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.
Written by Nancy Baker Jones and Tiffany J. González
Read by Jacqueline Jones
The first Tejana elected to the Texas House of Representatives, Irma Rangel was born in Kingsville in 1931 to field workers who emphasized the importance of social justice and education, thereby influencing her lifelong commitment to public service. She participated in farm workers’ marches in the 1960s and worked as a teacher and a principal. After becoming a lawyer, she was assistant district attorney in Corpus Christi, insisting on equal pay before she took the job. She then opened her own law practice, got involved in local politics, and became chair of the Kleberg County Democratic Party.
In 1975, Chicana members of the Texas Women’s Political Caucus urged Rangel to run for the Legislature and helped fund her campaign, as did female farm workers. She defeated an opponent supported by the powerful King Ranch and served in the House for over 25 years. Her legislation aided low-income students and the elderly, provided employment opportunities to mothers on welfare, and created the College of Pharmacy at Texas A&M University Kingsville. Although a Catholic, she supported women’s reproductive rights. In the 1990s, she was elected to the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame and became chair of the House Higher Education Committee.
Rangel is best known for her landmark bill transforming Texas higher education by guaranteeing college admission to high school students in the top 10 percent of their graduating classes. Irma Rangel died of cancer in 2003.
Acosta, Teresa Palomo and Ruthe Winegarten, Las Tejanas: 300 Years of History. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003.
Jeffrey, Britney, "Rangel, Irma Lerma" Handbook of Texas Online (https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fra85), accessed December 30, 2015. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Jones, Nancy Baker and Ruthe Winegarten, Capitol Women: Texas Female Legislators, 1923-1999. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000.
Biography Source Information
Biographies are reprinted from the Foundation for Women’s Resources (now 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.
Audio Source Information
Our project, "Texas Women's History Moments," received the 2012 National Council on Public History Outstanding Public History Award and the American Association for State and Local History Leadership in History Award. The audio clips were broadcast on KUT radio from 2011-2016 during Women’s History Month.