The following list of biographies is intended to be representative, not all-inclusive. For more information about the women whose biographies appear below or to learn about other women, please visit the Major Resource Websites on our Learn More page. We are not adding biographies to this page at this time.
Early Texas, Beginnings to 1836
Angelina is the only woman to have a Texas river, a county, and a national forest named for her. In 1690, the name Angelina was given at baptism to a Native-American woman who was educated by Spanish friars at the Mission of San Juan Bautista on the Rio Grande and perhaps also at the College of Zacatecas.
Various priests described Angelina as having a bright intellect and a striking personal appearance, and as a learned woman who spoke Spanish as well as several Indian languages. Much of her employment as a translator seems to have come through the French Canadian guide, hunter, and explorer Louis Juchereau de St. Denis. In 1716, she interpreted for Domingo Ramon and St. Denis, who led an expedition to establish missions and a presidio in East Texas. In 1718 and 1719, she translated for an expedition that founded the Alamo and the city of San Antonio.
Spanish governor Joseph de Azlor also used Angelina's services when he went to East Texas around 1720-21 to reoccupy missions and presidios abandoned after the French invasion of 1719. (audio)
- Jane Wilkinson Long (1798 – 1880) and Kian
Jane Wilkinson was born in Maryland and after her father died, her mother moved the family to Mississippi Territory. There, Jane met and married James Long, a surgeon. In 1819, he left for Texas on a military expedition and she later left to join him in Nacogdoches. She traveled with their two children and a slave woman named Kian (or Kiamatia) to the frontier outpost. One of the children died during this time. In 1821, the Long family was living at a military fort on Bolivar Peninsula (near Galveston) when James left to continue his military activities. He was captured and killed, but Jane did not know of his death for some time. After others left the fort, she, her surviving daughter, and Kian awaited his return.
The three females spent a severe winter alone on the peninsula, living under the barest of circumstances, with little food or protection. Jane, who was pregnant, gave birth in deep December. Kian, whose own birth date and family are unknown, helped Jane deliver her baby and found food for all of them, making it possible for them to survive the winter. Near starvation, the four were there to see immigrants arrive early in 1822. By summertime, Jane Long had learned that James was dead. Their baby died in 1824. In 1837, Jane and Kian moved to Fort Bend County and opened a boarding house, developed a plantation, raised cattle, bought and sold land, and grew cotton. Jane is said to have known Ben Milam, Sam Houston, and Mirabeau B. Lamar.
Kian, as a slave, was considered the Longs' property. James Long at one point mortgaged her and delivered her to a new owner with the option to purchase her. Later, the Longs rebought Kian and she stayed with the family until her death. Kian married and had four children, whose descendants were known to live in Richmond, Texas, in 1900. (audio)
- Emily D. West (1816 – ?)
A Texas-size legend has grown up around Emily West, often known as Emily Morgan, the "Yellow Rose of Texas." She is thought to have been a free black woman who came to Texas in 1835 with Colonel and Mrs. James Morgan. The name "West" may have come from her association with Mrs. Emily West de Zavala, the wife of Lorenzo de Zavala.
According to legend, Emily D. West was captured by Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna as he marched to fight General Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836. Myth credits West with sending word of Santa Anna's whereabouts to Houston and then entertaining the Mexican general, distracting him enough that Houston's troops swept in and defeated the Mexican army in 18 minutes. The song "The Yellow Rose of Texas," first published in 1858, popularized this myth. There is no reliable evidence that this story is true.
After Texans won the battle, Emily West applied for and received a passport back to her home in New York, probably around 1837. (audio)
Growth and Development, 1836 to 1900
- Dona Patricia de la Garza de Leon (1775 – 1849)
Dona Patricia de la Garza de Leon, along with her husband, founded Victoria in 1824. The couple came to Texas from Mexico after securing a large land grant in South Texas. Using her $10,000 dowry, the couple developed the land for ranching and amassed a large fortune. She also gave $500 in gold, a huge tract of land and priceless furnishings to the first church in Victoria, now St. Mary's Catholic Church. After Texas independence, anti-Mexican sentiment forced her and her family to flee the country. She returned in 1844 to find all their possessions stolen, and she lived quite humbly from then until her death. (audio)
- Sarah Horton Cockrell (1819 – 1892)
Sarah Cockrell was a businesswoman who built the first iron bridge over the Trinity River at Dallas in 1872. She also built Dallas' first three-story hotel and owned most of what is now Dallas' central business district. Left a widow with small children in 1858, all she had was a stack of debts and her husband's ferry business. She thought big and invested wisely. She set up her own corporations, the Dallas Bridge Company, and the S. H. Cockrell Co., which owned a flour mill. When she died in 1892, her properties were so extensive that her will had to be published in pamphlet form. (audio)
- Mary Ann (Molly) Dyer Goodnight (1839 – 1926)
The nearest neighbors were 75 miles away when Molly Goodnight established the first ranch household in the Texas Panhandle in 1877. Backed by Cornelia and John Adair, Molly and her husband Charles co-founded the famous JA Ranch in Palo Duro Canyon, three years after the last Comanches in Texas were driven from the area.
