Nina Otero-Warren Improved Education and Fought for Suffrage

August 15, 2022
 Illustration of quarter featuring Nina Otero-Warren with her hands clasped, three flowers, and the text "Voto Para La Mujer."

Image of 2022 Nina Otero-Warren quarter, part of the American Women Quarters™ Program. Copyright United States Mint. Used with permission.

By Sarah Ramirez, fall 2021 intern for the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative, Because of Her Story  

Today the U.S. Mint released a quarter featuring activist and politician Adelina "Nina" Otero-Warren. This is the fourth coin in the American Women Quarters™ Program. Already-issued quarters feature author Dr. Maya Angelou, astronaut Dr. Sally Ride, and activist Wilma Mankiller

From 2022 through 2025, the U.S. Mint will release new quarters featuring American women who changed the nation and the world. Hollywood actress Anna May Wong will be honored on a quarter later this year. 

Staff members at the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative, Because of Her Story, are excited to help bring this series to life with the U.S. Mint and the National Women's History Museum.   

We invite you to explore Otero-Warren’s life and legacy. 

Nina Otero-Warren 

María Adelina Isabel Emilia “Nina” Otero-Warren was born on October 23, 1881. Her family were wealthy Hispanos, descendants of the original Spanish settlers of New Mexico. As an adult, she became active in New Mexico politics and American women’s suffrage (known at the time as “woman suffrage”). 

In 1917, Otero-Warren was asked by a leading suffragist, Alice Paul, to head the New Mexico chapter of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage. The American women’s suffrage movement was a major social justice movement from 1848 to 1920. Women, known as suffragists, organized to demand their right to vote. Otero-Warren worked to build support for women’s voting rights from fellow New Mexicans. To reach the widest audience, she insisted that suffrage materials be published in both Spanish and English. Through her efforts, she gained the support of New Mexican Hispanos and Anglos. Her work in the Congressional Union, later the National Woman Party, brought new energy to New Mexico’s suffrage movement.  

Old flag with three  colored segments of purple, white, and golden yellow .

National Woman’s Suffrage Congressional Union Flag. National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Alice Paul Centennial Foundation Inc.

On February 21, 1920, New Mexico became the 32nd state in the U.S. to ratify the 19th Amendment. The 19th Amendment guaranteed all American women the right to vote. But many women were still denied access to vote, especially women of color.  

Black and white photo of Adelina Otero-Warren smiling while wearing a blazer and a hat with a black bow.

Portrait of Adelina Otero-Warren from the Library of Congress. Glass-plate negative by Bain News Service, [1923]. Prints and Photographs Division. 

In 1918, Otero-Warren became the first woman government official in New Mexico. She was hired as the Superintendent of Public Schools in Santa Fe County. As Superintendent, Otero-Warren worked to improve conditions in rural schools. She also worked to balance the demands of the federal government and her pride in her Spanish heritage. The U.S. government had mandated that English should be the only language taught in schools and wanted to assimilate non-white people, including Hispanos, into Anglo-European culture. Assimilation meant the loss of traditional language, customs, and family ties. Otero-Warren advocated for the preservation of traditional languages and cultures, arguing that both Spanish and English languages be allowed in Santa Fe schools. It wasn’t until after her death, in 1965, that New Mexico became the first U.S. state to have a bilingual multicultural education law. The law created funding for bilingual multicultural education programs in all New Mexican schools. 

In 1922, Otero-Warren ran for Congress under the Republican Party of New Mexico. She became the Republican Party’s nominee for New Mexico to the U.S. House of Representatives. Otero-Warren lost the election to the Democratic candidate by less than 9%.  

Otero-Warren remained active and dedicated to her community until her death in 1965. In 1923, she was appointed Inspector of Indian Schools, where she worked to improve education for Native American students. In this role Otero-Warren led meaningful efforts for Native American youth, championing more collaboration between schools and communities. She advocated against the common practice of sending Native American children away to boarding schools and worked hard to integrate additional opportunities about language, history, traditions, and art in the educational system.

She also served as the Chairman of New Mexico’s Board of Health, an executive member of the American Red Cross, and director of an adult literacy program in New Mexico for the Works Project Administration.  

Adelina Otero-Warren was a leader in New Mexico’s suffrage movement and a trailblazer in New Mexico state government. Her story and the story of other influential suffragists are told through objects and stories in Creating Icons: How We Remember Woman Suffrage online at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History

Sarah Ramirez  was the fall 2021 Because of Her Story intern for the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative. Her work focused on expanding the Smithsonian's reach through creating a social media guide and writing website articles. Today, Ramirez works in the Smithsonian's Office of Special Events and Protocol.