Nuestra Historia - Martinez and Veeder outfoxed HU opponents

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As the 13th session of the Territorial legislature opened in January 1893, education was foremost on the minds of many New Mexicans.

During this mid-territorial period, New Mexico was in the throes of the “greaser” and “Mexican” antagonism of the eastern press and Washington, where statehood had been denied because Hispanic New Mexicans were not deemed sufficiently Americanized to become part of the United States. (See “The Mean Season Begins for New Mexico,” and “It is very Hard to Teach Mexicans English Well,” February and March 2012, in Nuestra Historia’s centennial series.)

Against this backdrop, politicians and educators alike bandied about every conceivable notion to promote education in New Mexico, the teaching of English in particular. One popular concept was the “normal” training of teachers, who in turn would fan-out to provide instruction throughout the Territory. As early as 1891, normal institutes had been conducted, the first in Las Vegas in June and July of that year, followed by similar summer institutes in Albuquerque and Silver City. (The term normal was used at the time to describe intense teacher training under established education norms, and both the concept and appellation had their origins in 17th century France.)

There was strong disagreement, however, whether the normal education of teachers should be confined to summer institutes, or provided at a permanent institution to be established for that purpose somewhere in the Territory. Both the Optic and La Voz weighed-in on the question, taking opposing positions. Just days in advance of the legislative session, on Jan. 5, the Optic objected to the creation of a permanent normal institute, arguing that “a normal school would be quite expensive and the summer institutes are the best means, the cheapest and most efficient, [and if more is desired], let the university at Albuquerque [UNM] do the work.”

Months earlier La Voz del Pueblo had taken the opposite position, Felix Martinez advocating in his newspaper for a permanent normal school, which he called “indispensable” to the Territory. So it was that as Felix Martinez and John DeWitt Veeder took their seats in the Territorial Senate, the two Democrats from Las Vegas would undoubtedly support the creation of a permanent institution for the training of teachers in New Mexico, as advocated by La Voz.

Enter Albert B. Fall, then a senator from Las Cruces, later to become U.S. senator from New Mexico, and President Harding’s infamous Secretary of Interior. Immediately after the session started, hoping to preempt the issue, Fall shrewdly introduced his bill to establish only one permanent normal school for New Mexico, in Silver City. When Fall’s bill came before the Territorial Senate on Feb. 6, 1893, the issue was rendered asunder, as John DeWitt Veeder rose and offered a confounding amendment — that two normal schools be established for New Mexico, one in Silver City, the other in Las Vegas.

Apparently taken by complete surprise, Fall instantly opposed Veeder’s amendment, arguing that a normal school should be established in southern New Mexico because it was the most “progressive” part of the Territory. Las Vegas’ dynamic duo quickly countered, Veeder arguing that it was “plain and apparent” that northeastern New Mexico should also have a normal school, and that its people should not be required to travel long distances for an education, while Martinez made the point that in all New Mexico, Las Vegas was best suited and prepared to be home to a normal school.

Not persuaded, Fall reminded both Veeder and Martinez that in prior discussions they had agreed that a normal school would be located in Las Vegas only after statehood, and that Veeder’s amendment would “load down” Fall’s legislation. Besides, Fall argued, pledges for land and money had already been secured in Silver City.

Only 12 senators constituted the Territorial Council in 1893, and whether Highlands University would be born that fateful Monday in February, turned on whether John DeWitt Veeder and Felix Martinez were crafty enough to outfox Albert Bacon Fall.

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For more than two years, Nuestra Historia has appeared on this page every Friday, only because Tom McDonald has a passion for history, and an even greater passion in his belief that a community that knows its past is a better and healthier place. During the entire time, he has personally edited this column, and no one could ask for a more attentive and capable editor.

As he departs the Optic for other pursuits, we wish Tom well and thank him for inviting us to provide what we hope is a worthwhile public service. We also thank him for his steadfast stewardship of the Optic, one of New Mexico’s oldest and most enduring periodicals. Few jobs are more demanding than running a newspaper, and Tom McDonald did it well — always guided by the highest professional standards and ethics in journalism.

Las Vegas is a better place because Tom McDonald pasó por aquí.

Jesus L. Lopez is a native of Las Vegas and a local historian. He may be reached at 425-3730.