Griselda Álvarez and the First Female Governorship Bid

Griselda Alvarez, a political powerhouse, defied tradition by running for governor of Colima, Mexico. Despite facing challenges over her non-native roots, she became the 1st female candidate for the state, etching her name in Mexican political history.

Griselda Álvarez and the First Female Governorship Bid
Griselda Álvarez: Scholar, writer, politician — a woman who broke barriers in Mexican politics. Credit: AGN, Photographic Archives, Hermanos Mayo, Alphabetical 2nd part, HMA/AG2/0122, 1978, First governor of Colima.

Griselda Álvarez stood out in the history of Mexico for her academic, political, cultural and administrative career. In addition to being a renowned writer, teacher, journalist and politician, she was the first woman to hold the position of governor of a Mexican state. Throughout her career, she held important positions in public administration, such as deputy general director of Educational Social Action of the Ministry of Public Education (SEP), head of Social Services of the Mexican Social Security Institute, among others.

Her career was also marked by numerous awards and distinctions, including being a candidate for the Peace Education Award. Álvarez also wrote poetry, was a teacher and held management positions in various federal agencies, especially in the SEP and the Ministry of Health and Assistance. Despite her versatility in holding public positions, her interest in entering politics became evident when in 1976 she became senator for the State of Jalisco.

During her term as senator, she outlined her interest in continuing in political life, which was reaffirmed when she expressed her aspiration to run for the position of governor of Colima. In 1978, the local political media mentioned that, in Mexico City, then President Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado was backing the nomination of candidates for governor, among them Griselda's figure stood out. Until that moment, it was believed that the support in Colima was not favorable to her because she was originally from the State of Jalisco, which made it impossible for her because of the local Constitution.

Rumors about her possible election as a gubernatorial candidate began to grow. Local newspapers, news media and political figures focused on the suspicion that the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI) would elect for the first time in its history a woman to obtain a high ranking position in the country's politics and public administration, a governorship. In this context, on December 5, 1978, the federal deputy Fernando Moreno Peña issued and made public a communiqué addressed to Mr. Gustavo Carvajal Moreno, president of the PRI's National Executive Committee, in which he implied that they knew that the candidacy would favor Griselda Álvarez:

The people of Colima in its great majority is PRI and anxiously awaits the publication of the call, since this will bring again the calm to the State, it is necessary to add also that comments have arisen in different senses, before the chance that the P.R.I postulate in Colima to a woman for the first time as candidate to governor […]they speak of possible reforms to the constitution: I ask myself: will this be convenient, should it be done, others say that whether the center wants it fills or not the requirements, she will be the candidate.

By December 28, 1978, the rumors seemed to become reality. Although it was not officially confirmed, it was known that Griselda would be the chosen one for the contest. Local newspapers in Colima published articles corroborating this information. One newspaper published a note titled "An old legend", it was expressed:

I sense that the political case of Colima will be resolved in favor of Senator and Professor Griselda Álvarez Ponce de León, even if no right assists her and even if Mr. President of the Republic, on whom only impositions or releases depend, commits an injustice, a constitutional violation and an affront to the sovereignty of the State and the dignity of its inhabitants.

By January 9, 1979, everything seemed to indicate that the PRI candidate would soon be announced. The free press of Colima pointed out the inconsistencies in the candidacy, it argued that Griselda was not native to the state, she was not even the daughter of a mother from Colima. It was affirmed that this situation generated an incapacity to govern, since she was not familiar with the state. Furthermore, it was attributed to her the supposed faults of her lineage, since it was said that when her great-grandfather, General Manuel Álvarez, was governor of Colima, he asked President Benito Juárez to take land from said state and give it to Jalisco because he felt incapable of governing a territory of greater extension.

The speculations came to an end on January 12, 1979, between 7:30 and 8:20 p.m. when Senator Griselda Álvarez Ponce de León, who, if elected, would govern for the period from 1979 to 1985, was asked to register as a pre-candidate for the government of the State of Colima. The PRI had a candidate.

The local newspapers did not see the candidate's gender as problematic. Her solid academic and public administration background supported her as a candidate worthy of occupying a public office of that magnitude. However, her Jalisco origin generated criticism throughout her political campaign. It was argued that, although the senator was an intelligent, cultured and respectable woman in every sense, her not belonging to the state raised concerns. Speeches arose that, rather than being against her, advocated the defense of the state's sovereignty and the legitimate right of its inhabitants to be governed by Colima residents.

The story of Griselda Alvarez's candidacy for governor of Colima is important in the politics of our country, as it reflected the change and controversy that marked her path to political leadership. The support of President Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado and the backing of the PRI were crucial steps in her path to the electoral race. Although she faced challenges and questions about her ability to govern a state to which she did not belong by birth, her election as a candidate was engraved in the historical and political events of Mexico.

Source: Archivo General de la Nación. “La primera gobernadora de México: una candidatura polémica.”, Accessed 20 June 2024.