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A more than slightly abridged history of the Dallas Woman.
By Wade Leftwich |


The first white woman to move to Dallas was one Mabel Gilbert, who came with her husband, a riverboat captain. Apparently she soon thought better of the move: a few years later, the Gilberts moved back to Red River.


Wouldn’t you know it. The first civil suit ever filed in Dallas County was a divorce action, and it was filed by a woman. Charlotte Dalton sued her husband Joseph on a variety of grounds, emphasizing her seriousness about the matter by paying her own court costs and, barely a few hours later, marrying one Henderson Crouch – foreman of the jury which heard her case.


The first public hanging in Dallas involved a woman: Jane Elkins, a slave, was hanged for the murder of a fellow named Wisdom in Farmers Branch.


Sanger’s hired the first woman clerk in the city.

” Most of the people who nearly mobbed Senator Lyndon Johnson and his wife in Dallas were women. More than half the placard carriers during Ambassador Adlai Stevenson’s visit to Dallas were women, and one of them struck him. Prior to President Kennedy’s arrival, the right-wing literature being circulated was handed out by women . . .

In Dallas a man whose wife had committed a particularly outrageous act on behalf of the right wing confided to a friend that he had lost considerable business as a result. The friend asked why he could not control his wife. ’Control her?’ the man answered. Hell, I cant even talk to her.’ “

– Warren Leslie, Dallas Public and Private.


The first non-Indian girl born in Dallas County was Martha Alice West. Martha came from pure pioneer stock: Her father, Jentry H. West, was the county’s first treasurer; her mother, the city’s first schoolteacher. Martha eventually moved to Abilene, married and lived to be 100.


Never let it be said women didn’t bring culture to this rough-edged prairie town. Dallas’ first piano was imported by Mrs. J. Wellington Lati-mer, who pleased a downtown crowd gathered for the unveiling of the instrument with the city’s first outdoor recital.


The city’s first telephone operator was Miss Jennie E. Thompson, who handled connections for 40 subscribers to Alexander Bell’s strange new invention.


October 13 was the date of the first dance at the Idlewild Club.


On January 26, the first meeting of the Shakespeare Club took place at the Grand Windsor Hotel. Two days later. Miss May Dickson (who became Mrs. Henry Exall) was elected president, a post she held for 50 years.


The first student enrolled at Southern Methodist University was Flora Lowrey from Hillsboro.


Mrs. Henry Exall got Dallas’ first library off the ground by writing a letter to Andrew Carnegie asking for any help he could offer. The building was completed in October,. 1901. Miss Rosa Leeper, of St. Louis, was hired as the first librarian.


Ela Hockaday opened her private school in an old gray frame house on Haskell Avenue. Initial enrollment was 10 students.


The legendary gun moll Bonnie Parker died at the age of 23, leaving behind this epitaph on her gravestone: “THE LIFE SHE LIVED WILL MAKE THIS WORLD BETTER OFF.”

The 1910 Dallas labor force was 32% female; by 1970, 52% of Dallas workers were women.


“J. S. Armstrong was sitting in his bank one day when a fashionably dressed woman, almost aggressively refined, was ushered into his office. She wanted, it seemed, to borrow $5,000. One of the clerks slipped a memorandum before him on his desk saying she was the madam of one of the most elegant sporting houses of the town.

’If I let you have the money,’ asked Mr. Armstrong, ’when do you think you can pay it back?’

’Well, I know I can pay it back in October after the State Fair,’ came the answer and the risk seeming likely, she departed with the money.

Instead of in October, early in September the woman appeared with the cash to settle the account. Curious about this promptness, Mr. Armstrong called her into his office.

’But I thought you said you couldn’t pay back the money until after the State Fair in October,’ he began.

’That’s so, Mr. Armstrong,’ she replied, ’but do you know I forgot all about the preachers’ convention coming in August.’ ” – John William Rogers, The Lusty Texans of Dallas

“A secretary in [H. L. Hunt’s] office, who had received some bad news about finance, was one day surprised by Hunt coming up behind her desk.

’Honey,’ he asked, ’What’s worrying you?’

’The same thing that’s worrying you, Mr. Hunt.’

’What’s that, honey?’

’Money, honey.’ “

– Cleveland Amory, “The Oil Folks at Home,” Holiday. February, 1957.


The first Texas girl to attend a national 4-H Club Congress was Marilee Dufek of Wilmer, Dallas County.


Even in the 19th century, the Dallas woman wasn’t afraid to speak out on the issues of the day. In the February 1st issue of Beau Monde, Dallas’ high society chronicle, Mrs. Hugh Fitzgerald wrote:

“Beau Monde wants a law making it a penitentiary offense for a man to expectorate tobacco juice on sidewalks and in street cars. It is all well enough to talk of woman’s suffrage, the Monroe Doctrine, the tariff and finance, but they are secondary issues when compared to the above. If the politicians want a real live issue let them rally around the standard of the anti-tobacco chewers’ great American union for the suppression of public nuisances.”


The first woman to vote in Dallas County was Mrs. Emma Peek, who, conveniently enough, lived at the county courthouse where her husband was a jailer.


Sarah Tilgham Hughes became judge of the 14th District Court. She later was appointed a U.S. District Judge.


Babe Didrickson came to Dallas from Beaumont to play basketball for the Employers Casualty Company. She went on to make the women’s Ail-American team three years running, and later organized a company track and field team. In 1932, Babe won two gold medals at the Los Angeles Olympics.


