Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert

by Emma Navajas

Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert, born on May 16, 1894 in Las Vegas, New Mexico, was a Nutritionist, Organizer, and Author of Spanish decent. She is known for making tremendous advancements in food safety in the southwest. Most of her time was dedicated to helping people in New Mexico learn how to properly can, dry, and preserve food in order to make it last longer with a decreased risk of food borne illnesses. She is also known for organizing markets where Native American women could sell their homemade goods and make a profit.

A few years after Fabiola was born, in 1898, her mother, Indalecia Delgado, died and left behind her husband and four children. Fabiola's father and grandmother ended up having to raise her and her siblings. Fabiola began her primary education at a Catholic school named Loretto Academy and finished it at a public high school run by New Mexico Normal. Before finishing high school, she went to study Spanish and history in Spain for one year. She received her high school diploma, along with a teaching certificate, in 1913.

In 1916, she began teaching at a one-room school a few miles away from her family's ranch. She would continue teaching at various schools for the next ten years. Cabeza de Baca Gilbert began taking summer classes at New Mexico Normal and between school and work, managed to get her Bachelor's degree in 1921 with a major in Pedagogy and a minor in Romance languages. Subsequently, she spent a couple of years in Spain doing genealogical research, which is the study of ancestry and family histories. Upon her return, she earned a degree in Home Economics from New Mexico State University. Soon after receiving that degree, she began a thirty-year career as an extension agent. An extension agent is someone who is employed by the government to assist people in rural areas with methods of farming and home economics.

With her new job, Cabeza de Baca Gilbert began teaching rural women vital skills such as gardening, sewing, fruit and vegetable preservation, and how to complete basic home repairs. She also translated government notices into Spanish so that the rural population could read them. One of Cabeza de Baca Gilbert's most important personality trait is that she was an innovator. She challenged conventional rural ways and tried to integrate modern advancements with traditional ones. By introducing the local rural women to sewing machines, they were able to make quilts at a faster, more accurate pace.

Fabiola Cabeza de Baca in front of New Mexican schoolhouse
Fabiola Cabeza de Baca in front of New Mexican schoolhouse.

A few years into her career, Cabeza de Baca Gilbert met her future husband: Carlos Gilbert, an insurance agent and activist with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). Although they divorced each other ten years later, her husband's involvement with the Hispanic civil rights movement prompted her to do the same thing. She ended up serving as the president of a local section of the Santa Fe Ladies Council. Additionally, she was the director of New Mexico's region of the Junior LULACs. Even though Cabeza de Baca Gilbert had a lot success with her job as an extension agent, she soon experienced a great tragedy.

In 1932, one of her legs was injured in a train accident. The results of the accident were devastating because she had to have one of her legs amputated. But, Cabeza de Baca Gilbert did not allow a tragic event end her dreams. A short two years later, she was back on the job as an extension agent. Although she couldn't yet be involved directly with the rural population, she spent her time while recuperating by writing public advertisements on canning and safe food preparation. Eventually, she was able to return to work and she did so full force by visiting thousands of rural homes throughout New Mexico. While doing her usual work, Cabeza de Baca Gilbert began collecting local recipes, farming techniques, religious rituals, and herbal cures. She made her findings heard by sending them to a newspaper in Santa Fe called Nuevo Mexicana and by hosting a bilingual radio program.

Cabeza de Baca Gilbert's career did not end once she stopped doing active extension agent work. She began writing about traditional practices which she had seen in the rural local community and published them in the New Mexico Agricultural Extension Service. All of her writing amounted to a book published in 1949 which consists of Hispanic traditions titled The Good Life. Her next book, published five years later, is titled We Fed Them Cactus and chronicles four generations of her family. Although her work officially ended in 1959, she continued to be actively involved with the Peace Corps and La Sociedad Folklorica of Santa Fe, an organization focused on conserving traditional Spanish culture. Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert lived a life dedicated to supporting and enriching the lives of the rural population, and even though she died in Albuquerque, New Mexico on October 14, 1991, her legend will continue to help people from all sorts of places for many years to come.

Page created on 3/1/2015 2:05:49 PM

Last edited 8/25/2020 7:43:34 PM

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Related Links

New Mexico History Website - Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert
New Mexico History Museum Blog - The Woman Who Helped Make Chile Hip

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