Goodnight gave parties for the cowboys, taught them to read, and patched their clothes. In the early ranch years, she was so lonely that once she made pets out of three chickens a cowboy had brought her to cook for Sunday dinner. She also rescued orphaned buffaloes, establishing a buffalo herd and a Cattalo herd crossbred with range cattle. She had her own cattle brand, the Flying T. In 1898, she helped establish Goodnight College.
- Lizzie Johnson (1840 – 1924)
Lizzie Johnson, the "Cattle Queen of Texas," was an early and highly successful investor in the Texas cattle business. After the Civil War, she rounded up stray cattle, branded them, and drove them north. She was one of the first women to drive cattle up the Chisholm Trail. An innovator in private life as well, Lizzie Johnson kept her business property separate from that of her husband. A worker in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, she also was a pioneer in prison reform. She died leaving diamonds hidden in her room and property all over Central Texas. (audio)
- Henrietta King (1832 – 1925)
As the wife of the founder of the most famous ranch in the world, the King Ranch in South Texas, Henrietta King frequently was in charge of the ranch and defended it from Indians and bandits while her husband was away. After his death in 1885, she was sole owner of the ranch for 40 years. She oversaw the management of the huge operation, along with her son-in-law, R. J. Kleberg, Sr. Mrs. King gave money and land to establish the city of Kingsville and was particularly instrumental in setting up churches all over South Texas because of her land donations and financial support.
- Elisabet Ney (1833 – 1907)
A renowned sculptor from Bavaria, Elisabet Ney moved to Texas with her husband in 1872. Her unconventional lifestyle and progressive ideas made her a controversial figure. She secured a commission to create statues of Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston for the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. The two statues now stand respectively, in the capitols in Austin and Washington, D.C. Another of Ney's works, a statue of General Albert Sidney Johnston, is in the State Cemetery. She became an outspoken advocate of the teaching of fine arts in the state's schools and was instrumental in the founding of the Texas Fine Arts Association. Her home in Austin is one of the oldest active museums in the state. (audio)
- Cynthia Ann Parker (1825? – 1871?)
When she was nine or ten years old, Cynthia Ann Parker lived in a fort built by her family in Limestone County. In May 1836, she was one of five people captured in a Comanche raid. The others were released, but she was not. She stayed with the tribe and eventually married the warrior Peta Nocona, with whom she had three children.
In the mid 1840s, she refused an invitation to return to her white family, stating that she loved her husband and children. In 1860, Parker, now known as Naduah, was one of three Comanches captured by Texas Rangers, along with her infant daughter Topsannah (Prairie Flower). In 1861, the legislature granted her an annual pension of $100 for five years and a league of land and appointed her uncles as guardians.
She had lived as a Comanche for almost 25 years and tried several times to return to her tribe. When Topsannah died, Cynthia Ann slashed herself in mourning and is said to have grieved to death. Her son Quanah Parker led 700 Comanches in the battle of Palo Duro Canyon in 1874, the last major battle of the Comanche tribe before they were exiled to Oklahoma reservations.
The 20th Century, 1900 to 1945
- Mollie Bailey (1844 – 1918)
Mollie Bailey, who ran a circus in Texas and the South for almost 50 years, the only woman to do so, was dubbed the "Circus Queen of the Southwest." As a young woman, she rode with Texas Confederate troops and served as a scout and a spy behind enemy lines. Later, she ran away to the circus with her husband Gus. They later owned their own circus and turned it into a highly successful enterprise. When Gus died, Bailey ran the circus herself. She bought property in small towns across Texas so her circus would have performance space, which she loaned to communities for playgrounds and other public use in her absence. Her nine children were born and raised on the road.
- Annie Webb Blanton (1870 – 1945)
Annie Webb Blanton was the first woman in Texas to win a statewide elective office when she became state superintendent of public instruction in 1918. Blanton was an associate professor of English at North Texas State Normal College in Denton from 1901 until 1918. She was elected president of the Texas State Teachers Association in 1916, the first woman to hold that post. As state superintendent of schools for four years, she brought about better teacher certification laws, improved rural schools, and increased school funding and equality for women teachers. She later served on the faculty of the University of Texas at Austin for 22 years.
- Mary Elizabeth Branch (1881 – 1944)
As president of Tillotson College (later Huston-Tillotson) in Austin from 1930 to 1944, Virginia-born Mary Elizabeth Branch rescued the school from near ruin and turned it into one earning an "A" rating and accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools (SACSS). The daughter of former slaves, Branch attended the normal department of Virginia State College in Petersburg, Virginia, and taught there for 20 years. She graduated from the University of Chicago in 1922 and earned a master's degree there in 1925. From 1928 to 1930, she was dean of women at Vashon High School in St. Louis, then the largest school for black women in the U.S.
