Dress to Impress

Santa Fe Prep students celebrate women’s contributions to New Mexico history

The paper dress representing Navajo public health activist Annie Dodge Wauneka sports a black top with red undertones constructed with folded photos and articles about Wauneka colored to mimic the appearance of velvet. Painted turquoise jewelry and a long, pleated skirt made from a map of McKinley County painted cornflower blue and dotted with bright red flowers completes the ensemble.

“Wauneka focused her life on reconciling differences between Western and traditional Navajo medicine, specifically in the Navajo Nation’s fight against tuberculosis,” Bella Caldwell, the senior student at Santa Fe Preparatory School who made the dress, says in a presentation of her historical art project. “Needless to say, I was very excited to create something that would represent this incredible woman.”

Caldwell and her eight classmates in Santa Fe Prep’s Women of the Southwest class have worked throughout the semester on individual research projects focusing on significant women of New Mexico’s history.

They then created art projects—paper dresses representing female trailblazers—based on their research, with assistance and mentoring from Kansas-based artist Liza MacKinnon, a fellow at the Women’s International Study Center in Santa Fe. The students presented their art projects March 14 at the historic Acequia Madre House, which houses the center.

MacKinnon also presented a centerpiece paper dress project: a full-sized dress modeled after one worn by Eva Scott Fényes, the famous local painter who built the Acequia Madre House with her daughter and granddaughter.

“I am really blown away by the students’ work, and I have enjoyed learning about all of these different historic women,” MacKinnon said when presenting the project. “For this fellowship…I lived here for a month in total, immersed myself in the Acequia [Madre] House history and learned about women who paved the way for our privileges that we enjoy now.”

Some students took a more controversial approach, researching figures like Matilda Coxe Stevenson—a pioneer in the field of Indigenous anthropology who senior Kaden Logghe also noted had a reputation for unethical behavior.

“She was met with some opposition from pueblos and even other researchers at the time for her practices, such as intimidation, bribery and threats,” Logghe says. “Matilda Coxe Stevenson is morally complicated, but I am grateful that I can see the progress that she has made since she made the first step in the right direction—and some wrong ones.”

Members of the state’s International Women’s Forum group, who indirectly inspired the Women of the Southwest course with its New Mexico Historic Women Marker Program, also attended to take in the students’ historical interpretations.

“I think it’s such an imaginative way to do research on the women,” Kris Pettersen, director of the program, says. “It’s a fabulous reflection of the many unique identities of women in this program.”

Seventh-grade history teacher Lisa Nordstrum, who created the Women of the Southwest class, realized when she began teaching New Mexico history, women were absent from the class’s textbook’s narrative.

“I started researching, and stumbled on the website; the New Mexico Historic Women Marker Program,” Nordstrum tells SFR. “I just started making projects and ideas, and taught my seventh graders about the women of New Mexico. I have a degree in Southwest Studies and Women’s Studies, so I began to combine that, and I approached the school with the idea that I would teach an upper-grade course, just on women in the Southwest.”

The school agreed, and the class became an elective available to junior and senior students “roughly every two or three years,” Nordstrum says. She describes the courses as one that excites its students, “especially if they’ve been in my New Mexico history class and I’ve already been kind of planting that seed with them.”

The idea for this semester’s art and research project, Nordstrum says, came from her preferred method of project-based teaching.

“I find it’s really important to get students off campus, in archives and doing primary source research,” Nordstrum says. “We have so many wonderful resources throughout the state for that in our museums, archives and libraries.”

Shortly after she began teaching the elective, Nordstrum began to work with the International Women’s Forum to develop a K-12 curriculum that covers women in New Mexico, which she later worked on with the Public Education Department to align it with the department’s content standards.

“It will be uploaded onto their website. Teachers that are seeking, say, meeting a standard in a particular area at a particular grade level, will be able to go in, find the standard, and see that my curriculum links to that,” Nordstrum says. “Then, it’s also being considered to be a supplemental curriculum that would be adopted by teachers within the state.”

Currently, the curriculum lives on the New Mexico Historic Women Marker Program website, developed in 2005 to address the lack of women represented in the state’s Official Scenic Historic Markers program. Currently, the organization has 102 markers recognizing individuals or groups of women and their impact on state history.

“We don’t think a lot of people know about the women in the marker program because their history hasn’t really been told,” International Women’s Forum member Karen Abraham tells SFR. “Through projects like this and the interest of younger people and the curriculum, they’re starting to be realized.”

The project spotlights also aims to spotlight women whose accomplishments have yet to be widely acknowledged.

“Some of these women, they’re not Georgie O’Keefe, they’re not known worldwide,” Pettersen adds. “They just did something important in their community.”

Letters to the Editor

Mail letters to PO Box 4910 Santa Fe, NM 87502 or email them to editor[at] Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to specific articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.

We also welcome you to follow SFR on social media (on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and comment there. You can also email specific staff members from our contact page.