Bain News Service, Publisher. Adelina Otero-Warren. Photograph.
Retrieved from the Library of Congress.
María Adelina Isabel Emilia "Nina" Otero was born on October 23, 1881, at the hacienda La Constancia, close to what is now called Los Lunas, New Mexico. Her parents were Eloisa Luna and Manuel Basilio Otero. She was a descendant of don Tristan de Luna y Arellano de Castillo, the first Luna to make his way to the Americas.
Her father Manuel died in 1883, and Eloisa married Alfred Maurice Bergere in 1886. Nina was the second eldest of Eloisa's twelve children - the first three by Manuel and the rest by Alfred. As the oldest daughter, Nina was expected to help take care of her siblings, which she undertook enthusiastically and sometimes heavy-handedly. Nina and her siblings "lived in accordance with the rules and expectations of their devout Catholic parents," (1) which included, for Nina, education under the Sisters of the Sacred Heart in St. Louis, Missouri.
Adolescent Nina was eager to explore the world, journeying to Albuquerque and Santa Fe, where the railroads were bringing "new ideas, lifestyles, and lively young people" (2). She moved with her family to Santa Fe when she was sixteen and lived there until her death at eighty-three, but it was in Albuquerque that she met the man she married at age twenty-six, First Lieutenant Rawson D. Warren from Pennsylvania, who had been stationed at Fort Wingate.
Nina was attracted to the heroic, intellectual Rawson Warren, but the discovery that her husband already had a common-law family elsewhere caused her to end her marriage after two years. Nina never spoke of her husband after she left him, calling herself a widow although Rawson Warren did not die until 1942. She did, however, keep the name Warren for the rest of her life, only occasionally using the names "Adelina Otero" or "Nina Otero." She never remarried.
Back in Santa Fe, Nina joined "one of the new women's clubs...that had been organized to address the community's social and educational needs." (3) Her mother Eloisa had been committed to the schoolchildren of New Mexico, including serving as chairman of the board of education in Santa Fe; now Nina became chairman of the Child's Welfare Department in the same city and made a career as Santa Fe County's superintendent of schools, promoting ways to improve conditions and teaching in rural schools. Nina was always reform-minded but realized she lacked the opportunities men had to make change in her community. This led her to join the quest for voting rights for women.
There had been some woman-suffrage legislation introduced to New Mexico's congressmen in 1893, 1895, and 1899, but without success. When New Mexico became in the forty-seventh state in 1912, women were still disfranchised. In fact, in 1907, with the advent of American laws in New Mexico, all married women lost the community property rights they had had under Spanish and Mexican laws. Nina's mother, Eloisa, could no longer dispose of her considerable holdings as she wished, and a trust was formed to guarantee the financial security of Nina and her sisters before Eloisa’s death in 1914 - the same year that New Mexico was the only Western state to deny women the vote.
Nina was a minority in the primarily Anglo National Association of Women's Clubs when they decided to join forces with the more militant Congressional Union in the pursuit of votes for women. Nina was not always on board with some of the views of liberal-leaning CU members, but she was one of six key Hispanas chosen to encourage Hispanic women to join the movement in New Mexico. "Beginning as a timid woman unwilling to speak in public, Otero-Warren gradually became a political force," (4) Joan Jensen wrote in New Mexico Women. Nina employed persuasive arguments and was not above a bit of arm-twisting, but did not antagonize men needlessly. Thanks to her family's political background, she knew her way around governmental bureaucracy.
It wasn't easy to keep the voting issue in people's minds after the United States entered WWI in 1917, but the Nineteenth Amendment was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1919. Nina and her comrades hoped New Mexico would be one of the first states to ratify the amendment. It was not to be. But, when New Mexico became the thirty-second state to approve the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, Nina received a personal telegram from vocal women's rights activist Alice Paul: "Congratulations on New Mexico's victory All women in the country are indebted to you on your splendid leadership We have deepest admiration for your campaign." (5)
In 1921, New Mexico passed an amendment to the state constitution granting women the right to hold office. Nina, fresh off her voting rights campaign and victories in securing legislation to improve education in the state, was chosen by Republican women to run for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. She announced her candidacy, despite already serving as the Santa Fe County school superintendent, chairman of the state board of public welfare of the State Federation of Women's clubs, and executive committee member of the New Mexico Teacher's Association. Her platform included better education, finding solutions to labor problems, and enforcing Prohibition. She easily beat the Republican incumbent, but her Democratic opponent defeated her by less than 9 percent.