When Branch took over the reins of Tillotson, the school suffered from a small enrollment, dilapidated buildings, and an inadequate library. Within five years, she had greatly increased its enrollment, its library, and its prestige. At the time of her death, she was the only black female president of a senior college accredited by the SACSS. She was also the first woman to head an accredited college in Texas.
She was a leader of the Texas Commission on Interracial Cooperation, and one of two female members of Texas' Negro Advisory Board to the National Youth Administration. Under her leadership, Tillotson was among the first schools to join the United Negro College Fund, which Branch helped establish. Virginia State College and Howard University each granted her honorary doctorate degrees.
- Bessie Coleman (1892 – 1926)
Bessie Coleman, one of the first licensed female pilots and the world's first black female aviator and barnstormer, had a spectacular but brief career in air shows. She was born in Atlanta, Texas, the twelfth of 13 children. Her mother, an illiterate former slave, borrowed books so Bessie could learn to read.
After moving to Chicago around the time of World War I, Coleman became interested in the air war in Europe. She decided to become a pilot but could find no flight school to accept her. With the financial assistance and advice of the editor of the Chicago Weekly Defender, she enrolled in an aviation school in France. In 1921, she earned a pilot's license from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale.
She performed widely across the U.S. Her first Texas appearance was on June 19, 1925, in Houston. She encouraged young blacks to become involved in aviation. She once refused to perform in Waxahachie, where she had grown up, until blacks were allowed to use the same entrance as whites to the exhibition.
In 1926, Coleman died during a test flight in Florida. Black aviators memorialized her by naming their flying clubs and their magazine after her. In 1990, a street to Chicago's O'Hare Airport was named Bessie Coleman Drive, and, in 1995, the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp in her honor. (audio)
- Jeffie O. A. Conner (1895 – 1972)
Jeffie Conner was a McLennan County teacher and rural home demonstration agent who became a statewide leader in education and women's club work. Over a 50-year career of community service, Conner served as supervisor of home demonstration activities in 17 East Texas counties. As a home demonstration agent, Conner helped stop the spread of disease by getting school children to make their own drinking cups out of tin cans, thereby stopping the practice of drinking from a common cup. She was also a supervisor for McLennan County schools from 1948 to 1957. She was president of the Texas Association of Colored Women's Clubs and a member of the State Committee on Public School Education.
- Juanita Shanks Craft (1902 – 1985)
Granddaughter of slaves, Juanita Craft transformed the deep hurts of racial discrimination into a lifetime of courageous work for its elimination. She was greatly affected by her mother's death from tuberculosis after being refused hospital treatment when there were no state hospitals for black Texans.
Despite having a college degree, Craft had to work as a maid at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas. In 1935, she joined the NAACP and was named the Dallas membership chair in 1942. In 1946, Craft was hired as Texas field organizer and organized dozens of branches. In the 1940s, Craft organized the Dallas NAACP Youth Council, which became a nationwide model. She was the first black woman to vote in Dallas County and for 20 years was a Democratic Party precinct chair.
In the 1950s, she helped open the University of Texas and North Texas State College to blacks. In 1967, her youth group desegregated the State Fair of Texas. She and other African Americans worked to integrate public facilities through sit-ins and other demonstrations in the 1960s. She received the prestigious Linz Award in 1969 for helping end fraudulent recruiting by Dallas trade schools. In 1975, at age 73 she was elected to the Dallas City Council and later re-elected to a second term. (audio)
- Minnie Fisher Cunningham (1882 – 1964)
Minnie Fisher Cunningham, of Galveston, was president of the Texas Equal Suffrage Association from 1915 to 1920 and became the first executive secretary of the National League of Women Voters. She was an important leader in the campaign for votes for women on the state and national levels. She was one of the first women in Texas to receive a pharmacy degree from the University of Texas medical school, graduating in 1901. In 1923, she organized a Women's National Democratic Club. She lost races for the U.S. Senate in 1928 and for governor in 1944.
- Miriam A. ("Ma") Ferguson (1875 – 1961)
Miriam A. Ferguson was Texas' first woman governor. She served two terms, 1925 to 1927 and 1933 to 1935. She first ran in 1924 on the platform of vindicating her husband, former Governor Jim Ferguson, who had been impeached. Jim Ferguson had been one of the nation's strongest opponents of woman suffrage only a few years earlier, but actively promoted his wife's candidacy. Mrs. Ferguson defeated a candidate backed by the Ku Klux Klan, which was making a comeback in Texas in the 1920s. As governor, she issued many pardons and paroles, backed economy in government and pushed an anti-Klan bill through the legislature. In her second term, during the Depression, she backed loans for cotton farmers and "bread bonds" to assist mothers with starving children. Regulation of the oil industry began under her administration, and she proposed a tax on oil to benefit schools and roads.
