MHD: As the editor of Grace and Gumption, I was inspired by the adaptability and courage of the women on both sides of the border in creating the city of El Paso. The women living in Mexico suddenly found themselves citizens of another country when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo changed their lives forever. The women who came West and South to the raw, frontier town of El Paso were faced with a very different, frequently harsh climate in a town known for legendary gunfighters and lawmen. These groups of women set about to address the issues of establishing more schools, creating cultural programs and increasing medical care in this fledgling city in the Chihuahuan Desert of West Texas. Their efforts were to transform El Paso into a city that would allow their families to thrive. Their legacy is an enduring one.
Is there any woman (or group of women) from history who has particularly inspired you?
MHD: I learned many new things while working on Grace and Gumption, but perhaps the most surprising realization I had was that the nuns in the early history of El Paso were actually the first feminists. Acting as communities of women without the supervision of men, except infrequently by the Bishop, they set about to establish hospitals, schools, and orphanages. The several orders of nurses, social workers, and teachers were also administrators with their direct supervisors being the Mothers Superior of their orders. The orphanage they established in El Paso was the only one that took in Mexican children, many orphaned by the Mexican Revolution. Their hospital, Hotel Dieu, continually operated in El Paso until the late 1980s. They had a level of autonomy that married women did not have and were frequently more highly educated than the majority of the women of their time.