Albuquerque is a city built on culture, diversity and a rich history. In honor of Women’s History Month, this blog shines a spotlight on the women who helped shape the city as a unique destination and diverse community.
Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter
Employed by the Fred Harvey Company, Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter was hired in 1902 as the interior designer of the Alvarado Hotel in Albuquerque and worked as an architect for the company when very few women were working in this field. She went on to design numerous well-known resorts and inns, including the La Fonda in Santa Fe, El Navajo in Gallup, El Ortiz in Lamy and other remarkable buildings throughout the Grand Canyon area. In 1987 many of these buildings were designated as historical landmarks.
Inducted into the Albuquerque Walk of Fame in 2015, Eva Encinas is well-known throughout the flamenco community. Born in Albuquerque, Encinas formed her first flamenco-based dance company, Ritmo Flamenco, in 1975 and later became a driving force in creating the University of New Mexico’s (UNM) flamenco concentration dance program. Today, UNM has the world’s only accredited dance program offering both an undergraduate and graduate-level flamenco concentration. In 1982, Eva founded the National Institute of Flamenco in Albuquerque, where she oversees multiple organizations now under the Institute’s banner.
The Elena Gallegos Open Space is home to a popular outdoor recreation area complete with hiking, mountain biking trails and picnic areas, but the 640-acre open space is also home to a rich history. Born in 1680, Elena Gallegos married Frenchman Jacques Grolet in 1699. After her husband’s death in 1703, Gallegos, with her young son, began conducting her own business affairs operating a ranch, eventually becoming the first woman to acquire her own livestock brand. In 1716 she purchased approximately 7,000 acres of land which would become the Elena Gallegos Land Grant. In 1969, the Albuquerque City Council agreed to enact a tax so it could purchase the land, save it from development and create an open space.
Alice K. Hoppes
Alice Hoppes was a longtime civil rights activist in the city, was president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for 12 years, served as president of the Albuquerque section of the National Council of Negro Women and worked to establish a state Office of African American Affairs. She worked to make Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a state holiday and also played a key role in opening the African American Pavilion at Expo New Mexico, the site of the annual State Fair. Now known as the Alice K. Hoppes African American Pavilion, the venue hosts music, art and performances year-round. Her work helped to emphasize that Albuquerque and New Mexico are a multicultural city and state – helping to create a welcoming destination for all.
Mela Sedillo Brewster Koeber
Mela Sedillo Brewster Koeber was a teacher in the University of New Mexico Art Department from 1932 to 1951 and one of two Hispanic instructors at UNM in 1933. She was also the first dance teacher at UNM. She taught design, Spanish and Mexican folk arts and dance, Spanish language classes and worked with theater groups. In the 1940s, Sedillo contributed stories for the Federal Writers Project, worked on the New Mexico State Guide, and organized festivals for the Federal Music Program. She helped with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) song books and also published works on Spanish and Mexican folk dances and arts. In 1942 Sedillo and her husband, Robert Koeber, bought the Refugio Gomez House, a registered historic property in the North Valley of Albuquerque.
Bennie L. Sanchez
Mother to local musical icons Al Hurricane, Tiny Morrie and Baby Gaby, Bennie L. Sanchez had a big impact on the entertainment industry in New Mexico. As her sons began taking center stage throughout the Southwest, they worked to create Hurricane Records, which eventually grew into a full production company – Hurricane Enterprises. Aside from the records and enterprise company, Sanchez played a part in bringing the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, to Albuquerque, as well as a variety of other well-known artists.
Ruth Hanna McCormick Simms
In the 1930s, Congressman Albert Simms and wife, Ruth Hanna McCormick Simms, reassembled the land that is today known as Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm. The land was originally inhabited by the Ancestral Pueblo Indians in the 14th century and later became part of the Elena Gallegos Land Grant around 1716. The historic inn became their private residence and the center of operations of their dairy, farming, nursery, art businesses and dynamic cultural and educational endeavors. In 1932, Ruth Hanna McCormick Simms worked to establish the La Quinta Cultural Center for political and community events and recreation. Using La Quinta as headquarters for their cultural and educational endeavors, Ruth and Albert Simms founded Manzano Day School, Sandia Prep, Albuquerque Academy and Albuquerque Little Theatre.
A common household name throughout New Mexico, Carrie Tingley and husband Clyde Tingley moved to Albuquerque, as many did, in hopes that New Mexico’s sunshine, dry climate and high altitude would help cure Carrie’s tuberculosis. After she recovered from the disease, the Tingleys became prominent citizens and were involved in a variety of civic works. Clyde Tingley served as Albuquerque’s mayor from 1925 to 1935 and as New Mexico’s governor in the mid-1930s. Carrie Tingley was known for her personal generosity and attention to the sick, particularly toward children with disabilities. She founded Carrie Tingley Hospital in 1937 to treat children with polio and orthopedic problems. Now part of the University of New Mexico Hospital System, Carrie Tingley Hospital is still dedicated to pediatric care.
Founding Women of Albuquerque
The founding women of Albuquerque were amongst the several families that migrated to what is now known as Old Town Albuquerque. Originally named “La Villa San Felipe de Alburquerque,” the names of these women were preserved in historical records as testament to their courage and bravery in the face of incredible challenges. The names of these women can be found on the Founding Women of Albuquerque Marker Official Historical Marker near the Albuquerque Museum.
The Harvey Girls were some of the first women to work in the tourism and hospitality industry. In the late 1800s, the Fred Harvey Company set out to revolutionize railway travel with the idea of feeding and housing travelers in high-quality hotels and restaurants along the rail lines. With this came the idea of Harvey Houses. By 1883, the Fred Harvey Company hired women to serve in its diners and hotels along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. Offering decent wages and a safe living environment, thousands of women were recruited in hopes of better financial opportunities and independence. Many of these women stayed and became adopting founders of their communities, forever changing the cultural landscape of the area.