- Maud A. B. Fuller (1868 – 1972)
Maud Fuller was an outstanding example of the black women who made the church a strong source of pride, unity and support within Texas black communities. Born in Lockhart, she taught school in Seguin and Austin. A member of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Austin, Fuller achieved national prominence as a speaker, youth organizer and mission supporter. She served as president of the Women's Auxiliary of the National Baptist Convention for 40 years. She founded the first national organizations for black Baptist youth and wrote handbooks for youth groups, church societies, and home and foreign missionary societies. Fuller raised vast sums for missions and went to Liberia in 1945 to secure land for a mission. She set up a home for the aged, published a national newspaper for women, and became a spokeswoman for the black community to many government agencies.
- Oveta Culp Hobby (1905 – 1995)
Oveta Culp Hobby, publisher of the Houston Post, began her career of public service at age 20 when she became the first woman parliamentarian of the Texas House of Representatives. In 1929, she joined the staff of the Post, where she met and married former governor William Hobby. During World War II, she worked for the War Department and was appointed commander of the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps (WAACs). Colonel Hobby had "auxiliary" dropped from the name and increased the number of Army job classifications for women from 54 to 239. In 1945, she became the first woman to receive the Distinguished Service Cross. She later served under President Eisenhower as the first Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. She took over the reins of the Post when her husband died in 1964 and was elected to the Texas Women's Hall of Fame in 1984. (audio)
- Sarah Tilghman Hughes (1896 – 1985)
Sarah T. Hughes was an attorney, legislator, women's rights activist, United Nations supporter, and Texas' first female state and federal judge. A member of a Dallas law firm from 1923 to 1935, she was elected to her first term in the Texas House of Representatives as a Democrat in 1930 and voted "Most Valuable Member" her second term. In 1935, she became Texas' first female district judge and was reelected seven times. Hughes ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Congress in 1946 and the Texas Supreme Court in 1958.
She was national president of the Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs in 1952. The national organization spearheaded her nomination for the vice presidency on the Democratic Party ticket that year, the first woman ever considered, though she withdrew her name.
Hughes helped secure an amendment to the Texas Constitution allowing women to serve on juries in 1954 and headed the Dallas United Nations Association in the 1950s. In 1960, she was Dallas County co-chair of the Kennedy-Johnson campaign, and the following year, President John F. Kennedy appointed her Texas' first female federal judge. After Kennedy's assassination in 1963, she administered the Presidential oath of office to Lyndon B. Johnson.
- Jovita Idar (1885 – 1946)
Jovita Idar was an organizer, writer, and advocate of Mexican-American women's rights. In 1911, Idar and her family organized a conference in Laredo in support of unions, criminal justice, women's rights and bilingual education. She founded La Liga Femenil Mexicanista, whose first project was to provide free instruction for poor Mexican children. She wrote for La Cronica and El Progresso, Spanish language newspapers that condemned violence against Mexican-Americans of South Texas. In 1917, she moved to San Antonio where she started a free kindergarten and was active in the Democratic Party and the Methodist Church. (audio)
- Mary Gibbs Jones (? – 1962)
Mary Gibbs Jones, volunteer and philanthropist, was born of a pioneer family. Her father was a physician, and she grew up in Mexia. She attended Methodist College in Waco and married businessman Jesse H. Jones in 1920. During President Franklin Roosevelt's administration, Jesse Jones was chair of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, a government agency established to help the country recover from the Great Depression. He later became Secretary of Commerce and was considered as a vice presidential running mate for Roosevelt.
The Joneses used their vast wealth in a number of philanthropic endeavors, and Mary Gibbs Jones spent much of her time in Texas and in Washington, D.C., volunteering her time to causes such as the Red Cross. She helped bring radio broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera Company to Houston and was a member of the opera company's general council. In 1937, she and her husband established the Houston Endowment, now the largest private philanthropic foundation in Texas, with assets of more than $800 million. In 1955, the board of the endowment gave $1 million to establish the Mary Gibbs Jones College for Women at Rice Institute (now Rice University).
- Leonor Villegas de Magnón (1876 – 1955)
Leonor Villegas de Magnón was a Laredo teacher, writer and political theorist who played a key role in the border conflict surrounding the Mexican Revolution from 1910 to 1920. Aligning herself with the revolutionary cause, she turned her school into a hospital and cared for wounded soldiers and refugees from both sides of the border. Her band of nurses became known as La Cruz Blanca—the White Cross. The nurses' efforts were recognized as vital by medical and relief authorities in Texas and Mexico.
- Jane Y. McCallum (1877 – 1957)
An effective lobbyist, Jane Y. McCallum used her many talents to bring about votes for women and laws that helped women and children. As an Austin housewife and mother of five, she handled statewide publicity for the woman suffrage movement from 1915 to 1920. Once women had voting power, McCallum organized the Women's Joint Legislative Council, better known as the Petticoat Lobby, to promote laws affecting prisons, schools, maternal and infant health, and child labor. It became one of Texas' most successful public interest lobbying organizations. She was appointed by Texas Governor Daniel J. Moody as Secretary of State, a position she held from 1927 to 1933. While Secretary of State, McCallum rediscovered the original Texas Declaration of Independence and placed it in public view.
