Texas kids study plenty of Texas history as they work their way through the public schools. I know I did. So did my kids. Davy Crockett of the coonskin cap and the Alamo, General Sam Houston, right on through Vice-President (under Franklin Roosevelt) "Cactus Jack" Garner and President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Today, I am sure, it covers the two President Bushes. We did governors. We did war heroes.
But there was something we didn't do. Women. Oh, maybe we talked about a couple. "Yellow Rose of Texas," was a heroine of the Texas Revolution because she used her womanly wiles. The notorious first woman governor "Ma" Ferguson was always mentioned in the same breath with her husband who had been impeached. She ran on the platform "Two for the price of one." If you consider only the facts given in the history books, you would think that all the men got to Texas and stayed in Texas all by themselves. Makes you wonder how we got so many "native Texans."
I'm not the only one to notice the glaring omission of the women. Historians Judith N. McArthur and Harold L. Smith noticed. And they have done more. They have set about getting twentieth-century women into the history books, not only by co-authoring this enlightening book, but also by encouraging other historians to build on their work.
As McArthur and Smith lament in their introduction, "Even conscientious readers can hardly avoid concluding that Texas women have no history to speak of, and the twentieth century unfolded without women's labor, civic engagement, social protest and political organizing."
Say it isn't so! And they do. They divide the century into four eras, examing the women in each: 1900-1920, "Social Reform and Suffrage in the Progressive Era"; 1920-1945, "Post-Suffrage Politics, Depression, and War"; 1945-1965, Conformity, Civil Rights, and Social Protest; and, finally, 1965-2000, Feminism, Backlash and Political Culture. For a relatively brief book (under 300 pages book), the authors do a stunningly comprehensive job, on several levels. Each section begins with a extensive discussion and analysis of the period. They cover women of prominence, such as Annette Finnegan, establishing the Texas Woman Suffrage Association in 1903; Jesse Daniel Ames, fighting the Klu Klux Klan in the 1920s; Oveta Culp Hobby, founding the Women's Auxiliary Corps of the U.S. Army in World War II and establishing a woman's right to serve her country; Ida Darden, finding a Communist under every bush in the 1950s; Lulu White and Christia Adair, working through the NAACP to integrate the public schools in the 1950s; Ann Richards, earning the governor's office and proving that humor and politics do blend; and the currently serving Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.
The less well-known also appear: the club women establishing libraries early in the century; the League of Women Voters working for a state constitutional amendment to allow women on state juries (not until 1954!); and African American and Hispanic women cleaning those clubwomen's houses and cooking their dinners. They consider the women (like my grandmother) working alongside their husbands and children on isolated farms, the factory workers, the teachers, the secretaries and the telephone operators.
In short, the lost women are found and their many stories told—or perhaps more accurately, introduced. The authors view their work as a sampler, giving us a mere taste of the fascinating and varied stories they've touched on. They want us to go back for more, to delve more deeply, and to make more discoveries.
To that end, they include the women's own voices, Each section concludes with a generous sampling of primary documents, the words of the women themselves taken from letters, diaries, memoirs, and oral histories. As a researcher, I am impressed by the effort and scholarship that went into this project. As a reader, I am enchanted. These personal accounts alone make the book a treasure. (And as a result of my sampling, yes, I have already ordered several of the books they mention. I want to know more.)
The authors, both historians, give as one of the purposes of the book the hope that "it will suggest research topics to young scholars." It certainly has made this old scholar want to hit the road for Victoria (where they teach at the University of Houston campus), enroll in one of their classes, and settle down to writing a term paper.
A final note: I trust historians in other states are creating similar samplers of their women. If not, I hope they will get busy. It needs to be done.
Judith N. McArthur is author of Creating the New Woman: The Rise of Southern Women's Progressive Culture in Texas. Harold L. Smith is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society of Great Britain and author of The British Women's Suffrage Campaiogn 1866-1928. Together they wrote Minnie Fisher Cunningham: A Suffragist's Life in Politics, which won the Liz Carpenter Award for Research in the History of Women and the T. R. Fehrenbach Book Award. Both teach at the University of Houston-Victoria.
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