In 1970 there were twice as many divorced females as males in Dallas-26,251 to 14,632.

Myra Belle Shirley Reed Starr, businesswoman, gambler, and horse thief, lived in Dallas in the 1880’s. Of the many dime novels and biographies she inspired, Bella Starr, the Bandit Queen, or the Female Jesse James, printed on pink paper by the Police Gazette in 1889, deserves special mention: according to historian Burton Roscoe, it has not a single fact about Belle’s life correct. In the excerpt below. Belle guns down a deputy sheriff on Elm Street in broad daylight.

“Leaping to the saddle without assistance, she gave her horse a preliminary canter by way of trial, and then rode down the street until the doomed sheriff appeared on the square. As soon as she beheld him, she spurred her horse into a gallop, and, passing within a few feet of Nichols, lodged a bullet in his brain .. . When passing the hotel she stopped for a minute, and, placing $200 in the hands of the proprietor, told him to buy the horse that she was riding from the livery man and reserve the balance for himself.”

In 1903 many Texas artists visited Dallas on the occasion of the opening of the new Library’s “art room.”

“One of these artists was the eccentric Elizabet Ney, whose lifestyle and outspokenness made her a truly ’liberated’ woman of her time. When she spoke to Dallas clubwomen, she said: “You women waste so much time on things that are unnecessary. I sleep in a hammock, so I never have a bed to make. I eat a bowl of soup, and merely rinse the bowl and have more time to do what I want …’ A trusted friend, writing of her later, said she had never seen Eliza-bet Ney rinse her bowl.”

– Larry Grove,

Dallas Public Library:

the First 75 Years.

“It is the conviction of many qualified observers that Dallas has, as a whole, the best-groomed women in America – which, these days, probably means the world. In the first place, it’s easy to keep clean in smokeless, natural-gas-burning Dallas. Secondly, it has what New York and Paris haven’t got: a single style dictator, Stanley Marcus, of the internationally famous Neiman-Marcus Specialty Store. To show the lengths to which this influence spreads, chain-store buyers buy one class of goods for their other Texas stores, but a simpler line for Dallas, so their customers can look as if they bought their clothes from Neiman-Marcus. Almost as swank as a Neiman-Marcus label is a Highland Park address . . .” – George Sessions Perry, “Dallas and Fort Worth,” Saturday Evening Post, May 30, 1946.


Margo Jones began hustling money for a repertory theatre in Dallas. Mrs. Eugene Mc-Dermott gave $10,000 to get the ball rolling. Ms. Jones’ theater-in-the-round opened in the Gulf Oil Building in Fair Park in November, 1947. The first production: William Inge’s Farther Off from Heaven, later retitled The Dark at the Top of the Stairs.

British essayist J. B. Priestley was put in a reflective mood by a party on Lakeside Drive in 1953.

“And if there cannot be a balance of the two eternal principles, then let the feminine principle have the domination. But here was a society entirely dominated by the masculine principle. Why were so many of these women at once so arch and so anxious? There was nothing wrong with them as women. Superficially everything seemed blazingly right with them. But even here in these circles, where millionaires apparently indulged and spoilt them, giving them without question or stint what women elsewhere were for ever wistfully hoping for, they were haunted by a feeling of inferiority, resented but never properly examined and chalFACT



lenged. They lived in a world so contemptuous and destructive of real feminine values that they had to be bribed to remain in it. All those shops, like the famous Neiman-Mar-cus store (a remarkable creation) here in Dallas, were part of the bribe. They were still girls in a mining camp. And to increase their bewilderment, perhaps their despair, they are told they are living in a matriarchy.”

-J. B. Priestley and Jacquetta Hawkes. Journey Down a Rainbow.

The first boat built in Dallas was christened Sally Haynes, after the lovely daughter of a local physician. Young Sally broke a bottle of champagne over the bow of the 87-foot ship. Soon after, Sally Haynes struck a snag and sank.

Larry McMurtry, late of Archer County, now of Washington, D.C., has never found much to like in Dallas:

“Its upper class has never been able to decide whether it should imitate Parisians or New Yorkers, and this indecision has resulted in a mixture of styles that makes rich Dal-lasites about the most awkward and socially laughable of all the often laughable American rich. There are people among them who seem never to have mastered anything except the route to Neiman-Marcus and back, and indeed, the fact that one store can have dominated the sensibility of a city for forty years is indicative of that city’s lack of depth, narrowness of style, and insufficiency of mind.”

– The Atlantic Monthly, March 1975.


The first woman elected by the Citizens Charter Association to the Dallas City Council was Mrs. Carr Collins, Jr.


The first all-woman jury in Dallas County assessed Alvin Peterson 50 years in prison for possession of “200 grains” of marijuana – about half a lid hy contemporary measure.

In 1975, women committed 7 percent of the burglaries in Dallas, 10 percent of the robberies and car thefts, 20 percent of the aggravated assaults, and 33 percent of the murders.


The first black judge appointed in Dallas County was Mrs. Joan Winn.


Dallas’ first Miss Teenage America was Rebecca Ann Reid.

During the summer of 1977, California Angels ace lefty Frank Tanana. an unabashed womanizer, made public the first official rating of women in American League cities. Tanana was effusive in his praise of North Texas women, rating them “the best of the best.” Tanana’s “fox score”: Strong: Texas. New York, Boston. California. Chicago. Medium: Minnesota. Shaky: Kansas City. Baltimore. Forget It: Milwaukee. Detroit, Cleveland. Oakland.