- Katherine Stinson (1891 – 1977)
From 1917 to 1928, Katherine Stinson was the nation's foremost daredevil stunt pilot. In 1912, she soloed after only four hours of instruction and became the fourth U.S. woman to earn a pilot's license.
An Alabama native, she and her mother, Emma, founded the Stinson Aviation Company in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1913. Later that year, the family moved to San Antonio to establish the Stinson School of Flying. Stinson Field still operates there. Her younger sister, Marjorie, and her two younger brothers also followed her in flying. At age 17, Marjorie Stinson became the youngest woman in the world at that time to receive a pilot's license.
Stinson, known as the "Flying Schoolgirl," toured the country, thrilling thousands of viewers at fairs with her daring stunts. In a plane she built, she became the first woman and fourth pilot in the U.S. to master the "loop the loop." In Los Angeles in 1915, she became history's first night skywriter, spelling out "CAL" with flares. That year she also flew the first airmail route in Texas, and was the first woman to serve in the U.S. Aviation Reserve Corps.
Stinson traveled to Japan and China for exhibition flights, dismantling her plane for her overseas trips and reassembling it upon arrival. In 1916, more than 25,000 people in Yokohama watched her sky write with fireworks, and Japanese women organized fan clubs, hailing her as their liberator. In 1917, she set a world long distance record by flying 610 miles from San Diego to San Francisco nonstop in nine hours and ten minutes.
During World War I, she volunteered for military duty twice but was rejected because she was a woman. She raised $2 million for the Red Cross through exhibition flights and served as a volunteer ambulance driver in France. She contracted tuberculosis there and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for her health. There she became an award-winning architect, designing apartments influenced by the local Pueblo and Spanish architecture.
- Edith Wilmans (1882 – 1966)
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 State Bar in 1918. In 1922, she was elected to the House of Representatives and served one term. She endorsed legislation for child care and child support and for the creation of the Dallas County District Court of Domestic Relations. In 1924 and 1926 she ran unsuccessfully for governor.
- Mildred "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias (1911 – 1956)
Mildred "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias earned more medals and set more records in more sports than any other athlete, male or female, in the twentieth century. She was born in Beaumont, the daughter of a Norwegian immigrant family. She dominated the women's events at the 1932 Olympics, winning three gold medals and setting world records in the 80-meter hurdles and the javelin throw. She excelled in every sport she tried and, in particular, won every existing women's golf title. In 1953, she was elected to the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. The only race she ever lost was to cancer, in 1956.
- Adina De Zavala (1861 – 1955)
Adina De Zavala was a preservationist whose best known contribution was saving the Alamo as a historic site. She was the granddaughter of Lorenzo de Zavala, a vice president of the Republic of Texas, and Emily West de Zavala.
The family lived in Galveston before moving to a ranch near San Antonio around 1873. De Zavala taught in Terrell and later San Antonio. Around 1889, she and other San Antonio women began meeting to discuss Texas history. In 1903, the group affiliated with the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT). One of their primary goals was to save a portion of the Alamo from commercial exploitation and possible destruction.
De Zavala enlisted Clara Driscoll, one of the DRT's members, to help. In 1905, the Texas Legislature authorized the state to purchase the property from Driscoll, and the Alamo was turned over to the DRT to maintain as a historic shrine.
Disputes among DRT factions about preservation procedures led to De Zavala's imprisoning herself inside the Alamo for several days. Her position, that the original walls should be preserved, was finally endorsed by the governor.
In 1912, De Zavala organized the Texas Historical and Landmarks Association and was a key leader in preserving the Spanish Governor's Palace in San Antonio. (audio)
The 20th Century, 1945 to 1996
- Christia Adair (1893 – 1989)
The civil rights struggle of the 1950s had a champion in Christia Adair, NAACP leader from Houston. As a young woman in South Texas, she worked for woman suffrage, only to find that black women were still excluded from Texas primary elections. She continued to work for full suffrage and was one of the first black women to vote in a Democratic primary after the Supreme Court struck down Texas' white primary law in 1944. As executive secretary of the Houston NAACP for 12 years, she and others desegregated the Houston airport, public libraries, city buses, and department store dressing rooms. Despite official harassment, Adair and others rebuilt the Houston NAACP chapter, which grew to 10,000 members. In 1977, a Houston city park was named for her. (audio)
- Mary Kay Ash (1918? – 2001)
Mary Kay Ash was a multi-millionaire businesswoman from Dallas who made her fortune selling cosmetics and contracting with other women and men to sell the line of make-up named after her.
In 1963, she used $5,000 and a muleskinner's formula for skin care to found Mary Kay Cosmetics. She eventually built it into the country's second largest direct-sales cosmetics company with $1.7 billion in sales in 1994.
