El senador, Dennis Chavez: New Mexico native son, American senior statesman, 1888--1962

Rosemary T. Diaz
Dept. of History, Arizona State University
July, 2006


This study examines the life and times of Senator Dennis Chávez, 1888--1962, with a focus on his national political life from 1930 to his death in office. The study begins with the Chávez family patriarch arriving in the northernmost region (New Mexico) of the Spanish frontier in 1600. The Chávez family expanded and settled into this frontier area where it produced major and minor public servants throughout the Spanish, Mexican, and American periods. The family's most prominent son, Dennis Chávez, rose to the highest peaks of power as a Congressman and Senator of the United States (D/1930--1962).
The purpose of this study is the introduction of Senator Chávez to new generations of students and scholars. Chávez established a legacy as the first native born Hispanic to be appointed and elected to the U.S. Senate in an era devoid of minority or women candidates at that level. This work captures his work for the state and his national interests. Fourth in overall Senate seniority by the time of his death in office in 1962, he was affiliated with the two most important committees in the Senate of the era. As Chairman of the Committee on Public Works, he was responsible for more than half of the national budget from 1948--1962. As Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Expenses for much of that time period, he held responsibility for the nation's internal and external security, including international military establishment. The author used a number of traditional government and archives sources in addition to personal family papers. Finally, a private collection of oral history interviews, conducted from the late 1970s to 1988, added breadth to the story.