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.