Mary Kay's business motto was "God first, family second, career third." Believing that women are more inclined to put their families before their jobs, she developed a way for them to sell her products from their homes while they cared for their families. She advised women not to work to the exclusion of everything else, but to achieve balance in their lives. Mary Kay Ash used a system of encouragement and rewards, giving away prizes such as jewelry, trips, cash, mink coats, and the most famous emblem of the company, pink Cadillacs.
- Wilhelmina Fitzgerald Delco (1929 – )
Wilhelmina Delco experienced many "firsts" in her life: first African American elected to the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees, first African American elected to represent Travis County in the Texas House of Representatives, and first woman appointed Speaker Pro Tempore of the House.
Her presence on the Austin school board in 1968 helped speed school desegregation, and in 1969 she was named one of Austin's outstanding women of the year. Serving on the school board took time from caring for the home, but she turned that into a family lesson. "Mother is not a maid," Delco told her children, and she and her husband, Exalton, created a "work wheel" to assign chores to themselves and each child.
In 1973 she was a founder of Austin Community College, and in 1974 she was elected to the Texas House of Representatives. She prepared herself by "doing my homework" so that no one could accuse her of being unprepared. She fought for child welfare, licensing day care, school finance reform and protection against child abuse.
One of the accomplishments about which she was most proud was the passage of a bill that allowed the state's historically black university, Prairie View, to become part of the Texas A&M system and gain access to the $5 billion Permanent University Fund, which allowed the university to greatly improve. The school named a building in her honor.
In 1991, she was named Speaker Pro Tempore, second in command in the House. No woman had ever held this position before. "I realized how important it was for women and children, particularly, to walk in that House and see a woman in charge," she said. She retired from politics in 1995.
- Kay Bailey Hutchison (1943 – )
Texas's first woman in the United States Senate graduated from the University of Texas at Austin and earned her law degree there. Unable to find a job as an attorney because few firms were then hiring women, she became the first woman to work as a television reporter in Houston in 1967, where she covered politics. After interviewing fellow Texan Anne Armstrong during her service as vice chair of the Republican National Committee, Hutchison became Armstrong's press secretary and moved to Washington.
In 1972, Hutchison was the first Republican woman elected to the Texas House of Representatives. During two terms there, Hutchison worked alongside Democrats to pass reform legislation improving the status of women. The Bailey-Weddington Law, for example, provided for legal assistance to rape victims. Hutchison also worked to establish equal credit for women and stricter anti-rape laws.
In 1976, President Gerald Ford appointed her vice-chair of the National Transportation Safety Board. In 1978, she married an attorney and moved to Dallas, where she served as general counsel of Republic Bank Corp. and became a small business owner. In 1990, Hutchison was elected state treasurer.
She was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1993 in a special run-off election. In 1994, she was elected to a full term in the Senate. In 1996, she was considered as a vice presidential running mate for presidential candidate Robert Dole and was appointed to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Hutchison's last term ended in 2012.
- Claudia Taylor (Lady Bird) Johnson (1912 – 2007)
"Lady Bird" was a term of endearment used by a nursemaid to describe Claudia Alta Taylor. Her mother died when she was five, and an aunt helped raise her. Lady Bird Taylor graduated from the University of Texas in 1933. In 1934, she and Lyndon Baines Johnson were married and she concentrated on raising their two daughters and helping her husband's rising political career.
Long before there was a national environmental movement, Lady Bird Johnson was a conservationist. As first lady, she wanted to see junk yards and billboards removed from roadside view. As president, her husband supported her goals and worked to draft the Highway Beautification Act of 1965. President Johnson's support was controversial because no first lady had ever before directly attempted to influence members of Congress.
Though the fight was difficult, the bill passed, and President Johnson signed it into law. Many believe the enactment of highway beautification regulations would not have been possible without Lady Bird Johnson's efforts. Her other beautification projects included planting thousands of tulips and daffodils in Washington, D.C., creating a hike and bike trail along the Colorado River in Austin, and planting hundreds of flowering trees along Austin's Town Lake.
On her 70th birthday in 1982, Lady Bird Johnson founded the National Wildflower Research Center, a nonprofit organization located in Austin that is dedicated to preserving and re-establishing native plants in natural and planned landscapes.
She is the author of White House Diary, a record of her years as First Lady, and the co-author of Wildflowers Across America. She has won many awards for her support of conservation. In 1977, President Gerald Ford presented her with the country's highest award for a civilian, the Medal of Freedom. On her 80th birthday in 1992, the LBJ Foundation established the Lady Bird Johnson Conservation Award. Austin's Town Lake was renamed Lady Bird Lake in her memory in 2007.
- Barbara Jordan (1936 – 1996)
Barbara Charline Jordan—politician, teacher, and orator—was the third of three daughters born and raised by her parents in Houston. All the schools Jordan and her sisters attended were then segregated. At Phillis Wheatley High School, Jordan was a member of the debate team and learned some of the speaking skills for which she would one day be famous. After graduating magna cum laude from Texas Southern University, she attended Boston University Law School. Out of 600 students, only six were women, and only two were black women.
