In celebration of Women’s History Month, the NMSU Library Archives and Special Collections has created an online exhibition featuring some of the remarkable women who have made an impact on the history of the university and the surrounding community. The archives department holds extensive collections documenting the lives of women in New Mexico and the U.S./Mexico borderlands. 

New Mexico State University

When Hiram Hadley established the Las Cruces College [shortly to become the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts] in 1889, he stated that the mission of the institution was to provide “educational advantages of a high order and equal to the best found anywhere” and to “surround young people with those opportunities for culture and those influence of example and precept which shall develop them into ‘manly men and womanly women.’”

group portrait of the first graduating class at NMSU
The Inaugural Freshman Class of 1890. Five of the first twelve students at the college were women but none remained to graduate in the first class of 1894. (RG02220039)
portrait of Jesse Casad
Jessie Casad was the sole graduate of the class of 1895. “Few if any of the young lady students of our college have exercised as much influence on their fellow students as that left by the strong individuality of Miss Jessie Casad. Foremost, either as a leader or worker, in all student enterprises, she has been justly looked upon as one possessing good executive abilities. In all organizations open to young women students, Miss Casad has especially taken an energetic and prominent part…” Miss Casad wrote her senior thesis on “The Wild Bees of the Mesilla Valley”, a solid piece of scientific observation, not the predictable poetic meditation on flora and fauna. (UA30500071)
black and white photograph of women in a chemistry lab circa early 1900s
After experimenting with a special “ladies” curriculum, the College adopted instead a “broad and thorough scientific course” for women that included astronomy, geology, physiology, and chemistry. This more mainstream curriculum still restricted women from higher mathematics and engineering courses until well into the 20th century. (UA05030002)
black and white photograph of women seated in a greenhouse sketching, circa early 1900s
Many girls had come from outlying ranches and farms and knew full well the importance of understanding the exigencies of making a living from the harsh, demanding landscape. Horticulture, the study of native plants, was a popular course. “The protection of fruit crops involving vast pecuniary interest and the best part of the food supply of great numbers of people, is almost wholly dependent upon the studies, experiments and practical wisdom of the horticulturalist.” (UA05020023)
black and white photograph of women standing around a table, circa early 1900s
Sewing Room, 1906. “Every girl should know something of cooking and of those other household accomplishments which are the requisite of a good home. To do this well, she must have instruction, and along with it, actual practice work. Both of which are provided in the Domestic Science Course.” (UA04030043)
black and white portrait of Era Rentfrow
A graduate of the class of 1919, Miss Era Rentfrow became registrar of New Mexico State College in 1922 and served in that capacity until 1962. Having lost her fiancé, fellow student Joe Quesenberry, in World War I, Miss Rentfrow never married but devoted herself to assisting and supporting the students of the college, winning their lifelong respect and gratitude. During World War II she tracked and chronicled those Aggies serving abroad. The photographs and information she collected form the core of Memorial Tower’s commemorative display. (UA01010167)
black and white portrait of Kathleen Kelly wearing an aviator's jacket
Native New Mexican Kathleen Nova Kelly Titland [Class of 1941] was a pioneer, heroine, and role model. As part of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), Titland was one of the first women in history trained to fly American military aircraft. We know of her secret, long-classified career because she, along with many other enlisted former students, corresponded with Dean of Engineering Daniel B. Jett about their experiences during World War II.

Rio Grande Historical Collections

The Rio Grande Historical Collections (RGHC) was founded in 1972 and consists of various personal papers, organizational and business records, and other unpublished materials that represent the cultural and social heritage of southern New Mexico and the US/Mexico region. In celebration of Women’s History Month, the featured images are a representation of various women-related collections within the RGHC repository that highlight the contributions of women in the region.

black and white portrait of Caroline Straus
Caroline was the daughter of Jouett Adair Fall Elliott and Brant Elliott and granddaughter of Albert B. and Emma Fall. Caroline graduated from business school in North Carolina and worked for many years in banking in El Paso. She was the first female bank officer in El Paso and when she retired in 1978, she was senior vice president of operations at the Bank of El Paso. (04640084)
sepia toned portrait of Evangeline Smith Mandell
Evangeline was the wife of Humboldt Casad Mandell. The Casad Mandell family is a pioneer family of the Mesilla Valley. Evangeline taught school before her marriage, and later on, was involved in many service organizations such as the Girl Scouts and the El Paso High School PTA (of which she served as president). (04640084)
color photograph of five people; three men in military uniform and two women; Frances William received and award from the United States Army
Frances was a former Federal Women's Program Coordinator and EEO Officer at White Sands Missile Range, and a women's rights activist. In 2018, she was selected by the Las Cruces Sun-News as the recipient of the Distinguished Resident. (02840477)
black and white group photograph of the Amador family women
The Amador family operated several businesses in Las Cruces, including the Amador Hotel, a general store, a livery stable, and a business hauling freight and goods from Chihuahua, Mexico, to Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Amador women resided in Las Cruces when it was undergoing some influential changes such as an increase in population and the mercantile trade industry. (00040006)
color photograph of Esther Chavez Cano standing in front of Casa Amiga
Esther founded the women’s rights advocacy group Ocho de Marzo (Eighth of March) in Ciudad Juárez in 1992. Soon after, she began organizing activist groups to work for the prosecution of murders of young women in Juárez. In 1999 Chávez founded Casa Amiga, a shelter for women who have experienced physical or sexual abuse.

Regional Women's Clubs

Women's clubs play an important factor within the area in terms of “development and progress in southern New Mexico.” In the region, women’s clubs paved the way for social interaction and assisted the surrounding communities in areas such as improving educational and social opportunities for women. Andrews, M. S. (2012).  Out of the shadows the women of southern New Mexico. Los Ranchos, NM: Rio Grande Books in coll. with the New Mexico State Univ. Library.

scrapbook page with six color photographs of the Aladdin Club luncheon
The Woman’s Aladdin Club was formed in Canutillo Texas in 1913 and worked closely with the neighboring Crescent Club of Anthony in social, cultural, public service, and philanthropic projects.
black and white scan of page from book with portraits of the founders of the P. E. O. sisterhood
The P.E.O. Sisterhood is a philanthropic and educational organization interested in bringing women increased opportunities for higher education. It was originally founded as a college sorority at Iowa Wesleyan College, Mount Pleasant, Iowa, in 1869, and later voted to retain its English letters and off-campus chapters, thus changing from a college group to a community group. On January 21, 1909, Mrs. Viola Whittlesay, second vice president of the Supreme Chapter came to Carlsbad, New Mexico to charter Chapter A, the first P.E.O. chapter in the state.
black and white photograph of the Women's Improvement Association parade float
The Woman’s Improvement Association was organized and incorporated in 1894, joined the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1897, and the New Mexico Federation in 1911. The WIA served an important role in the growth of Las Cruces. They provided such amenities as the first hearse for the city of Las Cruces, the first park, the first swimming pool, and a water wagon that sprinkled the dirt streets. In 1924, the group began a subscription library, the first public library in Las Cruces, which was the forerunner to the Thomas Branigan Memorial Library. (0010072)