Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Ruth Laughlin (Barker), 1889-1962
By Christine Barker, granddaughter of Ruth Laughlin
Ruth Laughlin was born in Santa Fe, Territory of New Mexico on May 14, 1889. Her father, Judge N.B. Laughlin (1844-1924), was appointed Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of New Mexico and presiding judge of the first judicial district by President Grover Cleveland. Over the course of his lifetime, Judge Laughlin was active in politics and in the effort of the Territory of New Mexico to achieve statehood (1912). Ruth Laughlin's mother, Kate Kimbrough Laughlin (1857-1944), a vice-chairmen of the New Mexico branch of the Congressional Union of Equal Suffrage was devoted to civic causes and improving the lives of pioneer women and children in Santa Fe and New Mexico.
When she was fifteen, Ruth Laughlin observed politics on a national scale when she attended the 1904 Democratic National Convention in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father was a delegate to the convention and had invited her to join him along with her mother and sister (Helen Laughlin, later Helen Laughlin Marshall). Ruth Laughlin completed high school, graduating with the first class of Santa Fe High School, and four years later, was awarded a BA in English and Journalism from Colorado College. In 1910 her parents took her and her younger sister on a "Grand-Tour," a year-long trip to Europe to further her education and exposure to the world.
Alongside her mother, she was active in the suffrage movement, assuming a leadership position in February 1916 at a rally attended by national suffragist leaders, Doris Stevens and Ella St. Clair Thompson. Ruth Laughlin was a featured speaker as New Mexico's suffragists challenged their Republican Senator, Thomas B. Catron, for failing to support women's voting rights in Washington, D.C. She served on the Women's Board and other civic organizations in Santa Fe, and following the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, the League of Women Voters.
Ruth Laughlin pursued a career in journalism, traveling and reporting on Native American culture and history. Her work took her to Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. On her first trip to Guatemala, she participated in an archaeological survey conducted by the School of American Research. Over the course of her career, she wrote articles for the Ladies Home Journal, Home and Garden, and The New York Times. She was the state correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, editor of the social section of The New Mexican, and served as chair of the New Mexico Press Association. She authored two books considered classics of Southwestern literature: Caballeros, a history of Santa Fe from its founding by Spanish conquistadors, and The Wind Leaves No Shadow, a historical fiction account of Dona Tules Barcelo, a beautiful gambling princess who operated a salon in Santa Fe during the 1830s when Mexico owned the territory and Santa Fe sat at the nexus of east-west and north-south trade routes.
Ruth Laughlin married William Judson Barker, a lawyer from Washington, D.C., who was appointed New Mexico's Attorney General in 1933. They had three children: Jean, LaRu, and Laughlin. Their marriage ended in divorce. She later married Henry S.A. Alexander, a Scottish immigrant and physician. She died in 1962 and is buried at Fairview Cemetery.
Information on Ruth Laughlin comes from Barker Family archives, which includes personal letters, a 1904 ticket to the Democratic Convention, and biographical notes written by Laughlin Barker, Ruth Laughlin Barker's son.
"435 National Lawmaker-Politicians Hard to Control, Suffrage Leader Finds," The Santa Fe New Mexican, 29 February 1916