Pioneer for Women’s Rights in New Mexico
By Jeanne M. Logsdon, Regents Professor Emerita, University of New Mexico
Julia Brown Asplund was a leader in New Mexico’s fight for women’s suffrage between 1911 and 1920. She served as president of the New Mexico Federation of Women’s Clubs from 1914-16 and helped to organize the automobile parade of more than 150 women to challenge U.S. Senator Thomas Catron’s views on suffrage in October 1915. A few months later in February 1916, she was instrumental in forming the New Mexico chapter of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage and served as a vice chairman. She was nominated to run for governor by the New Mexico Women’s Party (successor of the Congressional Union) in 1920, but declined the nomination. Julia was also a trained librarian who devoted her professional life to expanding library services throughout the state. She lobbied for state financial support and served in many leadership positions to improve library access and quality.
Julia Brown was born on October 6, 1875 in Palmyra, Missouri. Her father was an educator and minister, and her mother taught piano. Early evidence of her commitment to women’s suffrage is found in a statement she wrote at the age of 15, “I am very strong for woman’s rights, you know. I think I shall become a second Susan B. Anthony.”
Julia attended Lake Forest College in Illinois from 1891 to 1893 and then Tarkio College in Missouri where she graduated in 1895. She taught school in Iowa and Missouri over the next four years and then attended Drexel Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to become a librarian. She graduated in 1901 and taught cataloging and acquisitions at Drexel until 1903.
Julia moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1903 to work as the first trained librarian at the University of New Mexico. She also taught history classes. She married Rupert Asplund, a professor of Latin and Greek, in 1905 and resigned from the University as was the custom of the times. The couple had one child in 1906. They moved to Santa Fe in 1909 when Rupert was appointed the chief clerk of the territorial education department. (New Mexico became the 47th state in 1912.) Julia became active in a number of organizations, including the Santa Fe Women’s Club and the Santa Fe Board of Trade, two groups very active in community improvement and women’s suffrage in the 1910s. The Board of Trade sponsored the Santa Fe Library, and Julia took a special interest in serving on the library committee.
The New Mexico Federation of Women’s Clubs was formed in 1911. Julia recommended that the federation include a library committee and became its first chair. She also accepted the position as recording secretary in 1911 and was elected to a leadership role as president of the federation for two terms, 1914-15 and 1915-16. This group voted unanimously in favor of women’s suffrage at its 1914 state convention and worked vigorously in support for the next six years. Under Julia’s leadership, the federation lobbied the state legislature successfully for women’s property rights in 1915 and championed other progressive legislation related to the welfare of women and children that later became law.
As president of the NM Federation of Women’s Clubs, Julia helped to organize the automobile parade of more than 150 women to US Senator Thomas Catron’s home in October 1915. Catron was opposed to women’s suffrage, and the parade was a strategy to demonstrate the breadth of support for it. Julia gave a short speech to the Senator about “The Superiority of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment” to grant suffrage to all women in the U.S. Constitution, rather than rely on state-by-state efforts to extend the vote to women. Several months later, in February 1916, Julia was instrumental in organizing the New Mexico chapter of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, the organization formed by Alice Paul to work for the federal amendment. She served as one of the vice chairmen of the group along with other prominent suffragists from around the state.
U.S. entry into the First World War in 1917 shifted the activities of all women’s clubs from suffrage and domestic issues to helping with the war effort. Representing the NM Federation, Julia made speeches about how local women’s clubs could and should contribute. Women’s wartime contributions were widely praised so that, when the war ended in 1918, support for woman’s suffrage expanded substantially. Both New Mexico political parties became more committed to suffrage in their platforms and rhetoric.
The 19th Amendment was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1919 and sent to the states for ratification. Three-quarters of the 48 states had to pass the amendment before it could be adopted into the Constitution. New Mexico was the 32nd state to ratify in a special legislative session called by the governor in February 1920. Almost immediately, Julia was nominated by the New Mexico Women’s Party (successor to the Congressional Union) to run for governor, but she declined in order to serve on the executive committee of the state Republican Party. She was the first woman to speak at a state political party convention in 1920. She was also appointed as the first woman regent of the University of New Mexico from 1921-23. Notably, she persuaded the Board of Regents to fund a library building rather than an engineering building.
Julia maintained a commitment to library quality and access throughout her life. She was especially committed to providing books to children in English and Spanish. In the 1920s she continued to advocate for state funding of traveling libraries, which were finally established in 1929 as the Library Extension Service with a budget of $2,000. Julia served as the first administrator and set up processes to procure and distribute 500 books. Later Julia was appointed as the first chair of the newly created State Library Commission in 1941 and served in that position until 1954. In 1949, the American Library Association awarded her a Citation of Merit. Julia died on July 26, 1958 at the age of 82.
Albuquerque Morning Journal:
- “Republican Convention Is Under Way; Bursum Temporary Chairman…Mrs. Asplund Wins Honors First Day,” September 8, 1920.
Honea, Ann Burleson. “Julia Brown Asplund, New Mexico Librarian 1875-1958.” Masters of Library Science Thesis, University of Texas, Austin, 1967.
Lewis, Linda K. “Julia Brown Asplund and New Mexico Library Service, 1875-1958.” In Suzanne Hildenbrand (Ed.), Reclaiming the American Library Past: Writing the Women In. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing, 1996, 121-134.
Santa Fe New Mexican
- “First Convention of Women’s Clubs,” March 4, 1911, 3.
- “Good Addresses at Suffrage Meeting on Monday Evening,” October 16, 1915, 5.
- “Only the Vice and Liquor Interests, Ultra Conservatives and Fearful Politicians Are Opposed to Woman Suffrage, National Congressional Organizer Declares Here,” October 19, 1915, 2.
- “150 Santa Fe Suffragists in Demonstration at Home of U.S. Senator Catron,” October 21, 1915, 5.
- “Let the Women Stay at Home, Have Children and Wash Dishes, Catron Idea,” October 22, 1915, 7.
- “435 National Lawmaker-Politicians Hard to Control, Suffrage Leader Finds; Telling Blows for Ballots for Women,” February 29, 1916, 2.
- “State Federation of Women’s Clubs to Ask Legislature for Advanced Public Health and Delinquent Enactments…Mrs. Asplund Tells Federation What Women And Government Should Expect from Each Other,” October 5, 1916, 5.
- “National and State Suffrage Leaders Attend Albuquerque Conference December 4th and 5th,” November 29, 1919, 13.
- “New Mexican Women Acquit Themselves Well in First Taste of Convention Work,” September 8, 1920, 1.
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Anthony, Susan Brownell, Gage, Matilda Joslyn, & Harper, Ida Husted. “New Mexico.” Chapter 30, History of Woman Suffrage: 1900-1920, 439-442.
Young, Janine A. “‘For the Best Interests of the Community’: The Origins and Impact of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in New Mexico, 1900-1930.” Masters Thesis in History, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, 1984.