Interrelationships of a Home Economist: Legacy of an Extension Agent in New Mexico

By Makela, Carole J. | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview
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Interrelationships of a Home Economist: Legacy of an Extension Agent in New Mexico

Makela, Carole J., Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

In a Point of View column titled "Exploring New Territory Together," I stated that "we are pioneering because the territory is often new even if where we live and work seems familiar" (Makela, 2006, p. iii). I went on to say that many pioneers in family and consumer sciences (FCS) are not recognized for what they accomplished. How evident this became as I learned of a home economist who preceded many of us and did so much for her state and its people during much of the 1900s.

The April 1955 issue the journal of Home Economics had a brief item in its News Notes (1955, p. 296) (often these were reports from state affiliates) that read:

Mrs. Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert, home demonstration agent- at-large and author of 'Historic Cookery,' popular circular of the New Mexico Extension Service, has recently published her second book, We Fed Them Cactus, published by the University of New Mexico Press. The book gives the history of a great ranch near Las Vegas, New Mexico, which at one time belonged to the de Baca family. Her other book is The Good Life!

No, I did not learn of her 1955 book by reading the specific issue of the JHE; I found this News Notes by doing a search in the JHE archives at Cornell University after becoming aware that Mrs. Gilbert was a well- recognized Extension agent. I made the query in the archives to learn more about her and her work as a home economist. Although my search skills may be lacking, this was all I learned about her from the JHE.

My desire to learn more about this Extension agent and author began as I drove to the 2011 AAFCS Conference & Expo in Phoenix, AZ. At one of the stops during the 800+ mile trip (one way) with miles and miles of open country, I happened to find a New Mexico Magazine that featured on the cover a "See what is inside" teaser announcing "3 Women Who Shaped the West." (It wasn't the teaser that prompted me to look inside as much as my own curiosity.) Inside the magazine, the article was actually titled "For Richer, for Poorer," and it described a new exhibit, Home Lands: How Women Made the West, at the New Mexico History Museum (Santa Fe). The actual title refers to the work of women who fostered and shared "treasured traditions" - at the time often seen as the "trappings of poverty" - that have become the rich heritage of one of our states.

Yes, the article did feature three women - the teacher, the traveler, and the trailblazer (Del Mauro, 2011). The labels for the three roles suggest a pioneer spirit and adventure, and each exemplifies the theme of this issue of JFCS - Interrelationships, Interdependence, and Intersections. The three women were true pioneers and adventurers during their lifetimes - challenging traditions and customs, traveling before modern modes of transportation, developing legacies for their families, communities, and country, and developing relationships with people from a variety of backgrounds.

First I will introduce each of the three women, and then will share what I have learned about the first woman in the article, the teacher, Fabiola Cabeza De Baca (1894-1991). The first descriptor of her was "home economist and writer." (You can see why she will be the focus of this article.) It seems that she was well known in New Mexico, but I question if she was recognized to the same extent in her profession.

The traveler was Eva Scott Muse Fényes (1849-1930), a world traveler who documented what she saw in paintings and photography; she arrived in New Mexico in 1899. She designed homes and her Santa Fe home was called the House of the Three Wise Women (herself, her daughter, and granddaughter). Many of her paintings are at the Pasadena Museum of History (California), which includes the Fényes mansion. Her daughter and granddaughter founded the Spanish Colonial Arts Society, which continues to support the arts.

The trailblazer was Pablita Velarde (1918-2006) who challenged the tradition in New Mexico that painting was in the male domain.

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