María L. de Hernández, Mexican-American rights activist, was born in 1896 in Garza García, outside of Monterrey, Nuevo León, to Eduardo Frausto and Francisca (Medrano) Latigo. Her father was a professor. She taught elementary school in Monterrey and in 1915 married Pedro Hernandez Barrera in Hebbronville, Texas; they had ten children. The family moved to San Antonio in 1918 and began political activities in 1924 but did not become permanent residents there until February 2, 1928. On January 10, 1929, they helped found the Orden Caballeros de América (the Order of Knights of America), an organization dedicated to civic and political activities to benefit Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants, especially in educational matters. In 1933, under the auspices of the order, María Hernández helped organize the Asociación Protectora de Madres, which provided financial assistance to expectant mothers. With the aid of Dr. A. I. Mena, the association functioned until 1939. In 1934 the Hernandezes helped organize La Liga de Defensa Pro-Escolar, an organization dedicated to obtaining better facilities and better education for the West Side Mexican community.
In 1932 María Hernández became San Antonio's first Mexican female radio announcer. On October 3, 1934, she spoke on the "Voz de las Americas" program to promote Council 16 of the League of United Latin American Citizens. As secretary of the order, she was the only female speaker at the October 21, 1934, meeting at Lanier School, the liga's first mass meeting. The league was officially organized in December 1934, and she supported its efforts until 1940 and again in 1947, when it was reorganized. In 1938 she took up the cause of workers' rights in the Pecan-Shellers' Strike. On October 27, 1939, she accompanied the order's queen ambassador on a visit to Mexican president Lázaro Cárdenas to express good will between Mexico and the Mexicans in the United States.
In 1945 Artes Gráficas published María Hernández's essay "México y Los Cuatro Poderes Que Dirigén al Pueblo," in which the domestic sphere was maintained to be the foundation of society and mothers the authority figures who molded nations. She also organized Club Liberal Pro-Cultura de la Mujer. From 1940s through the 1960s she made hundreds of speeches on behalf of the Mexican community. She supported Henry B. Gonzalez's candidacy for political office. In November 1968 she began bimonthly speeches on education and social progress sponsored by El Círculo Social Damas de América on television in San Antonio. In December of that year she and her husband testified at the San Antonio hearing before the United States Commission on Civil Rights against "the embarrassing problem of racial discrimination" against Mexican Americans and African Americans. They argued for education to eliminate "deformed historical narrations." In 1969 she was treasurer of the order's board of directors and president of Círculo Social, which worked under the auspices of the order. At the order's fortieth anniversary she gave the keynote address.
In 1970 she became active in the Raza Unida party and in July of that year served as a keynote speaker at its statewide conference in Austin. In 1972 she and her husband toured South and Central Texas in support of the party's gubernatorial candidate Ramsey Muñiz and State Board of Education candidate Marta Cotera. María Hernández died of pneumonia in Lytle on January 8, 1986, and was buried in the plot of the Orden Caballeros de América outside of Elmendorf. She died with the reputation of an "untiring fighter."
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Martha P. Cotera, Profile of the Mexican American Woman (Austin: National Educational Laboratory, 1976). Eleuterio Escobar Collection, Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas at Austin. Hearing before the United States Commission on Civil Rights (San Antonio: GPO, 1968). María L. de Hernandez, Interview by Angie del Cueto Quiros, April 19, 1975, Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas at Austin. Vertical Files, Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas at Austin.
Activism and Social Reform
Civil Rights, Segregation, and Slavery
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Cynthia E. Orozco,
“Hernández, María L. de,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 27, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
January 1, 1995
Most Recent Revision Date:
August 3, 2020
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: