Agapito Vigil (1833–?) was a delegate to the Colorado Constitutional Convention in 1875–76, representing Las Animas and Huerfano Counties, and a member of the state’s First General Assembly, representing Conejos County. At the constitutional convention, he joined Henry Bromwell as the only two members of the Committee on Rights of Suffrage and Elections in favor of women’s suffrage. Despite losing that fight, Vigil and Bromwell nevertheless influenced the Constitution through their minority report, which helped pave the way for the attainment of women’s suffrage in Colorado in 1893.
Agapito Vigil was born on September 18, 1833, in Taos, which was then in the Mexican province of New Mexico. (Some census records indicate that he may have been born in the early 1820s. His first name has many spellings in historical documents. His last name sometimes appears as Vijil, and is pronounced "Ve-heel.") He received a common school education. In 1848, during his adolescence, New Mexico became a US territory through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Sometime in the 1850s, he married Altagracia Valdez and became a successful farmer. In 1859 he represented the area that became Mora County, New Mexico, in the territorial legislature. He also served as justice of the peace in Mora County.
Like a number of other Hispano families at the time, Vigil moved north to the Colorado Territory, where he became a stock raiser and farmer in Las Animas County. He served as an assessor for two years before being elected in 1875 as a Republican delegate to Colorado’s Constitutional Convention from District 19, consisting of Las Animas and Huerfano Counties.
Colorado’s Constitutional Convention, which opened in Denver on December 20, 1875, consisted of thirty-nine members. Vigil was one of only three Hispanos, along with Casimiro Barela and Jesús María García, who both represented District 18 in Las Animas County. Because Vigil and García spoke only Spanish, the convention elected an interpreter, David Wilkins, to translate for them throughout the proceedings. The final version of the Constitution was printed in Spanish and German as well as English.
Separation of church and state was a source of intense debate at the convention. Father Joseph Machebeuf, the Catholic bishop of Denver, led the campaign for public funding for private schools, including religious schools. He went so far as to threaten that Catholics might oppose the new constitution if it showed what he saw as contempt for their rights. Despite being a Catholic himself, Vigil disagreed with Bishop Machebeuf and voted with the majority to have public funding reserved solely for public schools.
Elections and Suffrage
During the convention, Vigil was appointed to the five-member Committee on Rights of Suffrage and Elections. William Webster of Summit County was committee chair. The other members were Henry Bromwell of Denver, Wilbur Stone of Pueblo, and William Beck of Boulder. The committee split 3–2 in its decision on women’s suffrage, with Vigil and Bromwell making up the minority. Their minority report was printed in the published convention proceedings. “The truth is we are a human race,” they wrote; “part of us are men, part of us are women—both equal—each superior and inferior. Each is part and parcel of the same humanity. If either is to tread on the other why must woman be the victim?” Their report’s proposal that women be allowed to vote in school board elections was included in the state constitution. Most important, Vigil and Bromwell worked to include in the constitution a provision calling for a referendum on women’s suffrage in 1877 and allowing the question to be put on the ballot again, if necessary, at any time thereafter.
Vigil’s support for women’s suffrage may have been influenced by his involvement with suffrage advocates on the Front Range. He knew Mary Shields of Colorado Springs, who had a reputation for giving prosuffrage talks in a motherly manner, speaking to groups of men as if they were her sons. When Vigil was pressured by fellow committee member Wilbur Stone to deny the franchise to women, he replied through his interpreter that he had been talking to “that nice old lady who smiled so much”—Shields—and that he knew she was right. At the Territorial Woman Suffrage Society’s convention in February 1876, held during the state constitutional convention, Vigil was elected to serve on the group’s executive committee alongside Shields.
The constitutional convention completed its work on March 14, 1876. Vigil signed by proxy because he had departed earlier that month.
After the Colorado Constitution took effect on August 1, 1876, Vigil ran for election to the state house of representatives from Conejos County. Despite his convention votes in favor of women’s suffrage and the separation of church and state, not popular positions in his heavily Hispano and Catholic district, he still won an easy victory. He served just one term. By 1880 he had moved back to Mora County, New Mexico, with his wife and at least one of their children. Much of his life remains a mystery.
Today Vigil is remembered and honored for supporting women’s suffrage at a time when his largely Catholic and Hispano constituency opposed it. His stand at the constitutional convention played a crucial role in making it possible for Coloradans to approve suffrage when it appeared on the ballot in 1893.