Ellen C. Temple delivered the following presentation at the March 3, 2011, Women in Texas History Luncheon, held during the annual meeting of the Texas State Historical Association.
“I have had an infinitely more exciting and worthy life because Liz was my mentor and my friend. There are thousands like me who feel the same.”
– Luci Baines Johnson
The Liz Carpenter Award for Research in the History of Women grew out of the Texas Women’s History Project. The award was part of our effort to sustain the interest—indeed, the passion—for Texas women’s history that started with the exhibition Texas Women: A Celebration of History. Liz Carpenter supported the creation of the exhibition and the many books and events that followed in every way that she could—from speeches to contacts to events to encouraging words. The award is a way to help support your efforts to continue to research and write Texas women’s history and also a way to honor Liz as a maker of Texas history.
In her MA thesis, “Texas Women: A Celebration of History Exhibit: Second-Wave Feminism, Historical Memory, and the Birth of a Texas Women’s History Industry,” Gretchen Abbott puts the importance of the exhibition in perspective. She writes:
“Touring the state in the early 1980s, the Texas Women: A Celebration of History exhibit was the first attempt to create a comprehensive, public Texas women’s history narrative. Surprisingly, the exhibit was organized not by academics or museum professionals, but rather by the Texas Foundation for Women’s Resources.” (Abbott 2010)*
Gretchen’s thesis also places the work for Texas women’s history in the larger national context. After women won the right to vote, there was a surge in writing about women’s history.
But that drive seemed to go mostly dormant in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. What revived its interest in Texas? I’ll tell you a story. The story starts in 1975 when [former governor] Ann Richards took her four children to San Antonio to see the new Institute of Texan Cultures’s panoramic exhibition of Texas history, What is a Texan? Ann and the children stretched out on the floor of the rotunda, with its sixty-by-ninety-foot dome, to watch the epic story unfold overhead in a state-of-the-art production involving 292 separate screens and thirty-eight movie and slide projectors. When the show was over, Ann looked at her children and asked, “Where were all the women?” Ann set out to find the answer to the question. The women were not in the history textbooks or exhibitions or even featured in the Texas State Historical Association’s annual programs. But half the population had to have played a role in our history.
So Ann rallied the members of the board that she had helped found, the Texas Foundation for Women’s Resources. Its founding members also included Cathy Bonner, Judith Guthrie, Jane Hickie, Martha Smiley, and Sarah Weddington, with the addition of Katherine B. “Chula” Reynolds, Mary Beth Rogers, and Ellen Temple during the course of the exhibition. Ann and the Foundation appointed a statewide advisory board of notable women, including Liz Carpenter, who spearheaded the statewide fundraising effort. The Foundation hired Mary Beth Rogers as director of the Texas Women’s History Project and Ruthe Winegarten as research director, as well as a whole team of graduate students, volunteers, and professional historians.
In response to those naysayers who said we wouldn’t find anything, the Foundation asked for and was awarded a $40,000 grant from the Texas Committee for the Humanities, now known as Humanities Texas, to survey the state and find what was there.
We determined from the beginning that the history would be multicultural. And we found a treasure trove of Texas women’s history in the usual places like museums, archives, and libraries, but also in people’s attics. The result was a working bibliography of sources that we mined to create an exhibition that toured major cities in Texas for two years, Texas Women: A Celebration of History. We also created a set of six smaller traveling exhibitions, which could be rented from the Institute of Texan Cultures, and a catalog that was, in effect, the first book in print to tell the history of Texas women.
The interesting thing is that none of us were professional historians. We were citizens who wanted to know: “Where were all the women?” But we were guided by the insights of professionals—particularly Gerda Lerner and Beverly Stoeltje of The University of Texas, who had written about women as community builders whose work, such as starting libraries and schools, was so tightly woven into the fabric of everyday life that it was not visible in the conventional narrative of what makes a Texan.
