Chicana History: Maria Urquides: Mother of Bilingual Education


By Anna NietoGomez 2013

Maria Urquides was a third generation Mexican American born in 1908 to parents that had little to no education in the Barrio Libre near downtown Tucson Arizona. Although her parents had little to no education, they were leaders in the community. Her father, Hiliario Urquides was a businessman and civic leader who in 1894 helped found the Alianza Hispano-Americana in Tucson, which became the largest Mexican American, mutual-aid society in the Southwest which subsidized death benefits, social and cultural activities and assistance in dealing with racism. It was a fraternal organization until the 19th amendment was passed in 1919 and women were allowed to join. Maria Urquides would become a member as an adult and it played an instrumental role in supporting her campaign to desegregate the Arizona Schools. María Urquides was raised in a multicultural neighborhood that included Mexican, Chinese, Native American and Anglo residents. It was here as a child that she learned to respect different cultures. Encouraged by her teachers to become an elementary school teacher, after graduation from high school in 1926, much against her family’s wishes but less six years after the 19th amendment became law and women gained the right to vote in the United States, she went to Tempe State Teachers College and she received her teaching certificate in 1928. She financed her education by working as a janitor in the college dorms cleaning the bathrooms, and working as a singer in a local restaurant. After she became an elementary school teacher in Tucson, she attended the University of Arizona during the summers until she received her B.A. in 1946 and her M.A. in 1956. For twenty years she taught at a Tucson elementary school in a poor community that was 98% Mexican American and 2% Yaqui, Chinese, and African-American. In addition to teaching, she spent her energies making sure her students had food, clothing.  The school was inadequately funded and she raised money for school supplies, to maintain the school facilities by painting the classrooms, and planting trees in the schoolyard. In accordance with school policy, students received corporal punishment for speaking Spanish and any language other than English. But María thought she would go to hell when she died if she hit the students for speaking for not speaking English. It was not until after she was transferred to an all-Anglo well funded middle class school in 1948, that she truly understood how poverty and racism played a major negative role in the learning and development of the self-esteem of the poor minority students. In 1955 she began a campaign to desegregate the Arizona Schools and to advocate bilingual and bicultural education. She was often referred to as the “Mother of Bilingual Education,” because of her role in developing the federal legislation for bilingual education that was passed 1968. In her 46 six years in public education she was an elementary school teacher, a high school counselor, and administrator. Maria Urquides was nationally recognized for advocating and developing the field of bilingual and bicultural education. From 1950-1970, she was appointed by five presidents (Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon) to serve on national panels and conferences concerning children and education. In 1965, the League of Mexican American Women, organized by Francesca Flores and Ramona Morín in Los Angeles, California, recognized Maria Urquides for her outstanding achievements. In a time when women much less Mexican American women encountered great resistance to holding any public policy positions, Maria Urquides the first Mexican American woman to serve as president of the Tucson Education Association, on the Board of Directors of the National Education Association, and on the Board of Governors for Pima Community College Board of Governors as a member and chairperson. In 1977, Tucson Unified School District named a new school Maria Urquides Elementary School in her honor. As an activist she was a member of the NAACP, the National Council of Christian and Jews, Urban League, the YMCA and the American Red Cross.  She attended and was a speaker at the 1971 National Chicana Conference in Houston.  In 1983, she received an honorary Doctor of Law from the University of Arizona.  She died at the age of 85 in 1994.


  1. Maritza De La Trinidad, Collective outrage:  Mexican American Activism and the Quest for Educational Equality and Reform, 1950-1990, Dissertation published by Bibliolabs, 2011. pp. 162 -169.
  2. Elizabeth Quiroz, The Education and Public Career of María Urquides, Ed. D Thesis, University of Arizona, 1986, pp.43-48,
  3. Yolanda Chávez Leyva, “María Luisa Urquides,” Latinas in the United States, A Historical Encyclopedia, Vicki L. Ruiz and Virginia Sanchez Korrol Editors, Volume 3, Indiana University Press Bloomington and Indianapolis 2006, pp. 780-781.
  4. Maria Urquides
1908-1994. Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records, Division of the Secretary of State,
  5. 5.       Georgia Cole Brousseau, “1993 Bridging Three Centuries: “The end of one era, the challenges of the next” 1960-1979 Part 4 TUSD District History,
  6. Francisca Flores, Carta Editorial, Francisca Flores Ed., Vol. 1, No. 24, May 7, 1964. p. 4 and Vol. 2, No. 18, March 18, 1965, p. 1.
  7. Tucson Daily Citizen, April 22, 1983.
  8. Arizona Daily Star, August 9, 1992 and June 18, 1994.
  9. Arizona Bilingual Council Newsletter, February 1963.

3 thoughts on “Chicana History: Maria Urquides: Mother of Bilingual Education

  1. Very eloquent and critical history; thanks for posting. Ana Nieto, thanks for writing this! And good meeting you at Adjalisa and Citlali’s Dia de los Muertos event. Elias

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