The first woman to serve as New Mexico State Librarian, she won her gender discrimination lawsuit against Governor Curry, ultimately leading to 1913 legislation allowing women to hold appointed office. Prior to this, women were eligible to hold only 4 of 144 elected or appointed positions in New Mexico.
In 1912, New Mexico State Librarian, Lola Chávez de Armijo, filed a gender discrimination lawsuit after the Governor sought to replace her by court order—claiming that she, being a woman, was unqualified to hold office under the constitution and laws of New Mexico. The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled in her favor and legislation followed, allowing women to hold appointed office.
Chávez de Armijo was the daughter of Don José Francisco Chávez—son of one of New Mexico’s most prominent families—and Mary Bowie of California. Chávez de Armijo married Mariano Armijo and had two children, Victoriana and George Washington Armijo. Her son, George Washington Armijo, served as a State Senator from Santa Fe County. Chávez de Armijo’s husband, Mariano died in 1904.
In 1909, Territorial Governor George Curry appointed Chávez de Armijo, a prominent Republican, to the position of State Librarian. She was the second woman to serve in the public position, the first being Anita J. Chapman. When New Mexico became a State in 1912, changes in the administration followed. William C. McDonald, a Democrat, was elected governor and soon after attempted to replace Chávez de Armijo with Mary Victory, also a Democrat; but the Committee on Executive Communication rejected his pick and Chávez de Armijo continued in the position.
Unhappy with the committee’s decision, McDonald tried to remove Chávez de Armijo, claiming that she was unfit, as a woman, to hold appointed office according to the State constitution. While his pick for the position was also a woman, this was not brought up in court. He took his case to the Santa Fe District Court. Chávez de Armijo fought the suit and the District Court ruled in her favor. McDonald appealed and the case went before the New Mexico Supreme Court. The Court sided with Chávez de Armijo ruling that her being a woman did not impact her job performance as State Librarian, an office that did not require the holder to exercise “neither judgment nor discretion.” Although the Court’s ruling drew a clear distinction between the capabilities of each gender, the highly publicized case brought attention to the issue of gender discrimination. Legislation soon followed with the passage of House Bill 150 in 1913, allowing women in New Mexico to hold appointed office.
At the time, women were underrepresented in appointed and elected positions in New Mexico. In 1913, women were eligible to hold four of 144 elected or appointed positions, including State Librarian, State Director of Industrial Education, Assistant Secretary of the Historical Society, and Private Secretary to the Governor.
Chávez de Armijo continued as State Librarian until she retired in 1917. Jurisdiction of the library was transferred back to the Supreme Court in 1915, and members of that court were constituted a board of trustees to oversee the library and choose a librarian. After Chávez de Armijo retired, the New Mexico Supreme Court reappointed Anita J. Chapman, who held the office until 1937. In 1929, Chávez de Armijo died in Albuquerque and was laid to rest in the Santa Fe National Cemetery, where her father, Don José Francisco Chávez, had been buried.
Motto, Sytha. More than Conquerors: Makers of History, 1528–1978. Albuquerque: Adobe Press, 1980.
Poldervaart, Arie. “The New Mexico Law Library—A History,” New Mexico Historical Review, January 1946, pp. 47–59.
Robolledo, Tey Diana eds. Nuestras Mujeras: Hispanas of New Mexico: Their Images and Their Lives, 1582–1992. Albuquerque: El Norte Publications/Academia, 1992.