Beverly Stoeltje wrote the following in the preface to the catalog that accompanied the exhibition:
“As we view the accomplishments of Texas women, solitary and communal, economic and aesthetic, political and philanthropic, we can begin to comprehend the vast influence women have exerted on the shape of life in Texas. Because women’s accomplishments so often benefit the whole community, they are frequently woven into the social fabric with little public visibility. Yet, if a society wishes to maintain its cohesion and continuity, it must grant recognition and status to those who sustain it. It is, therefore, in the spirit of the women who powerfully shaped our Texas heritage that this exhibition acknowledges these creators, named or nameless, and the contribution they have made to the lives of all Texans.” (Rogers, Winegarten, and Smith 1986)**
Through words and artifacts collected from every corner of the state, the exhibition truly celebrated women’s contributions to the history of our great state and found the answer to Ann’s question “Where were all the women?” For the first time, women’s history in Texas was visible. The library at Texas Woman’s University now houses the exhibition and the Texas Woman’s Collection Archive.
Liz helped lead the celebration openings for the exhibition—first, at the Institute of Texan Cultures in 1981, next at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in 1982, and again in Houston that year. The 1982 Austin opening at the LBJ Library was a star-studded, over-the-top celebration. In her masterful way, Liz played a big role in catching media and public attention. Mary Beth Rogers said the following about Liz’s role in a January 2011 email to me:
“Liz was such a booster that it is hard to say what she didn't do! She helped us with fundraising, for one thing. And most importantly, she helped us develop national contacts and interests. . . . Liz alone was responsible for getting Lady Bird Johnson involved in a very personal way. And Liz got Mary Martin to appear at the Austin opening. We probably would not have had the opportunity to be at the LBJ Library and Museum without Liz. . . . Best of all, Liz was our cheerleader! It was an amazing experience for all of us—since we had never before done anything like this—to have constant encouragement and support from someone of Liz's stature. Her involvement, along with Lady Bird’s, gave us instant credibility in many circles, and that was a key factor in helping the whole project be so successful.”
Not only did the exhibition tell the story of Texas women, but in so doing, it also served to raise our Texas feminist consciousness. During this time, Liz Carpenter cochaired the national drive to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Remember that it was Liz who said: “When I die, don’t send me flowers, send me three more states to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.” Liz saw the value of the exhibition in raising consciousness. She wrote: “I just wish there was such an exhibition in states that have not yet ratified [the ERA] . . . I think it shows how ridiculous it is that there’s anyone in the world who thinks women don’t belong in the Constitution.” (Abbott 2010, 64)
The next question had to be “Where do we go from here?” Once our history was found, we did not want to lose it again. How could we institutionalize this new knowledge? And so began the work that continues to this day—work that many of the historians and writers in this room continue to do. In her thesis, Gretchen Abbott noted that, “the most significant impact that TFWR [Texas Foundation for Women’s Resources] had on the state was the foundation that they built with their work for the future women historians and the new respect for women’s history that they inspired across Texas.” (Abbott 2010, 84)
The partnership between the Foundation and the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA) is an important part of the follow-up story. Ruthe Winegarten and I had lunch with Tuffley Ellis, who was the director of TSHA, and we asked him what we could do to feature more women in the Handbook of Texas, which was undergoing revision at the time. He advised us to fund a research position devoted to writing entries on women’s history. And that is what we did.
Our first recipient of the Katherine Sage Temple Fellowship in Women’s History at the Handbook revision project was Judith MacArthur, then Nancy Baker Jones, and then Debbie Cottrell. They either researched and wrote new entries for the Handbook or found writers who would do it. The Handbook of Texas is the go-to source for teachers and citizens to learn our history, so this was a very important step.
Next we focused on the school curriculum. Martha Farmer, who became director of the Foundation for Women’s Resources, and others lobbied tirelessly with the State Board of Education to include a requirement for knowledge about Texas women in the seventh-grade history curriculum. Candace O’Keefe, who later became TFWR director, wrote a curriculum guide for Texas women’s history.
