The Santa Fe Plaza has long been the spatial, economic, and social center of New Mexico’s capital city. Accordingly, it is the location of various historic buildings and events throughout New Mexico’s history. Now half its original size, the Plaza is landscaped with flagstone, walks, benches, and trees. It includes storefronts, a Civil War memorial, a Santa Fe Trail marker, and a monument commemorating the annexation of New Mexico. Until 2020 it included a central obelisk memorial erected after the Civil War. The memorial was controversial for generations, as it was dedicated to "the heroes who have fallen in the various battles with the savage Indians in the territory of New Mexico." Protesters toppled the obelisk on Indigenous Peoples' Day in 2020.
The Plaza was founded by the Spanish in 1609 as a strategic location for defense. It later served as the endpoint marker of the Santa Fe Trail after Mexico gained its independence. During the Spanish occupation, the Plaza was unpaved. When Anglo-Americans arrived in about 1850, they brought the Plaza to its current size—about one city block—and enclosed it with buildings facing the Palace of the Governors.
Located at the center of Santa Fe, the Plaza has been the site of a number of significant gatherings and events. During the early 1900s, it became a hub of suffrage activity as demonstrators organized, gathered in public, and petitioned local political leaders. The Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (CU) was one of the most active groups. Because of this, they were labeled as labeled “aggressive” and “militant” for their tactics by contemporaneous newspapers and historians. The state’s constitution made it almost impossible to pass a suffrage amendment or referendum, requiring a three-fourths majority at an election and a two-thirds majority in each of the state’s counties. As a result, New Mexico suffragists focused their efforts on the passage of a national amendment.
Many offices and residences overlooked the Plaza, including the Catron Block, the law offices of U.S. Senator Thomas Benton Catron. On October 21, 1915, the New Mexico branch of the CU gathered at Senator Catron’s residence. They called for Catron’s support of the national Susan B. Anthony constitutional amendment. Catron was a boss of the Santa Fe Ring, New Mexico’s first political machine. He was a strong and vocal opponent of women’s suffrage. His was a significant hinderance to the movement. In the November 21, 1915 issue of The Suffragist, the weekly publication of the CU, a delegation can be seen standing with Catron outside of his home.
The Santa Fe Plaza was also the home to the Second Governor’s Mansion, commonly referred to as the executive mansion. After state governors stopped living in the Palace of the Governors in 1907, they resided in a new building on the plaza that resembled the White House. In 1952, this residence was demolished. During its occupation, particularly during the governorship of Washington E. Lindsey, the Governor’s Mansion hosted several women’s suffrage meetings due to the first lady’s involvement with the women’s clubs of the state. Members of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage even met with Governor Lindsey to press their demands for women’s enfranchisement.
While the surrounding buildings have undergone many changes over the years, the Plaza itself remains. The Santa Fe Plaza was designated as a National Landmark on December 19, 1960 and added to the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966.
The content for this article was researched and written by Jade Ryerson, an intern with the Cultural Resources Office of Interpretation and Education.
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