I’m leaving off on the typewriter for today.
One of the areas of documentation that I have found especially interesting here has been that of women’s club activity in southern New Mexico. It started when I began working on the records of the W.I.A. Las Cruces Woman’s Club a couple of years ago. Since then I have done work on several other local women’s clubs, most of them now inactive (with the exception of the Progress Club). You can see the guides to more of them here and here. There are more that I hope to have online soon (as well as make some adjustments to the ones now online).
I am also publishing an abridged version of the history of one of them in a local historical journal.
Last year I gave a little presentation about these clubs and their conservation efforts at a program called “Women Taking the Lead to Save the Planet.” Below is the text of my presentation. It’s very short but maybe some will find it interesting. The story of women’s clubs in New Mexico, and in the United States more broadly, deserves more attention and investigation not only by scholars but by ordinary citizens, because these were ordinary citizens who accomplished remarkable things. This presentation of mine doesn’t even touch on all the basic amenities that women’s clubs brought to communities in New Mexico: parks, libraries, children’s clinics, even a hearse. I’ll have to post more about that later.
Anyway, here’s the presentation text:
Women who came out to New Mexico with the waves of settlement in the late 19th century saw themselves as charged with the mission of bringing civilization to a rough frontier. The southern part of the territory was particularly lacking in the cultural amenities middle-class women expected as part of a becoming lifestyle. To remedy the situation, women throughout the territory and later the state organized themselves into clubs.
The women’s club movement began in earnest in 1890, and the first women’s clubs in New Mexico were organized soon after. In 1911, with statehood still a year away, Laura Frenger led New Mexico clubs in forming a state federation that became a powerful force for development and progress. The federation and its members not only pushed forward the material development of rural communities in one of the poorest areas of the United States but also spoke out on the national level in favor of many causes.
The civilizing mission that these women pursued included aesthetic refinement as well as material development. An important part of this was conservation of the area’s natural resources. The clubwomen had an optimistic belief in progress, a conviction that a true progress for society would include an appreciation of the beauty of the earth and a careful maintenance of that natural beauty for the enjoyment of future generations. They were confident that material prosperity and improved standards of living could advance in harmony with these ideals.
One of the main ways that the clubwomen of New Mexico pursued this end was by working to ensure the preservation of the mountain forests especially prized by those of us who live in the desert. As early as 1914 the federation adopted a resolution “for the perpetuation of the Forest Reserves.” To give some brief examples of the conservation work that the women’s clubs have done I’m going to share some quotes from the yearly summaries in the New Mexico Federation of Women’s Club’s Reflections:
In 1940 the New Mexico Federation of Women’s Clubs (NMFWC) “sponsored the replanting of 25 acres of burned area in the Lincoln National Forest on the Monjeau Mountain. It was a Memorial Forest, dedicated to the members of the Federation who have passed on, but also to a young man who lost his life in the forest fire.”
In 1949 “An agreement was signed with the Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture for the re-seeding project of 30 acres in the Carson National Forest to continue over a 25 year period. $185 was donated to the project.”
In 1950-1952 the state project was a program to re-seed rangeland in the Tres Piedras area. “The reseeding project was to show farmers and ranchers in the north central part of the state how depleted range lands could be brought back into production by planting crested wheatgrass. The Forest Service set aside 33 acres of land on Highway 285 North of Tres Piedras in the name of NMFWC. A roadside sign and park were presented by the State Highway Dept. indicating it was a NMFWC project.”
To quote from a history of one of the nearby clubs, the Crescent Club based in Anthony: “Through a survey of the Federation it was determined that if each member gave 10¢, enough seed could be purchased to plant 500 acres. In March, the matter of conservation of natural resources was a matter of concern. Forest planting was discussed as well as the fact of a general depletion of natural resources.”
In the late 1980s the NMFWC president led programs to promote awareness of endangered species. And so on.
The records of several member clubs in the New Mexico federation are preserved in the Rio Grande Historical Collections in the form of scrapbooks, yearbooks, minutes, letters and photographs; and early editions of the New Mexico Clubwoman bulletin are housed in Special Collections. Together these documents make up an important part of the story of women taking the lead to save our planet.
I’d like to close with a letter that the federation sent to its member clubs in 1967, which neatly expresses an admirable commitment to sustainability that is even more relevant today:
Dear Club President:
Enclosed are six RESOLUTIONS on CONSERVATION to begin your club year. These are to MAKE, not BREAK.
- Resolve to OBSERVE the areas of major concern in the alarmingly ever present problems in all facets of Conservation, and be aware of current legislation at all levels that needs the promotion and participation of all citizens.
- Resolve to PRESERVE the beauty of the land, the heritage of the past and the clarity of all air and water for the future of all.
- Resolve to RESERVE land for future use, wetlands for the preservation of waterfowl, refuges for natural habitats of wildlife and forests, parks and recreation areas free from abuse and disasters.
- Resolve to CONSERVE the local flora and fauna and aid in the promotion to curtail unnecessary wastes of water, soil and other natural resources.
- Resolve to SERVE fellowman in any way, large and small, that the future for our children will be insured.
- Resolve to DESERVE the legacy our forefathers strived to develop that modern technology and population has destroyed and put into extreme jeopardy.