Texas Living

Get to Know the Strong Women of Texas History

By Christiana Nielson 3.19.18

The Texas history we’ve all grown up learning is long, tough, and battle-ridden. But if it’s been a while since your last lesson, it’s worth mentioning that Texas wouldn’t be what it is today without the many tenacious and resilient women who hail from the Lone Star and set the course for the state we know and love.

From the first pioneers to business innovators to entertainment trailblazers, there are so many historical Texas female figures that pushed boundaries and made groundbreaking strides to better society. You can get to know them here.

The Pioneers

An account of women who made Texas great would be incomplete without the “Mother of Texas,” Jane Long. Born in 1798, she was one of the first pioneers to settle in the state after migrating from Mississippi with her husband. When he was captured and killed, she opened a boarding house that would be used as a meeting place for soldiers.

Fast-forward to the Alamo, which brings us to Susanna Dickinson, said to be one of the only Anglo survivors at the Battle of the Alamo. Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna, leader of the Mexican army, sent her to Gonzales to warn Texans that he would wipe them out. Instead, she bravely gave a battle cry for them to rally.

Bessie Coleman, born in 1892 in Atlanta, Texas, is a different kind of pioneer. She defied the odds to become the first African-American and the first Native American woman aviator.

The Politicians

Barbara Jordan, born in 1936 in Houston’s poor Fourth Ward, is the queen of firsts. She became the first African-American to be elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction. She was also the first black woman in American history to rule over a state legislative body as president pro tempore. She then was the first black woman elected to Congress from a former Confederate state — and the list goes on as Jordan paved the way for women of color in the world of politics.

Around the same time, Ann Richards was making strides for women in the political realm, too. She became state treasurer — the first female in more than 50 years to be elected to statewide office in Texas — before serving as our 45th governor.

The Businesswomen

Neiman Marcus is a household name in the Dallas high-end fashion world, and Carrie Marcus Neiman is largely to thank. She and her husband opened the department store in Dallas in 1907 with the ambition of creating a place to shop that was head and shoulders above the rest. In doing so, she boosted the city’s economy and expanded its business acumen.

Small-town-Texas-girl-turned-business-mogul Mary Kay Ash also made her mark on the state’s history books. Born in 1918, she later turned her business eye to cosmetics and founded her eponymous line.

The Entertainers

Janis Joplin needs no introduction. One of the greatest female blues-rock singers of all time, Joplin was born in Port Arthur, Texas, in 1943, and was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. She may have taken her talents outside state borders, but she never forgot her Texas roots.

The same can be said about the Queen of Tejano music, Selena. The Grammy Award-winning singer from Lake Jackson, Texas, has gone down in history as one of the most celebrated Mexican-American entertainers ever and is credited with bringing Tejano music to the masses.

The Writers

The first Texan woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in journalism was Caro Crawford Brown, for her series of stories responsible for bringing down the corrupt political reign of George Parr. She was known for bravery and adeptness in her writing and was later inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame in 1986.

The “wittiest woman in the Great Society,” Liz Carpenter, was a Salado-born sixth-generation Texan. She served as press secretary for Lady Bird Johnson starting in 1963 and was the first woman to be executive assistant to a U.S. vice president. She later served as a consultant to the LBJ Presidential Library and, throughout her career, brought wit and scholarship to her writing and speeches.

They say as Texas goes, so goes the nation. If that’s the case, then as these trailblazers were changing the course of our state, so was the whole country changed.

For more Texas history, check out our guide to Terlingua to find out more about the Seminole and industrial-era lore that awaits adventurers.

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