After law school, Jordan returned to Houston and, in 1960, worked on the John F. Kennedy/Lyndon B. Johnson presidential campaign. During the campaign, she was bitten by the political bug, and decided to run for a seat in the Texas Legislature to represent the Fifth Ward (a section of Houston). No black woman had ever been elected to the Texas Legislature. She ran twice—in 1962 and 1964—and lost both times.
When a new district was drawn to send a senator to the Texas Legislature from Houston, Jordan ran for the new seat in 1966 and won an overwhelming victory as the state's first black state senator since 1883. She was so successful that she was named the outstanding freshman senator. In 1972, Jordan was unanimously elected president pro tempore of the Senate, a very visible honorary position.
More than half the bills she introduced became law. In 1972, when a new district opened for a seat in the US. Congress representing her predominantly black neighborhood in Houston, Jordan ran for the seat and became the first black woman from a southern state and the first black Texan ever to take a seat in Congress.
Her old political friend, former President Johnson, helped her get appointed to the influential House Judiciary Committee. The appointment led to what many consider Barbara Jordan's finest hour as a defender of the Constitution. The House Judiciary Committee had the authority to investigate whether President Richard M. Nixon had acted illegally during the Watergate scandal. After hearing evidence, Jordan realized she would have to vote to impeach Nixon.
On July 25, 1974, Jordan spoke to the nation, telling not only the people but also the President that her faith in the Constitution was so great that for anyone—even the President—to weaken it was not acceptable. To avoid being impeached and tried, President Nixon resigned.
In Congress, Jordan co-sponsored bills to help older Americans, children, the environment, teachers, and the homeless. In 1979, she became a professor at the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, teaching courses in ethics and political values. Though she had multiple sclerosis and used a wheelchair, Jordan continued her busy schedule of teaching, speaking, traveling, and public service.
In 1991, Governor Ann Richards appointed Jordan to head a newly created ethics commission; in 1994, she was named by President Bill Clinton to head a commission on immigration reform. She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1990 and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994. When Barbara Jordan passed away in 1996, President Bill Clinton declared a national time of mourning in her honor. (audio)
- Ninfa Laurenzo (? – 2001)
Ninfa Laurenzo was the founder of the multi-million dollar restaurant chain, Ninfa's, that grew from one small Houston restaurant. In 1948, she and her husband started Rio Grande Food Products Company, drawing on their Mexican and Italian backgrounds. They made and sold pizza dough and tortillas on the east side of Houston, and made enough to support their family of five children.
After her husband died in 1969, Laurenzo continued to keep the company running, though it was a struggle. In 1973, in a converted space in her factory, she opened a small restaurant serving Mexican food from her recipes. Word soon spread about the quality and business became so good that she opened her second restaurant in 1976.
Realizing that she might have equal success serving Italian food, Laurenzo opened Bambolino's Italian Drive-Thru the next year. Later, she opened Joey Jack's Seafood, a high-quality seafood house.
In 1979, Ninfa Laurenzo was named "Business Woman of the Year" by the National Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and "Woman Restaurateur of the Year" by the Texas Restaurant Association. In 1988 she seconded George H.W. Bush's nomination as president at the Republican National Convention. That year she was also named to the Texas Women's Hall of Fame.
- Sélena Quintanilla Pérez (1972 – 1995)
Sélena Quintanilla of Corpus Christi, popularly known as Sélena, was the queen of Tejano music and an international superstar in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Her group, Selena y Los Dinos, was formed in 1981, and in 1987, she won the Tejano Music Award for best female vocalist. She recorded for Capital EMI/Latin Records and in 1992, her album, "Entre a Mi Mundo" (Enter My World) sold more than 300,000 copies, a record for a Tejana artist.
Sélena produced her first all-English language album in 1993 with SBK records; the next year, she won a Grammy for Best Mexican-American Album "Selena Live." Sélena also designed clothes and owned fashion boutiques in San Antonio and Corpus Christi.
In 1995, Sélena was shot to death by Yolanda Saldivar, her business associate and former fan club president, in Corpus Christi. Her posthumous album, "Dreaming of You," climbed to number one on Billboard magazine's chart.
- Katherine Anne Porter (1890 – 1980)
Born in Indian Creek, Texas, in 1890 (as Callie Russell Porter), Katherine Anne Porter considered herself the first native Texan to become a professional writer. She became a highly acclaimed fiction writer, winning both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for a collection of her works in 1966. Her short stories, essays and articles contain many references to her early life in Texas. But she said she left Texas because she didn't want to be regarded as a freak, which was how she believed Texans regarded women who tried to write. Her best known work is her only novel, Ship of Fools, published in 1962 and later made into a motion picture. (audio)
- Irma Rangel (1931 – 2003)
Irma Rangel, in 1976, was the first Mexican American woman elected to the Texas House of Representatives. After graduating from Texas A&I in 1952, she became a teacher in Venezuela. In 1964, she returned to the U.S. to teach in California, where she wrote a book, How To Teach Spanish in the Elementary Grades. She eventually decided to become a lawyer and attended St. Mary's Law School in San Antonio.
