Frontier women who helped shape Texas

THE YELLOW ROSE of Texas was a black woman named Emily Morgan, who in April of 1836, was captured by the forces of Mexican Gen. Santa Anna. The general subsequently took a liking to the young servant, who, despite her captivity, was able to send warnings to General Sam Houston of the whereabouts of the Mexican forces. Emily managed to keep Santa Anna occupied while the thoroughly outnumbered Texans defeated the better-trained, better-equipped Mexican army.

Fifteen years earlier, in 1821, boarding-house proprietress Jane Long stored the first gunpowder of the Texas Revolution in her establishment’s tavern. Through Long’s spirited efforts, the Republic of Texas was born.

It was a woman, Clara Driscoll, who saved the Alamo, the symbol of Texas freedom, from destruction. At 22, Driscoll, a Texas beauty and the daughter of a millionaire rancher, purchased the Alamo from the Hugo and Schmeltzer grocery and liquor business for $75,000. In the agreement, Driscoll (later known as “the savior of the Alamo”) confirmed her intent to save the crumbling monument from further destruction: “This property is purchased by Clara Driscoll for the use and benefit of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, and it is to be used by them for the purpose of making a park about the Alamo, and for no other purpose whatsoever.”

Driscoll used the national acclaim she received to further her ambitious goals. She became an author, a playwright, a politician and a major power in the National Democratic Party, a diplomat in Chile, a rancher and a businesswoman. She established a children’s hospital, a museum and an art school. In 1903,. Time magazine wrote: “Politicians learned to respect her. She could drink, battle, cuss and connive with the best of them, and outspend practically all of them.”

Texas women asserted themselves in causes they believed to be just and important. Carry Nation, the “shock trooper” of the temperance movement, lived and worked in Texas for 10 years in the 1890s. Nation, who was known to take a hatchet to saloons, and co-temperest Nannie Webb Curtis traveled the nation’spreading the message. Curtis was a superb orator who was called the “Henry Clay of her sex.” Before getting involved with the temperance movement, Curtis had never made a public speech.

Texas women were never the same after the temperance movement. They learned to lobby, organize and plan political strategy. And they saw the correlation between social reform and the right to vote.

In 1893, Annette Finnigan of Houston started the first suffrage organization: the Texas Equal Suffrage League. One of the most effective suffragists was Jane Y. Mc-Callum, an Austin mother of five. McCal-lum became involved in the right-to-vote movement because, “If women aren’t interested in politics, they aren’t interested in whether their babies get clean milk…”

Until 1918, all citizens of Texas could vote except idiots, imbeciles, aliens, the insane and women. Just five years earlier, the first legislation had passed that granted married women partial-property rights. Married women, however, did not have full-property rights in Texas until 1969. That’s two years after I graduated from high school.

However, the inability to vote did not prevent Texas women from making their mark on state politics. Through the Mother’s Club (later known as the PTA), Texas women were able to initiate all of the following measures: child labor laws, compulsory school attendance laws, consolidation of school districts, free textbooks, higher construction standards, health care for children, school lunch programs, rural school aid and revised public school curriculum.

Some women became so knowledgeable about public school affairs that they were elected to local school boards. In fact, two Dallas women-Mrs. E.P. Tucker and Mrs. E.P. Turner-were elected to the Dallas School Board more than 10 years before women won the right to vote in Texas.

In Dallas, members of the Mother’s Club went into the poorest neighborhoods and set up nurseries and kindergartens for children of working parents. At one such nursery in 1915, a work room was set up for unemployed women to sew while their children were supervised. These women didn’t think the problems of the school system, day care, or job training were too much for them to solve.

Texas women did not just show their prowess in the political arena, they were adventurers and sportswomen, as well. Katherine Stinson was one of the first women in America to pilot an airplane. She made her first solo flight in an open-air Wright Model “B” in 1912, 11 years before Charles Lindbergh even began flight training. Stinson set distance and endurance records and was the first woman to skywrite at night. Her reputation for daring and courage was worldwide; in fact, Japanese women regarded her as their liberator.

