Review of Nina Otero-Warren of Santa Fe by Charlotte Whaley

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Nina Otero-Warren of Santa Fe by Charlotte Whaley. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994


I really enjoyed reading this book. It has a nice feel to it— in many ways. It is well and concisely written, well-documented, well-edited and proofread, well-printed on good paper. But most of all, I liked learning about Nina Otero-Warren, her extended families—Oteros, Lunas, Bergeres, Kenneys— her friends, her city, her politics, her writing, her other work. Most of this is a part of New Mexico history I had never read, could not have read since much of it was drawn from many and extensive interviews made by the author, Charlotte Whaley. This is my favorite kind of history, the story of a person I did not know about before, one not famous, but important anyway.

And important Whaley convinces us she is. Nina Otero-Warren was a leader of the suffrage movement in New Mexico from 1915-1920. She was Chairman of the State Board of Health in 1917, was Superintendent of Public Schools in Santa Fe from 1917-1929, was Inspector of Indian services in the Department of the Interior—the first woman to be one—from 1922-24, was the Republican party nominee for the U.S. House of Representatives—the first woman from New Mexico to win nomination for high office—in 1922. She was Director of literary education with the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935; Director of the literacy program in New Mexico for the WPA in 1937; and Director of the Work Conference for Adult Teachers in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, in 1941. She finished her important book on New Mexico culture , Old Spain in Our Southwest, in 1936, having begun and written much of it while homesteading 1,257 acres near Santa Fe in 1929-32. Because she did all of these things and more , her story is worth reading, worth reading also because of where and when she lived, because of the place of her family in New Mexico history. Whaley gives us a good picture of what ranch life was like from the time of Otero-Warren's birth in 1881until she and her family moved to Sante Fe in 1897. The marriage of her parents united two of the most important rico families of New Mexico, the Oteros and the Lunas. Whaley draws several times from Otero-Warren's Old Spain for the ranch life material. Nina Otero's father, Manuel Otero, was killed in a dispute over land rights in 1883. Her mother remarried in 1886, choosing a cultured English businessman and lawyer, Alfred M. Bergere. After having three children by the first marriage, she had nine more by the second, eight girls and one boy. Otero-Warrens' stepfather was unsuccessful as a sheep rancher, so upon the appointment of Manuel A. Otero as territorial governor in 1897, her stepfather received a political appointment, and the family moved to Santa Fe.

From this point on, Whaley informs us of life in Santa Fe for this large family even as she focuses on Otero-Warren's public life: political, educational, and business. We learn of her personal life, of her many friends, among them writers Witter Bynner, Alice Corbin Henderson, and Mary Austin. We also learn of her abortive marriage, of her friend and business associate, Mamie Meadors, of her costume parties, and of her caring for and contending with her family members. Indeed, we get an abundance of information in the 212 pages of this book, complete with family tree, numerous illustrations, chronology, extensive notes, and bibliography.

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