Texas Through Women's Eyes: The Twentieth-Century Experience
Texas Through Women's Eyes: The Twentieth-century Experience, a new scholarly edition by Judith N. McArthur and Harold L. Smith, includes among its noteworthy Texas women, Sunny Nash, author of Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s.
McArthur and Smith, professors at the University of Houston-Victoria, also coauthored Minnie Fisher Cunningham: A Suffragist's Life in Politics, winner of the Liz Carpenter History of Women Award for Research from the Texas State Historical Association;
“Texas Through Women's Eyes focuses needed attention on rural farm women, urban working women and women of color,” said Sunny Nash. “Without separating our history as Texans into convenient little ethnic packages, McArthur and Smith approached women’s history in a manner unlike that of past researchers. McArthur and Smith researched Twentieth-century Texas female experiences as a collective event rather than a series of unrelated occurrences.”
Tracing Texas women's history through four eras, starting with 1900-1920, the authors explored the difficulties women faced securing and maintaining jobs, fighting for voting rights and striving for social reform. “My grandmother, Bigmama,” was born in 1890,” Nash said. “She was well aware of the history of race relations in this country—from laws intended to establish racial equality after the Civil War in 1865 to Jim Crow black codes and ‘separate but equal’ laws in 1896, sanctioning racial segregation of public and private facilities through the Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson.”
Using their research material, McArthur and Smith, show how Texas women continued the struggle for reform, social justice, education and employment from 1920-1945, a period encompassing the Great Depression and World War II (WW II). In this section of the book, the authors include segments called, Female Politics and the Petticoat Lobby, Hoop Dreams and Rodeo Queens, and Discrimination and the New Deal.
“My mother was born in 1928, one year after Texas’ first female governor, Democrat Miriam Ferguson, left office,” Nash said. “Women had only received the vote in 1920, the beginning of a period of civil unrest along racial and gender lines in Texas. A decade before and after, there were race riots around the nation and all over Texas in Brownsville, 1906; Houston, 1917; Longview, 1919, Texarkana, 1919; Port Arthur, 1919; Kirvin, 1922; Sherman, 1930; El Paso, 1943; and Beaumont, 1943. Often these riots centered around women and military installations.”
During the post-WWII years, from 1945-1965, the study investigates how African American and Mexican American Texas women fought for decent working conditions, equal civil and human rights, equal protection under the law, justice in the judiciary system and education, while their white counterparts laid the foundation for two-party politics in Texas.
“This was my era, 1945-1965,” Nash said. “I was born and came of age during the most turbulent racial times in American history outside of the Civil War. But these times led to the most gratifying conclusion for me, personally. In 1977, I became one of the first black women to graduate from Texas A&M University. When I was growing up in neighboring Bryan, the school was all male, all white and all military. I never dreamed of going there.”
A second wave of feminism, 1965-2000, endorsed passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, supported reproductive freedom, promoted gender equality in the funding of school sports programs, and witnessed Texas women participating in the rise of the New Right and the Republican party..
“This is social history at its very best,” said University of North Texas History Professor, Elizabeth Hayes Turner, whose books include Women, Culture, and Community: Religion and Reform in Galveston, 1880-1920, and Women and Gender in the New South, 1865-1945. “The wide selection of firsthand accounts found in this text draw the reader in, and most are absolutely fascinating...This volume will make a significant contribution to the field of Texas women's history, and I predict it will be the one book to which scholars and the reading public turn for information on twentieth-century Texas women."
“That's where this new University of Texas Press book is invaluable,“
“I began writing about my life in a column in the Bryan-College Station Eagle,” Nash said. “This column led to regular contributions to The Houston Chronicle’s Texas Magazine, national syndication and book contract with Texas A&M University Press. By writing about my personal history, I became a primary source. I feel very fortunate for that.”
From her book, Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s, Nash’s essay, “My Grandmother’
“Bigmama was angry when the nurse at the desk ignored us,” Nash said. “So she led me to the ‘white only’ seating section. I guess it was her way of saying I’m tired of this. She sat down and demanded that I sit, too. I was terrified sitting in the white seat. Bigmama stared straight ahead for the longest time.”
Nash wrote in her essay: Bigmama shifted in her chair and looked at me, whispering, “All Mr. Plessy wanted was a first-class train ticket. Well, he could spend first-class money on a first-class ticket, but Jim Crow said, he couldn’t put his black behind in a first-class seat.”
“Who’s Jim Crow?” I asked.
“A minstrel show character with a shiny painted black face and big white lips,” she said, glancing up at the sign. “Two nations under God, one ‘white only’ and the other one ‘colored.’
Chosen by the Association of American University Presses as a book for understanding race relations, Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s is listed in the Bibliographc Guide to Black Studies by the Schomburg Center in New York and is recommended for Native American collections by the Florida Miami-Dade Library System.
“I believe previous attempts to recognize the twentieth-century contributions of Texas women laid the groundwork of curiosity,” Nash said. “But it was the actual research by Judith McArthur and Harold Smith that produced Texas Through Women's Eyes, giving us a captivating and sometimes ultra private glimpse into the lives of these women, and helps us to understand them and ourselves in a deeper way.”
Take a closer look at Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's by Sunny Nash:
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Sunny Nash, author of Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's, has work in the African American National Biography by Harvard and Oxford; African American West, Century of Short Stories; Reflections in Black, History of Black Photography 1840-Present;
Chosen by the Association of American University Presses as tool for understanding race relations, the book is listed in the Guide to Black Studies by the Schomburg Center in New York and recommended for Native American collections by the Miami-Dade Public Library System in Florida.
Visit Sunny Nash's blog: