Dinner with a suffrage

Voice of the forgotten:

Jovita Idar and her fight for equality

John Cadena

History 4330: American Women’s History

October 16, 2015

For the duration of the suffrage movement many women contributed toward the advancement of women’s rights as we know them today. Of those women, some of the best-known works have come from women activists such as Susan B. Anthony and Carrie Chapman Catt. It became more than just a movement, it became a fight for what was right with in an ever-changing society. This fight is one of the reasons the work of these women will forever be seen as the building blocks for the continued efforts we still see today. Isolated from these convocations though are some of the efforts in the fight for equality, concerning the Latinas of this country. Of the many women who played a role in this arena, one stands out the most, Jovita Idar Juarez. Through her ability to subject her words on to paper, she was able to successfully advocate for women, children, and the education of the citizens of Texas.

As I recall, my interaction with Mrs. Jovita Idar began as the summer of 1917 was coming to an end. Recently having moved to San Antonio, I was unfamiliar with the workings of the city and was in search of things, which might occupy my time. Of the things I found myself drawn to in my youth were the politics of the state, at the time Mexican Americans were not seen as a popular member of society, therefore I thought it important that I learn my rights so that I might stay within my bounds and out of trouble. In my efforts to maintain myself within my new surroundings, I stumbled upon a newly formed club within my area, El Club Democrata organized and created by Jovita and her husband. In attending these club meetings, I began to learn of the work being conducted in the area for Mexican Americans, women and children in specific. Through this education I became familiar with Jovita’s famous words, por la raza y para la raza[1]. At the time, and due to the prejedice in the area, I was still looking for work in order to sustain what little income I brought with me for my travels. Here again Mrs. Idar and her husband assisted me in my time of need. As it happened her husband was a local Plumber[2] and in need of an apprentice to assist, as his age began to take its toll, though due to my lack of work record Mr. Juarez was unable to know the extent of my qualifications and asked that I meet him at his home first thing the following afternoon, a request I gladly excepted.

Only given the address on a piece political pamphlet, I arrived at the location unsure whether or not I had written down the proper instructions. If all was correct, it was pea of dwelling, pushed together around other single-family homes, single story in stature. Had I not caught wind of Mrs. Idar’s infamous chicken and beans[3], I would have turned back for my own home. As I approached the home, knocking on the door, Mrs. Idar opened her door welcoming me in and invited me to sit, informing me that Mr. Juarez was called to an emergency plumbing problem for a local mother of three. Opening her home to me, immediately sitting me at the table in true Latin fashion ella me dijo, mijo sientese (she told me, sit down). As I sat with feelings of shame for entering her home hungry, Mrs. Idar served me a bowl of chicken and beans along with a glass of cold water, and took her place across from me empty plated at the two-person table sitting in her tiny home.

As I ate, I began to wonder about the stories told about Mrs. Idar, allowing my curiosity to over come me I began to question her concerning her past role in the on going struggle for equality in the area. Though reluctant this must have struck a tone within her as she proceeded to take me through her fight, which according to her began with her receiving her teaching certificate from Holding Institute in 1903. Still a teenager, in 1903 Mrs. Idar found herself leaving Laredo to teach in the tiny south Texas town of Ojuelos[4], though according to her was not a stay that lasted long. Unsatisfied with the unbiased with which Mexican Americans in area were receiving, she decided to leave teaching and use her ability to write in defense of those dealing with this ill treatment. Toward this effort, Mrs. Idar began her work along with other educated Latinas in forming La Liga Femenil Mexicanista in the fall of 1911. She continued in telling me about the work conducted by the Mexican Feminist League, sometimes out of her own house, and how of most importance at the time was La Liga providing an education for the women and children in the area. It was important to her that I understood her theory, educate a woman, and you educate a family.[5] As we sat there finishing up my lunch she continued recounting for me the countless literary readings and theatrical productions[6] sponsored by La Liga in order to raise funding for the education of women in the area.

