Faculty Recognition - Leslie Oakes
October 24, 2018 - Leslie Venzuela
Pentimento is the phenomenon of emerging layers in a work of art, traces of earlier images beneath the strata of pigment where the artist has altered course. A skilled restorer can illuminate the history of a work by painstakingly uncovering overlays of time.
Through her research, Dr. Leslie Oakes reveals the complexity of women's economic citizenship of territorial New Mexico filtered through the records of the First National Bank of Santa Fe. With her colleague Dr. Teresa Neely of the College of University Libraries & Learning Sciences, Dr. Oakes sifts through dusty boxes of fragile, handwritten ledgers, mercantile records, wills and land grants, and scrawled personal notes, unearthing a broad network of family, race, class, and gender. In conjunction with state and federal census records of the period, she demonstrates that the role of women in the turbulence of a post-Civil War United States, compounded by New Mexico's growing status as a territory, was a significant component of the state's economic power generally ignored in traditional historical documents.
Though most economic resources in New Mexico were largely controlled by men, evidence of women's economic activity and consumer behavior can be found in a diverse body of correspondence: a solicitous extension of credit to a convent of the Sisters of Mercy, ensuring their solvency in difficult straits; household purchases (potatoes, bacon, castile soap, shoes, Vaseline, whalebone stays, and candles) made by Dr. Juanita Cordoba de Trujilla of Mora; a $220 letter of credit for travel expenses drawn on the Banca Generale of Milan for Andrea Balatti of Carthage, NM; an apology for an overdrawn account due to a salary delay from Laura Marsh of Santa Fe; and the ‘X' mark of a woman of color, Ester Dillon, in a signature book.
Dr. Oakes' research has indicated that a large number of these transactions were conducted by widows with access to their husbands' Civil War pensions, and Hispanic and Indigenous women who married immigrants from abroad or other regions of the United States. Other groups included miners, camp followers, boardinghouse managers, and sex workers. Whether prominent or marginal, these women and their links to economic wealth compose powerful layers of identity integral to New Mexico's rich history.