Hello and welcome to A Murderess Affair. My name is Gabrielle and this is the podcast about women in history known for mayhem and murder. This week’s episode is inspired by google doodles, actually! We’re leaning a little more into the mayhem than the murder with talking about Jovita Idar, a Mexican American activist who was a pioneer in the fight for Mexican-Americna rights during the early 20th century.
If you didn’t know, this month is Latinx Heritage Month. It runs from September 15-October 15th and I figured I’d take advantage to use this time to talk about a woman from history that not many people may know about. A woman who was considered to be a trailblazer for many, a great teacher, and the woman who stared down a group of Texas Rangers and forced them to turn back from where they had planned on ransacking her work.
Jovita was born in 1885 in Laredo, Texas. She was one of 8 children. Her father was Nicasio, a newspaper editor and civil rights activist and her mother was also named Jovita. All of the Idar family was lucky enough to get a good education, and where the rights, privileges, and injustices in the community were constantly discussed. As a child Jovita was described as imaginative and an eager student She went to a Methodist school called the Holding Institute in Texas. She earned her teaching certificate there in 1903 and immediately began teaching..
However, she found that she couldn’t ignore the poor conditions that the Mexican-American students were subject to. Many of her students were underprovided for, the school lacking basic equipment like pens, pencils, or paper.
See at this time, the Mexican-American community in Texas also frequently faced violence and lynching. Her father oftentimes chronicled these events and wrote articles speaking out about the revolution in Mexico.
So, she quit her job to join her father’s influential activist newspaper La Cronica( The Chronicle). She began writing articles targeting the many issues that Mexican-Americans were facing at this time. Apparently, one of her strong ideals was cultural redemption. She believed that the poor communities living on both sides of the US/Mexico border could be uplifted by education and empowerment, and oftentimes wrote articles specifically discussing ways to approach and accomplish these goals.
La Cronica was a transnational newspaper. It would specifically report on events that happened along the border, and on the Mexican Revolution which was happening at this time. There was a group of Mexican-Americans known as Tejanos who’d been living in Texas since before the modern US border was established in the 1840s.
Jovita and her family addressed the inferior and separatist housing and schools, the terrible conditions the Tejano workers had to face. She would often write under pen names, such as Astrea-who was, fittingly a greek goddess of justice-, and Ave Negra -Spanish for black bird. She would also write about equal rights for women and would urge other women to pursue education and seek independence.
In 1911 she and her family helped establish the First Mexican Congress to organize all Mexican-Americans across Texas in the fight for civil rights. This congress focused on many issues, such as education and lack of economic resources. She founded the League of Mexican Women and served as its president.
According to Jovita, the modern woman was someone with “broad horizons”. In one of her articles, she’s quoted as writing “Science, industry, the workshop and even the home demand her best aptitudes, her perseverance and consistency in work, and her influence and assistance for all that is progress and advancement for humanity.”
In 1911 California gave women the right to vote, and Jovita advocated for the women in Texas to “raise your chins and face the fight.”
“Much has been said and written against the feminist movement,” she wrote in one of her articles, “but despite the opposition, women in California can vote on a jury and hold public offices.”
Education was a huge one of her passions, and she used her position in the league to identify and educate poor children and advocated for the schools to teach in both Spanish and English. She was really invested in making sure that Spanish continued for generations beyond her. The language, she said, was “increasingly forgotten, and each day it suffers adulterations and changes that materially hurt the ear of any Mexican as little versed as he might be in the language of Cervantes.”
She also hated that Mexican-American children weren’t learning about Mexican-American history. Especially in areas that were originally considered to be Mexico’s territory in the first place. “If in the American school our children attend, they are taught the biography of Washington and not the one of Hidalgo, and if instead of the glorious deeds of Juarez they are referred to the exploits of Lincoln, as much as these are noble and just, that child will not know the glories of his nation, he will not love her and he might even see his parent’s countrymen with indifference.”
In 1913, during the battle of Nuevo Laredo during the Mexican Revolution, Jovita actually left her position at her family’s newspaper to cross the border and work with La Cruz Blanca, which is a medical aid group kind of like the Red Cross. She worked as a nurse for the army for about a year before returning to Laredo.
When she came back, she started working for a newspaper called El Progreso. While there, she criticised the US’s involvement in the Mexican Revolution in an editorial. In it, she criticised President Woodrow Wilson’s order to send military troops to the Texas-Mexico border.
This wasn’t taken very well, as you can imagine. See, in Texas, there was some pretty rampant racism against the Mexican-American people. Most of which came from none others than the Texas Rangers.
It’s almost like this country has a long and extended history of racism present in its law enforcement community that has historically led to more aggression and violence towards people of color.
So, the Texas Rangers didn’t like the article, and they showed up to the offices of El Progreso in 1914 intending to shut it down.
When Jovita heard of it, she waited at the front door to block them from entering. They tried to get her to move but she refused, and argued that their attempts to silence the newspaper would be a violation of its constitutional right to freedom of the press under the First Amendment.
You know that Captain America quote? The one a lot of people know from the Civil War movie? I think Jovita standing up to the Texas Rangers like that is basically the epitome of that “No, you move” line.
The Rangers turned back, but they returned the next day when Jovita was gone. They ransacked the office and destroyed the printing presses there. It doesn’t say if the newspaper ever recovered, but Jovita definitely did.
She returned to La Cronica and eventually ended up taking over the newspaper from her father, running it with her brothers and continuing her pursuit for justice.
She married Bartolo Juarez in 1917 and moved to San Antonio. Together, the couple established the local Democratic Club, where she worked as a precinct judge for the party. She also established a free kindergarten and worked as an interpreter for Spanish speaking patients at the hospital. Somehow, she also found the time to teach infant care courses for women and edit El Heraldo Christiano, a Methodist Church newspaper.
Oh, and she raised her sister’s children when her sister died giving birth to them.
Jovita Idar died of a pulmonary hemorrhage and advanced tuberculosis when she was 60 years old, on June 15, 1946.