Hispanic Heritage Month: Jovita Idar

Posted by on Oct 12, 2021 in People and Culture

Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to honor and celebrate the cultures, contributions, and achievements of Hispanic and Latino Americans. This week btw takes a closer look at the life of Jovita Idar: a teacher, nurse, journalist, activist, and suffragist.

Early Years

Jovita Idar was born in 1885 in Laredo, Texas, which is located on the U.S.-Mexico border. Her father was a newspaper editor and an activist. Idar grew up around both journalism and social justice work. Because her parents were relatively privileged, she was able to attend a Methodist school, and in 1903, earned a teaching certificate. As Idar began teaching, she learned that the Mexican American students were segregated and attended run down schools that sometimes didn’t even have textbooks. So she resigned, deciding that she could make more of an impact through journalism.

An Activist Is Born

Idar’s father and two of her brothers worked for La Cronica, a Spanish-language newspaper that spoke out about improving Mexican American rights. Idar wrote articles for the paper about racism and about the Mexican Revolution to gain independence from Spain. Jovita Idarand her family vocally supported the revolutionaries. Eventually, she also began writing articles about woman suffrage, and encouraging women to educate themselves in support of more female independence. She did much of this writing under a series of pen names, such as Ave Negra, which is Spanish for black bird.

In 1911, Idar founded La Liga Feminil Mexicaista (the League of Mexican Women), and became its president. Under Idar’s leadership, the organization’s first goal was to provide better education for Mexican American students. In addition to fighting for better conditions for these students, the group also advocated for both Spanish and English to be taught in schools, as well as Mexican American history.

Fighting for Change

A few years later, Idar put her support of the Mexican Revolution into action. In 1913, she traveled to Mexico to serve as a nurse for those injured in the fighting. She eventually returned to Texas and worked for a newspaper called El Progreso. In 1914, she wrote an article criticizing President Woodrow Wilson for sending troops to the Mexican border. But the government didn’t appreciate this criticism, so the U.S. Army and the Texas Rangers shut El Progreso down. Idar tried but failed to physically block them from entering the newspaper’s offices.

With El Progreso closed, Idar returned to La Cronica and continued writing about social justice and better conditions for Mexican Americans. When her father died in 1914, Idar took over the paper herself. Together with her husband, Bartolo Juarez, she also formed a local Democratic Club and worked as a precinct judge for the Democratic Party. At the same time, she continued her fight for better education for Mexican Americans by opening a free kindergarten.

Idar died of a pulmonary hemorrhage and advanced tuberculosis in 1946 in San Antonio, Texas. She was sixty years old.

Dig Deeper Do some additional research to learn more about how Mexican American equality remained a problem in the United States in the middle twentieth century after Idar’s death. What are some significant events that occurred in the decades following World War II that began improving equality and civil rights for Mexican Americans? Choose three and write a short summary of the significance of each event.