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Dennis Chavez: 1888-1962: Legislator

Self-educated At Local Library

Dionisio "Dennis" Chavez was born April 8, 1888, in a settlement known as Los Chavez, located in an area of U.S.-Mexican territory that would later become New Mexico. The Chavez family had come to the territory in 1769 after being given a land grant from the King of Spain. Chavez was the third of eight children born into the Roman Catholic family of David and Paz (Sanchez) Chavez. David Chavez worked as a farmer and rancher and took an interest in politics, serving as a local Republican Party chairman and justice of the peace.

In 1895 Chavez's family moved north to Albuquerque. When Chavez entered school, his name was changed from Dionisio to Dennis. In seventh grade Chavez dropped out of school to help support his large family. To earn money, he worked six days a week delivering groceries in a horse-drawn wagon from 6 a.m. until early evening.

After a long day's work, Chavez headed to the Albuquerque library to continue his education on his own. He devoured books, particularly those concerning U.S. history and government. He was intrigued by the country's early statesmen, especially Thomas Jefferson. Specifically, Chavez liked Jefferson's notion that human rights stood above property rights. During this time, as Chavez studied the workings of democracy, he became increasingly troubled by the Republican patronage system that surrounded him. Chavez believed the system forced farmers and laborers into economic and political dependence on landowners and other employers. Chavez was on his way to becoming a "liberal," and he told his father that when he turned 21, he would register with the Democrats.

At a Glance . . .

Born Dionisio Chavez on April 8, 1888, in Los Chavez, NM; died on November 18, 1962, in Washington, DC; married Imelda Espinosa, 1911; three children. Education: Georgetown University, law degree, 1920.

Career: Legislator. Joined city of Albuquerque's engineering department in 1906; worked as clerk for Sen. A. A. Jones, Washington, DC; practiced law in Albuquerque; member of New Mexico House of Representatives, 1923-1924; elected to U.S. House of Representatives, 1930, 1932; appointed U.S. Senator on May 11, 1935, to fill a vacancy; elected to the post in November 1936 and re-elected in 1940, 1946, 1952, and 1958, served until his death; held influential posts as chairman of the Senate Appropriations' Subcommittee on Defense and chairman of the Senate's Public Works Committee.

In 1903, at the age of 15, Chavez made his first "liberal" political statement by refusing to take groceries to strike-breakers during a railroad work stoppage. A few years later, Chavez took a job with Albuquerque's engineering department as a laborer, advancing to assistant city engineer. Chavez's interest in politics continued to grow, and in 1908, he jumped into the fray, campaigning for Democratic hopeful Octaviano Larrazolo, who was running for Congress.

By 1911 statehood was imminent for New Mexico and elections were scheduled to elect a governor. Chavez became a party player and accompanied the Democratic candidate, William McDonald, across the territory during his successful election campaign, serving as McDonald's interpreter. A few days after the election, on November 9, 1911, Chavez married Imelda Espinosa. The couple had three children.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Katie Burke (1953–) Biography - Personal to Galeazzo Ciano (1903–1944) BiographyDennis Chavez: 1888-1962: Legislator Biography - Self-educated At Local Library, Earned Law Degree, Wielded Power, Influence In Senate