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Life Story: Jovita Idar Juárez (1885–1946)
Preserving Hispanic Heritage through Journalism and Education
The story of a newspaper reporter and publisher who advocated for the preservation of Hispanic heritage through education and social services.
Jovita Idar was born on September 7, 1885 in Laredo, Texas. She was the second of Nicasio and Jovita Idar’s eight children. Jovita’s father owned and published a Spanish-language newspaper called La Crónica.
Jovita’s parents encouraged her to obtain an education. She attended a Methodist school called the Holding Institute. In 1903, she graduated with a teaching certificate and began teaching in the tiny town of Los Ojuelos, Texas. Jovita was frustrated by the poor conditions of the school. She did not feel that teaching was doing enough to change the lives of her students, so she returned to Laredo to work with her father and brothers on La Crónica. As a writer and publisher for the family newspaper, she was able to bring her progressive beliefs to a wider audience.
La Crónica had a reputation for promoting civil rights for the Hispanic community. Regular topics included anti-Hispanic racism, school segregation, the promotion of Anglo-American culture in schools, the lynching of Hispanics, and the Catholic Church’s poor treatment of women. Although her father and brothers wrote under their own names, Jovita used pen names. Two of her known names were Ave Negra (Black Bird) and Astrea (the Greek goddess of justice). Jovita’s articles touched upon issues of education and women’s rights.
Jovita argued that Hispanic children needed to learn both English and Spanish in schools, as well as both Anglo-American and Mexican culture and history. She warned that if children did not attend bilingual schools, they would lose their Hispanic heritage. Jovita was also a strong supporter of women’s education, and said, “Educate a woman, and you educate a family.”
Jovita and her family used La Crónica to advocate for the formation of El Primer Congreso Mexicanista (the First Mexican Congress). El Congreso was a group of Mexican American men and women who wanted to fight for the fair and equal treatment of Hispanic people in Texas. They met for several days in September 1911 in Laredo. The meeting included speeches, performances, and other events celebrating Mexican heritage and criticizing the poor treatment of Hispanics in Texas. Women were active participants in the convention. Jovita joined with other women in attendance to form the Liga Femenil Mexicanista (the League of Mexican Women) and was chosen as their first president.
The Liga was both a political and a charitable organization. It encouraged women to break out of the domestic sphere. The Liga believed that national borders should not separate women, and that Mexican and Mexican American women had similar needs and wants. Members brought their work and their message to both Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. They created study sessions for women, opened free bilingual schools for children, and raised money to help poor families. The Liga promoted financial independence for women workers and encouraged those workers to join the movimiento feminista (the feminist movement).
Inspired by her work with the Liga, Jovita founded El Etudiante, a weekly bilingual education newspaper for teachers. Articles offered strategies for bilingual education and discussed the dangers of the Anglo-Americanization of schools.
Jovita joined with other women to form the Liga Femenil Mexicanista and was chosen as their first president.
In 1913, the Mexican Revolution came very close to Jovita’s home in Laredo. The Battle of Nuevo Laredo took place just across the Rio Grande. Many Mexican American women felt drawn to the revolutionaries’ cause and wanted to help. In response, Jovita and her friend Leonor Villegas de Magnón founded La Cruz Blanca (the White Cross). La Cruz Blanca helped Mexican American women cross the border to volunteer as military nurses. Jovita organized La Cruz Blanca volunteers supporting the revolutionary army, and traveled as far as Mexico City with them.
Upon returning to Laredo, Jovita continued to work for newspapers. She joined the staff of El Progreso. When El Progreso published an article criticizing President Woodrow Wilson, Texas Rangers came to shut down the paper. Jovita stood at the newspaper’s entrance and refused to move. She argued that the newspaper was protected by the First Amendment. The Texas Rangers left, but the next day they returned when Jovita was not at work and destroyed the newspaper’s presses.
In 1914, Jovita’s father died. She and her brothers took over La Crónica. Jovita also continued to work on other papers, including El Eco del Golfo, La Luz, La Prensia, and Evolución. Each of them provided a new opportunity for activism through journalism.
In 1917, Jovita married Bartolo Juárez and moved to San Antonio, Texas. She and her husband founded the Democratic Club and became political leaders in the community. Jovita helped established a free kindergarten, served as a Spanish translator at the county hospital, taught hygiene and childcare classes to women, and worked on a Methodist publication called El Herald Christiano. Although Jovita and Bartolo never had children, Jovita worked hard to be a role model for her many nieces and nephews.
Jovita Idar Juárez died on June 3, 1946 in San Antonio.
- civil rights: The rights of a citizen.
- First Amendment: The first amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantees certain freedoms, including the freedom of speech and of the press.
- hygiene: Cleanliness and healthy behaviors.
- lynching: The illegal execution of a person by a mob.
- penname: A fake name used by a writer to keep his or her real name a secret.
- Rio Grande: A river that runs along the US border between Texas and Mexico.
- Jovita Idar was a lifelong advocate for education, but she quit her job as a teacher at a young age. Why do you think she chose a career as a journalist instead?
- Why was bilingual education for children and women so important to Jovita Idar?
- Jovita helped found two organizations—the Liga Femenil Mexicanista and La Cruz Blanca—that worked in both Texas and Mexico. Why do you think she felt it was important to fight for civil rights in both countries?
- Explore the experience of Mexican and Mexican American women during this era. Read Jovita’s life story in combination with the story of the El Paso laundry strike.
- Compare the life stories of Jovita Idar Juárez and Zitkala-Sa. How did each woman work to legitimize her culture and resist xenophobic policies and belief systems? How did the issue of education play a role in each woman’s work?
- Combine Jovita’s life story with the life stories of Ida B. Wells, Elizabeth Cochrane (aka Nellie Bly), and Edith Maude Eaton, all of whom used a career in journalism to advocate for social reform.
ACTIVISM AND SOCIAL CHANGE; AMERICAN IDENTITY AND CITIZENSHIP