, murderers and violent criminals nationwide.
First Hispanic female governor in the U.S.
The first Hispanic female governor in the United States and the first female governor of New Mexico, Susana Martinez was raised in the Rio Grande Valley.
She graduated from the University of Oklahoma College of Law. Well respected for bi-partisanship in New Mexico's political arena, Martinez was an assistant district attorney in the 3rd Judicial District, where she focused her efforts on the prosecution of child abusers, domestic violence offenders and sexual offenses. Elected district attorney in 1996, she held the seat for three terms.
She sought the governorship in 2010 as a Republican. Martinez's two terms were punctuated by the passage of Katie's Law, a ban on corporal punishment in schools and the reinstatement of the death penalty for those convicted of murdering a child or law enforcement personnel.
Women of the Century: They didn’t succeed despite adversity, but often because of it
50 states: Learn about notable women from every state
Who is your Woman of the Century?: Let us know
Recognizing women past and present: See all of our coverage
Special thanks to Valerie Martinez of the National Hispanic Cultural Center; Sarah Ghiorse of NewMexicoWomen.org; Axie Navas, of the New Mexico Office of Outdoor Recreation; and Jeff Pappas, of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, Historic Preservation Division
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Women of the Century New Mexico: Former Gov. Susana Martinez on list