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El Paso Women's Political Caucus

Eva Ross and J. Aaron Waggoner General Entry

The El Paso Women’s Political Caucus (EPWPC) was founded by twelve women in the home of local attorney Ruth Kern on September 12, 1973. Echoing similar efforts on the national and state levels, the organization adopted a prochoice stance and supported the implementation of the federal Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) passed in 1972 by the U. S. Senate. A later newsletter stated that the purpose of the caucus was “to organize El Paso County residents, especially women, of all races, creeds, and cultural backgrounds in order that they may unite in political action–especially against sexism, racism, institutional violence, and poverty.” Early members included: Bonnie Lesley, Ruth Kern, Janet Reusch, Alicia Ramirez, Rose Ornelas, Connie Ambrose, Irene Hadley, Ona Porter, Georgia Russell, and Eva Stewart. By 1975 EPWPC members, who met in the law offices of Malcolm McGregor across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in downtown El Paso, had grown to include: Kitty Schild, Chris Kelso, Dennece Knight, Jesse Carrasco, Phyllis Armijo, Lois Marchino, Anne Holder, Eva Ross, Stella Juarequi, Judy Zarate, Polly Harris, and Susan H. Hatch. Early EPWPC members were predominately White, and many were lawyers or educators. 

Beginning in 1974 the EPWPC held an annual Women’s Equality Day (WED) fundraising banquet in late August to commemorate the anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution which gave women the right to vote. This event was strategically timed to mobilize members and voters for key elections coming in the fall. This and later banquets featured recognition of notable women of color, male allies, and particularly astute political operatives. Speakers at the banquet included Ann Richards of the Texas Women’s Political Caucus (TWPC) and Texas attorney Sissy Farenthold, first chair of the National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC).

The EPWPC’s organizational power, influential network of well-placed women, and fundraising success made the organization a significant player in local and state elections, particularly those with women candidates. The first of these was Arlene Quenon, who in 1975 was elected as Eastside city representative, on the 1976 Bicentennial Council, the last El Paso council elected as a single ticket. Despite this early success, the January 16, 1988, issue of the El Paso Times noted that women still made up only 18 percent of elected officials in El Paso County despite making up 52.3 percent of registered voters. Still, the EPWPC supported a wave of women office holders, including West Side County Commissioner Mary R. Haynes, State Representative Nancy McDonald, and then West-Central City Representative Suzie Azar. Olga “Cookie” Mapula and Lucy Acosta then served as members of the board of the El Paso Community College. Dr. Carina Ramirez and Jennie Candelaria had been elected to the school board of the Ysleta Independent School District. In a run-off election in May 1989, Azar was elected as El Paso’s first (and, as of 2021, only) female mayor. The departure of early leaders, changing public roles for women, and internal conflicts led to a decline in membership and influence in the 1990s. Nevertheless, the caucus’s influence on local politics remained in the early twenty-first century. The experiences and relationships of its members informed their later activism and success in a variety of settings in and out of El Paso.

Suzanne Azar Papers, MS 436, C. L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department, University of Texas at El Paso Library. El Paso Herald-Post, August 27, 1977. El Paso Times, March 15, 1990. Mary R. Haynes Papers, El Paso County Historical Society. Florence Howe, ed., The Politics of Women’s Studies: Testimony from 30 Founding Mothers (New York: The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2000). Institute for Oral History, Janet Ruesch (No. 742), Kitty Schild (No. 735), Liz Rogers (No. 736), and Chris Kelso (No. 744), C. L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department, University of Texas at El Paso Library. “Oral History Interview with Alicia Chacon, July 25, 2016” (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth836709/), accessed February 3, 2021. Eva Ross Women’s History Collection, C. L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department, University of Texas at El Paso Library.

Categories:

  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Politics and Government
  • Civic and Community Leaders
  • Women

Time Periods:

  • Texas Post World War II
  • Texas in the 21st Century

Places:

  • Southwest Texas
  • El Paso

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Eva Ross and J. Aaron Waggoner, “El Paso Women's Political Caucus,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 16, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/el-paso-womens-political-caucus.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

March 2, 2021
March 2, 2021

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects:

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