March Madness may be on everyone’s mind right now but I’d be even crazier not to mention that March is also Women’s History Month! Santa Fe’s past, present and—no doubt—future are peopled with more than just conquistadors and cowboys. There’s a rich history of notable women who made significant contributions to the lore and legacy of The City Different. Let me introduce you to a few of these colorful ladies.
The Art Of Santa Fe Is A Historic Fact
The foremost female name that pops into people’s minds when they think Santa Fe is undoubtedly Georgia O’Keeffe. No wonder, as not only is O’Keeffe one of few women to have a museum named for her, that museum is chock full with rarely-seen artwork from her body of work and her contemporaries. The collection is ever-expanding, as the museum staff is incredibly diligent about seeking new acquisitions. Annual themed exhibits feature signature paintings on loan from private collections that provide a rare opportunity to view these works. O’Keeffe possessed a phenomenal attunement to color and form, something that helped her translate her love for the New Mexican landscape into the work that helped make Santa Fe a legend in the art world.
On the subject of love for the Land of Enchantment, one need only look at the work of Laura Gilpin for an education in black and white on all things New Mexico. This noted photographer had a firm command of the shutter and found her vision in the people and the landscape of the Southwest. Gilpin is known as a master of platinum printing and her evocative prints have found a home in museums around the world. Her legendary photographs of the Native American residents of the Southwest resulted from an unparalleled access to her subjects and created an enduring portrait of their lives.
The indigenous residents of New Mexico attract devoted patrons of the arts and Mary Cabot Wheelwright’s name is indelibly attached to Santa Fe. A Boston heiress, Wheelwright spent her early years in the lap of East Coast luxury. No doubt her metropolitan crowd was mightily astonished when she fell for the New Mexico lifestyle and made Santa Fe her home. Her passion resulted in one of the city’s most memorable institutions, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian on Museum Hill, which stands as a testament to her mission of preserving the artifacts of the Southwest’s Native American culture--and it’s also home to my favorite trading post.
The Southwest Comes To Life In Words
Some of Santa Fe’s notable ladies followed a passion of another sort: they simply followed their husbands! Susan Shelby Magoffin, who left a fascinating diary detailing her experiences on the Old Santa Fe Trail, was the wife of a 19th century trader. She was born into a privileged Kentucky family and ended up on the Santa Fe Trail with “fourteen big wagons with six yoke each, one baggage wagon, one dearborn with two mules, our own carriage with two more mules, and two men on mules driving the loose stock.” While the Magoffins eventually returned to set up housekeeping in Missouri, Susan’s diary remains an invaluable record of the conditions of the era, its people and events, and all from a distinctly female perspective.
Mrs. Magoffin was not the only female writer to be taken with New Mexico. Although Willa Cather never lived in Santa Fe, she wrote an intriguing tale about one of Santa Fe’s most compelling figures, Bishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy. Bishop Lamy is responsible for the magnificent Cathedral that towers (figuratively) over all the other downtown buildings. In fact, city codes stipulate that no downtown building can exceed the height of the Cathedral. Cather was a skilled author and brought this historical figure and Santa Fe legend to life in her novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop.
Santa Fe Ladies Love Leisure Time Entertainment
Thoughts of compelling Santa Fe characters bring Doña Tules to mind. Talk about a unique individual! Maria Gertrudis Barceló held court at her Burro Alley saloon (near today’s Palace Restaurant) and “La Tules” was renowned as a canny card player, separating her male customers from their gold on a regular basis. Susan Magoffin wrote that Doña Tules “made her living by running a house where open gambling, drinking, and smoking were enjoyed by all.” Saloon-keeping certainly has its darker side, but I imagine enjoyment did ensue!
Santa Fe Celebrates Women Year-Round
There’s so much more to learn about these and the other remarkable women who enriched our lives with their art, scholarship and pioneering energy. If you have a budding scholar in your midst, consider the Women’s International Study Center: residency programs include a stay in a gorgeous eastside Santa Fe adobe. After all, a woman’s work is never done, whether it takes place in a low-slung adobe or a high-rise tower.
Santa Fe knows a little something about this—we were just declared The #1 Best Place In America For Women-Owned Businesses. The study by NerdWallet noted, “New Mexico’s capital city tops our list for its high percentage of businesses owned by women and its affordable cost of living. The city’s tourism industry attracts at least 1 million visitors each year who come to enjoy the city’s rich arts culture, adobe-style architecture and breathtaking views of the southern Rocky Mountains. Over 80% of the city’s restaurants are locally owned, including Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Café.”
Think you want to relocate or launch your business here? Try the National Association Of Women Business Owners, Northern New Mexico Chapter to get started.
No matter what you do or where you do it, just be sure your work includes a Santa Fe getaway to be inspired as you celebrate this month for, by and about YOU.