- Ann Richards
Dorothy Ann Willis Richards was a Texas politician and the Governor of Texas from 1991-95, known for her progressive politics, quick wit, sharp tongue, and helmet of bright white hair. Richards was born in Lakeview, near Waco, in 1933. She attended Waco High School in the late 1940s where she met her future husband, David Richards, and as part of the debate team, attended Girls State, a mock government assembly, where she was elected lieutenant governor, sparking the political involvement that would shape her later career. Richards finished high school in 1950 and attended Baylor University, finishing in 1954. During that time, David transferred to Baylor to be with Ann, and the two married in 1953. The couple moved to Austin after graduation, where David attended law school at the University of Texas, and Ann taught junior high government. The couple then moved to Dallas in 1957 where David began practicing law, arguing civil rights and workers rights cases, representing several labor unions. For a brief period in 1961-62, the family moved to Washington D.C. when David got a job as a staff lawyer with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. They were quickly disillusioned with D.C. society and "came to the conclusion that when [they] had moved to Washington, [they] had left the New Frontier." The family moved back to Dallas after only one year. In the 12 years the Richardses spent in Dallas, they remained very involved in progressive activist groups and the Democratic party, and they also stayed busy having four children - Cecile (now President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America), Dan, Clark, and Ellen were all born in those years.
Although they made many close friends there, in 1969, Ann and David decided they could no longer stand living in the stifling conservative environment of Dallas, and David took a job in Austin, continuing his labor and civil rights legal work. Ann became more heavily involved in local politics, eventually managing the legislative campaigns of Sarah Weddington in 1972 and Wilhelmina Delco in 1974. Weddington was the attorney for "Jane Roe" of Roe v. Wade, and Delco was the first African American to represent Austin in the Texas Legislature. Ann continued to work for Weddington during her time in the Texas House, providing Ann the avenue to become known around the Texas Capitol and solidify her political aspirations. After David turned down a request from the Texas Democratic leadership to run for county commissioner in 1976, he encouraged Ann to run instead. She won and became the first woman elected county commissioner in Travis County. She served in that office until 1982, when she was elected state treasurer. Richards was not only the first woman to serve as state treasurer, but she was also the first woman elected to statewide office since Miriam Ferguson was elected governor in 1932. In 1980, Richards was treated for alcoholism, and her marriage to David ended later that year.
Richards was reelected state treasurer in 1986, and her political star kept rising. She delivered her famous address at the National Democratic Convention in 1988, rising to national prominence as a result of that speech and her famous line about the elder George Bush, "Poor George, he can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth." In 1990, Richards ran for governor, winning the Democratic nomination after a somewhat ugly race against Attorney General Jim Mattox and former Governor Mark White. She defeated Republican Clayton Williams on November 6, 1990, and was inaugurated on January 15, 1991, a historic day for Austin as Richards led thousands of citizens to "take back the Texas Capitol" in a march down Congress Avenue.
As governor, Ann Richards appointed many women, Latinos, and African Americans to office. She created the state lottery, worked to equally distribute public school funding, vetoed the Concealed Carry Bill, and reformed the Texas prison system. Richards also brought the Texas Film Commission to the Office of the Governor and advocated extensively for the Texas film industry. Richards was defeated for reelection in 1994 by George W. Bush, and her parting words with the Office of the Governor were, "I did not want my tombstone to read, 'She kept a really clean house.' I think I'd like them to remember me by saying, 'She opened government to everyone.'"
After leaving office, Richards served as a political consultant. She received numerous awards, including the Texas NAACP Presidential Award for Outstanding Contributions to Civil Rights, the National Wildlife Federation Conservation Achievement Award, and the Mexican government's Order of the Aztec Eagle. She was also honored by the Texas Women's Hall of Fame. She served as a visiting professor of politics at Brandeis University in the late 1990s and authored two books. She spent her years after her divorce from David with author Bud Shrake, an old friend and the second great love of her life. Richards was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in March 2006 and died on September 13, 2006. in Austin. She is buried in the Texas State Cemetery. In 2007, the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, a preparatory school for girls, opened in Austin.
- Liz Carpenter
Liz Carpenter was a writer, feminist, media advisor, and high-ranking White House staff member during the LBJ administration. Mary Elizabeth Sutherland was born in Salado, Texas in 1920, and spent most of her childhood in Austin. She met her husband, Les Carpenter, while working on her high school newspaper. The two worked together on the University of Texas paper, as well, and were married in 1944. In 1942, Carpenter began covering the White House and Congress for Austin's newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman, and after their wedding, Liz and Les moved to Washington D.C. and launched the Carpenter News Bureau. She and Les worked devotedly, only taking time off for the births of their children, Scott and Christy. Carpenter continued working as a reporter until joining Lyndon B. Johnson's campaign for Vice President in 1960, traveling as a press spokeswoman until after the election when she became the first female Executive Assistant to the Vice-President. Upon LBJ's succession to the presidency, Carpenter was promoted to Press Secretary to the First Lady, the first woman to hold that position. Carpenter is known for her quick wit and humor, and it came through in speeches she wrote for both Lady Bird and President Johnson. After LBJ's term, Carpenter devoted her time to writing and working for the National Women's Political Caucus, of which she was a founder, and working with ERAmerica to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. She later served for Presidents Ford, