Dennis Chávez

Dennis Chávez
United States Senator
from New Mexico
In office
May 11, 1935  November 18, 1962
Preceded by Bronson M. Cutting
Succeeded by Edwin L. Mechem
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New Mexico's at-large district
In office
March 4, 1931  January 3, 1935
Preceded by Albert G. Simms
Succeeded by John J. Dempsey
Personal details
Born Dionisio Chávez
(1888-04-08)April 8, 1888
Los Chaves, New Mexico, U.S.
Died November 18, 1962(1962-11-18) (aged 74)
Washington D.C., U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Imelda Espinosa
Education Georgetown University (LLB)

Dionisio "Dennis" Chávez (April 8, 1888  November 18, 1962) was a Democratic politician from the U.S. state of New Mexico who served in the United States House of Representatives from 1931 to 1935, and in the United States Senate from 1935 to 1962. He was the first Hispanic person elected to a full term in the US Senate and the first U.S. Senator to be born in the state of New Mexico.

Early life

Chávez was born in Los Chaves, Valencia County, New Mexico. His parents, David and Paz Chávez, were members of families that had lived in Los Chaves for generations. There was no school in that town. In 1895, David Chávez moved his family to the Barelas section of Albuquerque to work on the railroad and Dennis attended school until 7th grade when financial hardships necessitated that he work. His first job was delivering groceries at the Highland Grocery store. Later on, he studied engineering and surveying at night, and worked as an engineer for the City of Albuquerque for several years.

In 1911, Chávez married Imelda Espinosa, a member of a prominent New Mexico family. In 1914, they moved to Belen. The couple had three children: Dennis, Jr., Gloria and Ymelda. Chávez worked briefly as editor of a Belen weekly newspaper, as a court interpreter, and as a private contractor until 1916, when he obtained temporary employment as a Spanish interpreter for Senator Andrieus A. Jones' election campaign. In 1917, he was offered a position as assistant executive clerk of the Senate in Washington, D.C. by Senator Jones. He accepted this position, passed a special admission exam at Georgetown University Law Center and studied law at night. He graduated from Georgetown in 1920, and returned to Albuquerque to establish a law practice. He was successful in defending organized labor and as a defense counsel in high-profile murder cases, where he used his popularity to run for office.[1]

Early political career

In 1922, Chávez was elected to the New Mexico state legislature, but he did not seek another term. In 1930, he was elected to New Mexico's one at-large seat in the United States House of Representatives as a Democrat, and was re-elected in 1932. Chávez served as chairman of the House Committee on Irrigation and Reclamation. He did not seek re-election to the House in 1934, becoming a candidate for the United States Senate.

Senate career

Chávez was the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from New Mexico in 1934. He lost narrowly to Republican incumbent Bronson M. Cutting. However, Cutting was killed in an airplane crash on May 6, 1935, and five days later, Chavez was appointed to fill the vacancy pending a special election. In 1936, Chávez was elected to the remaining four years of Cutting's term, and then won a full term of his own in 1940, becoming the first person of Hispanic descent to be elected to a full term in the U.S. Senate. (Octaviano Larrazolo, also from New Mexico, was the first Hispanic to be elected to the Senate, but he was only elected to the remainder of an unexpired term and never served a full term.) Chávez was re-elected again in 1946, 1952 and 1958, and served until his death in 1962. He served as chairman of the Committee on Public Works from 1949 to 1953, and again from 1955 until his death.

In 1954, Senate Republicans attempted to oust Chávez from his seat, claiming that irregularities from the 1952 election meant the election results could not be trusted. A resolution that claimed no candidate had won the 1952 election, and therefore requiring the Republican governor of New Mexico to appoint a new senator, was defeated by a vote of 36-53.[2]


Chávez died of a heart attack in Washington, D.C. on November 18, 1962,[3] and was buried at Mount Calvary Cemetery in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Congress honored his memory with a minute of silence, and then-Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke at his funeral. At the time of his death, he was fourth-ranking in Senate seniority.


Chavez, only the second-ever Hispanic member of the US Senate, was the first US-born Hispanic elected to the Senate (Octaviano Larrazolo was born in Mexico). He was also the first person born in New Mexico elected by the state to the Senate. By a large margin, he is the longest-serving Hispanic US senator.

He was honored by the United States Postal Service with a 35¢ Great Americans series (1980–2000) postage stamp.

His daughter, Ymelda Chavez Dixon, wrote a successful women's column for the Washington Evening Star from 1965-1981 called "Your Date with Ymelda."[4]

A granddaughter, Gloria Tristani, followed in public service, serving as chair of the New Mexico State Corporations Commission in 1996, as a member of the Federal Communications Commission from 1997 to 2001, and as the Democratic nominee for New Mexico's other U.S. Senate seat in 2002 where she lost to Senator Pete Domenici.[5]

See also


  1. "CHAVEZ, Dennis".
  2. "CQ Almanac Online Edition". Retrieved 30 December 2016.
  3. Diaz, Rose. "Biography of Senator Chavez". The Dennis Chavez Foundation. Retrieved 1 October 2011.
  4. "Ymelda Dixon Obituary - Washington, DC - The Washington Post". The Washington Post.
  5. "Hispanic Americans in Congress -- Chávez".
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Albert G. Simms
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New Mexico's at-large congressional district

Succeeded by
John J. Dempsey
Party political offices
Preceded by
Jethro Vaught
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from New Mexico
(Class 1)

1934, 1936, 1940, 1946, 1952, 1958
Succeeded by
Joseph Montoya
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Bronson M. Cutting
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from New Mexico
Served alongside: Carl Hatch, Clinton Anderson
Succeeded by
Edwin L. Mechem
Preceded by
Chapman Revercomb
Chair of Senate Public Works Committee
Succeeded by
Ed Martin
Preceded by
Ed Martin
Chair of Senate Public Works Committee
Succeeded by
Patrick V. McNamara
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