At this, I began to tell Mrs. Idar, it was my opinion that without a doubt her actions within that movement would live on in progressing the rights of women for decades to come, though from what I can only assume is her humble up bringing, she ignored my comments and continued with her lecture. In my attempts to continue her praise, slightly out of continued shame for her feeding me, I directed the conversation toward a rumor I had heard while in the audience of an El Club Democrata meeting about her involvement in the Mexican Revolution. In these meetings I had caught word that she along with several other women were seen running through the battles fields of Laredo, pulling out wounded men and caring for them out of a neighboring house. In response to this, her only willingness to accept credit came in the form of acknowledging that it was all a necessary risk in confirming the willingness of women to preform at an equal standard to men.[7]

Frustrated by her lack of willingness to promote her actions in the fight for equality, I again moved the topic to a more recent event that had made its way around the tables. Without much discretion, I asked that she talk with me about her role in the events at El Progreso, a Spanish language newspaper out of her hometown of Laredo. From the look in her eyes, I could tell this request had made her regret feeding me, though in keeping with her manners of entertaining guest, she reluctantly began her story. Having already the major points of importance, I simply relished in the opportunity to hear this story from her side of the door. She began by emphasizing her continued disapproval of Woodrow Wilson and his sending troops to the boarder[8], interfering with the Mexican Revolution. It was her belief that this interference directly delayed the rights of women to be pushed aside[9], forcing her as a result to publish printed disapproval of his policy. Concluding her story, she briefly toughed on what I hoped she’d spend the most time, her infamous run in with the notorious Texas Rangers as a result of her publication. Insignificant through her depiction, she recounted for me the anger in which El Progreso stirred for President Wilson and his retaliation in sending the Texas rangers to destroy her press company, upon arrival Mrs. Idar found herself defending her press by placing herself in between the door way, not allowing them to seizing the freedom of press rights she worked to hard to obtain, a freedom her husband, having now returned, supported whole heartedly. Upon his return, Mr. Juarez, motioned to me that my time spent with Jovita Idar had now come to an end, and my apprenticeship was to begin. Having spent this time with Mrs. Idar though I found myself questioning if Plumbing was in fact my calling, leaving me in a position having to thank Mr. Juarez for this opportunity but my passion for public service was most recently born and it was the direction I intended to follow for the remainder of my days.

It has almost been a hundred years since women across the United States won the official right to vote, essentially making them equal to men, though some can be easily argued that what was won that day was only the appearance of equality. It is the fight for this equality, which allows us today to debate this interpretation. Not up for interpretation though is that history has recorded those who were most influential to this movement, segregating the ideas and work of minorities, primarily of Mexican Americans in this country. Despite this, the work of Jovita Idar Juarez never once faltered during her life and can now be seen on an equal level, placing her within the ranks of those who fought for the equal rights of women over time. Through the combined efforts of all these extraordinary women, the progression of equal rights in this country is something, which will never again be in doubt.


Berson, Robin. Marching to a different Drummer: Unrecognized Heroes of American History. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1994.

Gibson, Karen. Jovita Idar. Delaware: Mitchell Lane Publishers, 2003.

Nicolasa Bilman, interview by John Cadena, San Antonio, October 8, 2015.

Palomo, Teresa, and Ruthe Winegarten. Las Tejanas: 300 Years of History. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003.

Perales, Monica, and Raul Ramos. Recovering the Hispanic History of Texas. Houston: Arte Publico Press, 2010.

Ows. “Tejano History Curriculum Project.” The College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin. Accessed October 9, 2015. http://ows.edb.utexas.edu/site/tejano-history-curriculum-project/la-crónica-text

[1] Karen Gibson, Jovita Idar (Delaware: Mitchell Lane Publishers, 2003), 9-10.

[2] Nicolasa Bilman, interview by John Cadena, San Antonio, October 8, 2015.

[3] ‘’ ‘’

[4] Robin Berson, Marching to a different Drummer: Unrecognized Heroes of American History (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1994), 152-153.

[5] Karen Gibson, Jovita Idar (Delaware: Mitchell Lane Publishers, 2003), 22-23.

[6] “ “

[7] Nicolasa Bilman, interview by John Cadena, San Antonio, October 8, 2015.

[8] Teresa Palomo and Ruthe Winegarten, Las Tejanas: 300 Years of History. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003), 84-85

[9] “Tejano History Curriculum Project,” The College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin, accessed October 9, 2015, http://ows.edb.utexas.edu/site/tejano-history-curriculum-project/la-crónica-text


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