The Foundation and I published a book for seventh-grade Texas history classes: We Can Fly: Stories of Katherine Stinson and Other Gutsy Texas Women by Mary Beth Rogers, Janelle Scott, and Melissa Hield. Liz energetically promoted the book with readings at her gatherings. I awarded prizes in honor of suffrage pioneers Minnie Fisher Cunningham and Jane Y. McCallum for the best projects and essays on Texas women for TSHA’s History Day competition.
At our urging, the annual TSHA meetings’ programs began to feature papers about women in Texas history. We partnered with TSHA to hold conferences that featured renowned women historians like Anne Firor Scott.
In 2000, the Texas Foundation for Women’s Resources, under the leadership of Cathy Bonner, opened The Women’s Museum in Dallas, which was the first women’s history museum in the country. Liz gave countless programs at the new museum helping to get it off to a good start.
More recently, the Ruthe Winegarten Memorial Foundation for Texas Women’s History continues to support research and to spread knowledge about Texas women’s history through its website. And through all of these initiatives, you all did the most important work of all. You kept researching and writing, creating a virtual explosion of new knowledge.
From the beginning of our efforts, the TSHA annual meetings gave us the opportunity to meet informally, sometimes over lunch or over a glass of wine in the evening, to talk about Texas women’s history and what we could do to advance it. TSHA formalized those meetings by establishing a Texas Women’s History Luncheon at the annual meeting in 1992, giving researchers and writers a forum to present their work.
Nancy Baker Jones, who was director of research with TSHA at the time, thought that it would make the luncheon an even more special event if we offered a prize for research in Texas women’s history. I agreed to fund it and asked Liz, my mentor and friend who played such an important role in the exhibition’s success and in the history of women’s rights, if we could name it for her. Liz agreed and asked me to endow it, which I did.
With her wit, wisdom, and humor, Liz’s presence made the luncheons special events. Liz was delighted and always came to the luncheons to offer her encouragement to the researchers and writers who work so hard to bring Texas women’s stories to life. In 1994, Liz presented the first award to Debbie Cottrell for her book Pioneer Woman Educator: The Progressive Spirit of Anne Webb Blanton. In her remarks, Liz said:
“This is what has been happening for the past fifteen years in Texas history and literature: finding the scattered facts, the papers, letters, and hard evidence of remarkable women who made the difference in Texas throughout its history but whose accomplishments were obscured by the historians and mural artists. They simply dismissed them as auxiliaries or ‘mere women.’ Today, we are seeing a parade of women scholars and gifted writers digging into family papers, libraries, and archives to find these pioneer women were not so ‘mere.’ They were essential people in the transformation of a raw frontier to a civilized society.”***
Thank you to all of the writers. Without you, the stories would still be untold. Thank you to the dedicated editors and publishers at The University of Texas Press, Texas A&M Press, the University of North Texas Press, and other university presses, who have sought manuscripts and guided them into print and continue to do so. Thank you to TSHA, which was our partner in discovering the history of Texas Women.
There is much more to write. We have only scratched the surface of the wealth of stories yet to be told about women in Texas history. Liz was passionate about the power of the knowledge of our history to change our lives. If she were here, she would say, “Get busy!” And she would cheer us every step of the way.
Read Executive Director Michael L. Gillette's tribute to Liz Carpenter on The University of Texas at Austin Department of History's website, Not Even Past.
* Gretchen Abbott, “Texas Women: A Celebration of History Exhibit: Second-Wave Feminism, Historical Memory, and the Birth of a Texas Women’s History Industry,” (master’s thesis, The University of Texas at Austin, 2010), vi, http://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/handle/2152/ETD-UT-2010-12-2050.)
** Mary Beth Rogers, Ruthe Winegarten, and Sherry Smith, Texas Women: A Celebration of History. 2nd ed. Austin: Texas Foundation for Women's Resources, 1986, 1981.
*** Liz Carpenter, Remarks at the 1994 Texas State Historical Association Women’s Luncheon, AC 72-42/8, Box 5, Personal Papers of Liz Carpenter, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, Austin.