Nina accepted her loss graciously. She still had many business and social commitments, including the Santa Fe County School system. Her superintendency involved visits to neighboring communities and bookkeeping, and she decided she needed assistance. She found two women to work as her assistants but who became lifelong friends - Alice Corbin Henderson, co-founder of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, who introduced Nina to the leading artists and writers of Santa Fe in the twenties, and Mamie Meadors, an efficient and trustworthy woman who became Nina's most faithful confidante. Mamie's help became critical when Nina was appointed the first female inspector of Indian schools in Santa Fe County during a period when Native Americans were being threatened by the Bursum Bill.
Nina retained this office only two years. It is thought that her vocal criticisms of the federal system of Native American education and the shocking state of the facilities children were housed in irritated members of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Though her beliefs included a somewhat biased view of early Spain's legacy to the Indians, throughout the rest of her life she continued to associate with and be influenced by those who championed Native American rights.
It was during this period that Nina's involvement with literary circles in Santa Fe increased. Her social life included legendary birthday parties and Santa Fe Fiesta Eve celebrations as well as helping to stage a parade that poked fun at local dignitaries as part of the amusement committee of the Santa Fe Fiesta. However, it was the civic-minded aspect of the art colony that really attracted her, such as author Mary Austin's commitment to the growing community of Santa Fe, including working for innovative public school curricula.. Mary Austin was also a great help to Nina in gathering materials for a book on the Southwest she planned to write.
Nina decided not to run for office again after twelve years as school superintendent, and, though she was entertained by the bustling social whirl at La Casa Grande, the family home in Santa Fe, she did not see herself as a socialite either. Nina had time on her hands, and, thanks to income from her mother's trust and the family ranch, she did not need to work. She decided to dip her toe into homesteading land. The 1930s saw Nina and Mamie Meadors living at least five months out of the year at Los Dos Ranch, northwest of Santa Fe. Los Dos was a name by which the two women, a "devoted twosome" , were known in Santa Fe. They lived close together but in separate dwellings on the land as they made improvements to their homestead and Nina worked on her book, Old Spain in Our Southwest, which she finished in 1935.
In 1937, Nina returned to public service with a job in the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) as supervisor of literacy education, hiring Mamie as her assistant. Her goal was to combat illiteracy - over 13 percent of adults in New Mexico could not read or write in any language - but via a program that would "follow their interests...teachers...must train with experts who know something about agriculture, weaving, tanning, woodworking, auto mechanics, popular arts..."  This led to an invitation for Nina to start a WPA-sponsored program to combat illiteracy in Puerto Rico in 1941.
That same year, the United States entered WWII, and women were asked to help with the war effort by filling men's jobs. Nina became the director of the Office of Price Administration for Santa Fe County, with Mamie assisting her, as usual. Their job was to control wartime inflation, and set price ceilings for food and residential rent.
Nina craved the stimulus of working. After the war, at the age of sixty-five, Nina and Mamie established Los Dos Realty and Insurance, with Mamie taking care of the insurance side of the business and the bookkeeping. In a blow to Nina, Mamie Meadors died in 1951. Nina curtailed her activities while she dealt privately with her grief, but over time her energy and motivation returned. Though she lost more of her friends and family in the 1950s and despite years of heavy smoking, Nina persevered, walking to work at Los Dos Realty every day for eighteen years and never weighing more than one hundred pounds.
The 1960s dawned, bringing the birth of hippie culture and the publication of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique - Nina approved of the latter, but not the former. On January 3, 1965, the new decade saw the sudden death of Nina Otero-Warren in her eighty-third year. She had still been spending time at the Los Dos office and had been considering writing another book, thirty years after her first one.
(1) Nina Otero-Warren of Santa Fe by Charlotte Whaley, p 29
(2) Ibid., p. 58
(3) Ibid., p 66
(4) Ibid, p 87
(5) Ibid, p 94
(6) Ibid., p 138
(7) Ibid, p 160