After law school, she accepted a job as assistant district attorney in Corpus Christi, insisting that she be paid the same as her male counterparts. Rangel opened her own law office in Kingsville and became interested in local politics.
She won the race for Democratic county chairperson, then decided to run for the Texas Legislature after encouragement from people involved in the Texas Women's Political Caucus and the causes of Mexican American women.
For the next 20 years, Irma Rangel made the concerns of women, children, and the poor the focus of her work in the Texas House of Representatives. She passed legislation providing educational and employment programs to help mothers on welfare find a way to support themselves, creating centers for victims of domestic abuse, helping business people donate food to the poor, extending the absentee voting system, and improving education. In 1994, she was elected to the Texas Women's Hall of Fame.
- Ann W. Richards (1933 – 2006)
Ann Richards graduated from Baylor University in 1954, earned a teaching certificate from the University of Texas at Austin, and taught junior high social studies and history. While married and rearing her four children in Dallas, she began volunteering in political campaigns and in causes for civil rights and economic equity.
In the early 1970s, she served as an aide to state Rep. Sarah Weddington. In 1975, members of the Democratic Party asked Ann's husband, David, to run for Travis County commissioner. When he declined, they asked her, and she agreed. Richards was elected and served six years.
In 1982, Richards was elected state treasurer, the first woman elected to statewide office in more than 50 years. She was re-elected without opposition in 1986. In 1988, she earned national attention with her Democratic National Convention keynote speech that introduced the nation to her unique style and sense of humor.
In 1990, Ann Richards became the second woman to be elected as governor of Texas. She appointed more women, Hispanics, and African Americans to state posts than the two previous governors combined. She also authorized audits of state agencies that saved $6 billion. She ran for re-election in 1994, but was defeated.
In 1995, she became a senior advisor in the Austin office of a Washington, D.C.-based law firm. In addition to her political life, Ann Richards was active in furthering interest in women's history. She was a founding member of the Foundation for Women's Resources, which created the Texas Women's History Project, the first of its kind in the nation.
She remained active in national Democratic politics. In 2006, the Austin Independent School District announced the creation of the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, which opened in 2007.
- Lucille Bishop Smith (1892 – 1985)
Lucille Bishop Smith had a long career as an educator, businesswoman, and inventor of Lucille's All Purpose Hot Roll Mix, the nation's first. She was a home economist who established one of the first college level commercial foods and technology departments in the U.S., at Prairie View A&M University.
She published Lucille's Treasure Chest of Fine Foods and, at age 82, established a family corporation, Lucille B. Smith's Fine Foods. In 1969, she was appointed to the Governor's Commission on the Status of Women and received numerous awards, including Merit Mother of Texas (twice) and Prairie View's Distinguished Partner in Progress Award.
- Sarah Ragle Weddington (1945 – )
Sarah Weddington is best known for having successfully argued the 1973: Roe v. Wade abortion rights case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Born in Abilene, Texas, she attended law school at the University of Texas at Austin as one of only 40 women among 1,600 students.
She opened her practice in 1970 and almost immediately joined with Dallas lawyer Linda Coffee on the Roe case to defend their client's right to have an abortion.
Active in the Texas women's movement, Weddington lobbied in the Texas Legislature for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and was a founder of the Texas Women's Political Caucus.
She was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1972. One of the first actions she took was to change the law that prevented women from getting credit cards in their own names. Other Weddington-sponsored legislation stopped schools from firing pregnant teachers and improved the treatment of rape victims.
When Jimmy Carter was elected President, Weddington became general counsel for the Department of Agriculture in Washington. In 1978, she became an advisor to the president on women's issues, and later became a member of the White House senior staff. Weddington returned to Austin after Carter lost re-election and resumed her legal practice. She now teaches at the University of Texas at Austin, writes, and speaks publicly, particularly about women and leadership.
- Judith Zaffirini (1946 – )
Senator Judith Zaffirini represents the 21st senatorial district. The Laredo native was the first Latina senator in Texas, the first border resident elected in 20 years to represent District 21, and serves as the senior senator from the border and for Bexar County. Her legislative successes include passing bills to immunize 100 percent of Texas children; suspend the driver's licenses of drunk drivers; keep radioactive waste dump sites out of District 21; stop the proliferation of colonias; and reform Medicaid and welfare. Senator Zaffirini has received more than 250 awards and honors for her legislative, public service, and professional work. She holds a bachelor of science, a master of arts, and a doctorate degree from the University of Texas at Austin.
These biographies are reprinted with permission from the Foundation for Women's Resources, Dallas, Texas. They originally appeared in "From Gutsy Mavericks to Quiet Heroes: True Tales of Texas Women," video study guide, Austin: The Foundation for Women's Resources, 1997. Death dates have been added where needed.