Stinson’s younger sister, Marjorie, was also a fine pilot. The younger Stinson was the first female flight instructor and was also the first woman to serve in the U.S. Aviation Reserves Corps in 1915. It was Katherine’s popularity and achievements that helped the aviation industry become a permanent fixture on the American scene. “My mother never warned me not to do this or that for fear of being hurt,” she said of her work. “Of course I got hurt, but I was never afraid.”

In 1907, Dr. Sophie Herzog, a widowed mother of 14, was the chief surgeon for the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railroad. She specialized in removing bullets. When she applied for the job, railroad workers and officials from her town of Brazoria, Texas, gave her glowing recommendations. She was hired but later received a letter from the railroad’s management asking for her resignation when they found out that she was a woman. She refused, saying: “I’ll keep this job so long as I give satisfaction. If I fail, then you can fire me.” She never was fired.

In her 25-year athletic career, no other athlete caught the public’s imagination or was successful at so many different sports as Babe Didrikson Zaharias. She was named the Outstanding Female Athlete of the Half Century by the Associated Press in 1949. She was an Olympic gold medalist, a champion golfer and an Ail-American basketball player.

A FEW OTHER tidbits of Texas history:

The King Ranch? It was run by Henrietta King, who was the sole proprietor for 40 years.

Justin boots? Run by Enid Justin.

The Greatest Show On Earth? Run by Mollie Bailey for 50 years. As a young woman, Bailey rode with the Texas Confederate Troops and served as a scout and spy behind enemy lines.

In 1872 Sarah Cockrell was a widow with small children. She built the first iron bridge over the Trinity River. A wise businesswoman, Cockrell also built Dallas’ first three-story hotel and a flour mill. She is considered one of Dallas’ first capitalists.

Other Dallas institutions that were established by women included the “baby camp” that was set up by Dallas nurse May Smith on the grounds of Dallas Parkland Hospital in 1913. She persuaded doctors and nurses to volunteer treatment for children. Through her efforts, the Children’s Medical Center was established. In 1898, St. Paul’s Hospital was established by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent Paul.

Edith Wilmans of Dallas was the first woman elected to the Texas Legislature. She had been a suffrage organizer in Dallas in 1914 and was admitted to the Texas Bar Association in 1918.

Charlotte Graham went to jail several times during the 1935 strike against 13 Dallas garment manufacturers. Graham and other strike leaders were blacklisted in Dallas and couldn’t find work here. Federal labor legislation later made it illegal to blacklist labor organizers. Graham eventually was rehired by her former employer.

Also during 1935, Sarah T. Hughes was the first woman appointed as a state district judge. As a federal judge, she swore in Lyndon Johnson as president on that tragic November day in 1963.

Kate Ripley founded Texas’ first family planning and birth control center in Dallas with her husband and doctor. She hid illegal birth control information and devices in the shirt boxes of her husband’s business. She accepted no money so that she would be the only one to go to jail if found out by authorities. It was Dallas, 1935.

And there were so many more: Margo Jones discovered and produced Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie in 1944, and in 1947, she opened the nation’s first innovative theater-in-the-round in Dallas. Bette Graham (a single parent, secretary and painter) used her electric mixer to make Liquid Paper-the beginning of a multimillion-dollar corporation. The original city library of Dallas was started by club women. Calvert Collins was the first woman elected to the Dallas City Council in 1957.

These Texas women seemed to know what was important. They figured out what could be done and how to do it. \nd they usually stuck their necks out to se ; that it got done. They knew who they were, and each had the courage to do what her conscience dictated.

It is this sense of self that is most crucial to leadership. Our foremothers had this sense of self. They helped, healed, nur tured, enriched, educated and built institu tions-like thousands of women in Dallas today. As of 1980, the number of working women in this city-59.6 percent-is unpre cedented. A hundred years from now, a woman who is not yet born may stand up in front of a crowd and say. “Do you remem ber 1984? It was a banner year for women in Dallas.”


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