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Early Influencer: Annette Strauss, Dallas’ Mayoral Pioneer

The political barrier-breaker was also a powerhouse fundraiser and a fashion model.
| |Courtesy of Dallas Municipal Archives
Annette Strauss
Courtesy of Dallas Municipal Archives

Houston native Annette Strauss’ life consisted of breaking numerous barriers and service across the civic and cultural organizations of Dallas. From politics and modeling to leading nonprofits and caring for homeless children, she was a major player in North Texas throughout her life.

Her mayoral career began shortly after an awakening afternoon drive where she found a woman and her children homeless, living underneath a bridge during a time of political and social tumult. This led Strauss to coordinate support from the city, raise the required funding, founding Dallas’ very first shelter for homeless families, Family Gateway. Her election as mayor was catalytic for the city’s political and economic challenges in May of 1987, as not only the first female elect but also the city’s first Jewish mayor.

She attended Rice University for one year before transferring to the University of Texas at Austin, where she was named Outstanding Woman Speaker in the Southwest. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1944, she went on to earn her master’s in sociology and psychology at Columbia University while being a fashion model for the John Robert Powers agency in New York City.

Strauss and her husband Theodore H. Strauss moved to Dallas where they raised two daughters. Strauss began her volunteer work for the United Jewish Appeal Drive, SMU, Dallas Symphony, and others, and soon discovered she had a knack for raising support. She became Dallas’ most effective fund-raiser, raising over $20 million for various citywide campaigns and projects.

Eventually, she made the decision to enter politics, first running for city council and winning her seat in 1983. She matched a sharp political mind with a quick wit, joking with the press after winning district 10. “I always wanted to be a ten,” she told news reporters upon her election.

Strauss led press meetings with grace and courage even though her campaign was during a difficult time for anyone in the political realm. “I’m looking forward to just working with people,” she said at the time. “There’s nothing wrong with confrontation if it’s not destructive.”

After serving as Mayor Pro Tem, she ran for mayor and was elected in 1987 with 56 percent of the vote, becoming Dallas’ first elected female and Jewish mayor. Her election and success as mayor marked a pivotal moment in Dallas history in breaking gender barriers and ethnic discrimination. During her two terms, Strauss presided over the divisive realignment of the City Council into single-member rather than at large districts, which diversified public leadership in the city.

Strauss did not shy away from a challenge, declaring Dallas’ social climate “as a great responsibility. Dallas is a great city and it has problems, but Dallas views its problems as challenges.”

Her political career was not her only lasting legacy. Her work with homeless families began one day before she entered politics, when an afternoon drive allowed her to cross paths with a woman and her children living underneath a bridge. Over the years, Strauss’ passion led her to coordinate support from the city, raise the required funding, and found Dallas’ first shelter for homeless families, Family Gateway.

Tdoay, Family Gateway operates three emergency shelters for families with children as well as arrangements with apartment complexes to house additional families. In 2020, 540 families were diverted from a homeless shelter, 508 families were served in their housing programs, and 279 families were served in supportive housing.

After her time as mayor came to an end in 1991, Annette Strauss continued to serve as an ambassador at large for Dallas as well as chair of several city and development boards. The City Council recognized her legacy by renaming Artist Square in the Arts District the Annette Strauss Square in memory of her dedication to the arts throughout her life.