Old Times and Old Timers

A Few of New Mexico’s First Ladies. 

Once in a while, a book appears from out of the past that offers a treasure-trove of historical information. One such book, which came to our attention recently, is entitled The First Ladies of New Mexico, by Eunice Kalloch and Ruth K. Hall. Lightening Tree Press of Santa Fe published it nearly thirty years ago.

It lists our state’s first 22 First Ladies, from Frances Tarbell McDonald (1912-1916) to Alice Martin King (1971-1974, 1979-1982, and 1991-1994). Mrs. King’s last residence in the Governor’s Mansion is not included in the book since Kalloch and Hall conclude with her 1979-1982 term. These are an interesting group of women.

New Mexico’s first First Lady, after statehood, was Frances Tarbell McDonald, wife of the state’s first elected governor, William C. McDonald. Like most of the wives of our governors, Mrs. McDonald was not born in New Mexico. She first saw the light of day in 1852 in Wisconsin. As a young woman, she emigrated to New Mexico with her first husband, Thomas B. McCourt. They settled in Lincoln County where he died after a few years. She married William C. McDonald in 1891. She was 60 years old when she moved to Santa Fe, and she is said to have been known as “a gracious hostess, entertaining with ease and charm.” She was active in the Episcopal Church and the Woman’s Club. She died at Carrizozo at the age of 84.

Mrs. McDonald’s successor, Margarita C. de Baca, was a native of New Mexico, born in 1873 to a wealthy family of ranchers and sheep men at Peña Blanca. She was also one of the shortest-serving First Ladies. She married Ezequiel C. de Baca, himself well-off and a newspaper publisher, in 1890 and they settled in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Over the next few years, Ezequiel took more and more interest in public affairs and politics, a situation that did not please Margarita. In 1912, Ezequiel C. de Baca was elected as New Mexico’s first Lieutenant Governor. Margarita does not appear to have been particularly impressed with her husband’s new position, and she did not attend the state’s first inaugural. “I just couldn’t make it,” she said. She continued to spend most of her time in Las Vegas with her family.

She became considerably concerned when Ezequiel was himself nominated as a Democrat for governor in 1916. His health had not been good — he suffered from pernicious anemia — and she feared that the campaign would be too much for him. He managed, however, and won, only to enter a California hospital soon after Election Day. He returned to Santa Fe on December 30, 1916 and was immediately taken to St. Vincent’s Sanitarium. He never left. The oath of office was administered there on January 1, 1917, and Governor C. de Baca died on February 18 of the same year. The former First Lady returned to Las Vegas where she lived until her own death in 1932.

One interesting occupant of the Governor’s Mansion was Lillie Roberts Hinkle, a native of Texas. An autobiographical sketch about her reads, in part, “In May, 1887, I started from . . . Gillespie County, Texas, with my father and seventeen months old brother, Fred. We were accompanied by . . . Mr. and Mrs. Lee [who] traveled in a new canvas topped hack, in which we children rode and we had a covered wagon to carry food bedding, tent and luggage. We traveled over dirt roads [and] sometimes cow trails. We were six weeks making the trip to Nogal, a distance of approximately seven hundred miles.” Lillie was 12 years old at the time. She met and married James J. Hinkle, called the “Cowboy Governor” long before that sobriquet was applied to Governor Bruce King.¹ Hinkle served one term and returned to Carrizozo. Lillie was active in the Daughters of the American Revolution, and it was under her leadership that a contest was held to find a new design for the New Mexico state flag.²

One of the best known of New Mexico First Ladies was Carrie Wooster Tingley. She arrived in Albuquerque from Bowling Green, Ohio, in around 1910 suffering from tuberculosis. She had been born into a wealthy farm and oil family (a main street in Bowling Green was named for her family). It was there that Clyde Tingley, a machinist at a local auto factory, first courted her. He later followed her to New Mexico where they were married in 1911. According to Kalloch and Hall, “She had resources and a generous heart, as well. She was genuinely concerned with those less fortunate than she.” The Carrie Tingley Hospital for children in Truth or Consequences was named for her, and upon her death from leukemia in 1961, one fifth of her estate went to that organization.

Many others of the First Ladies are interesting. The shortest serving was Alice Schwerdtfeger Bolack, who served even less time in the mansion (she actually never moved into it), than Margarita C. de Baca, at thirty-two days. Alice Martin King, of course, served the longest at twelve years. The youngest was Adelaida Joshphine Anaya Cargo, better known as Ida Jo, was 26 when she became first lady in 1967. The oldest was Francis Lacker Seligman who was 64 when she became first lady in 1931. We’ll consider the careers of some of the others in future columns.

Notes: ¹ Governor Bruce Kings autobiography is entitled Cowboy in the Roundhouse.

² Dr. Harry Mera submitted the winning design, which was adopted by the legislature in 1925.

Don Bullis’ latest book, New Mexico Historical Biographies is available at area bookstores. He may be reached at donbullis@msn.com, or by going to his webpage at donbullis.biz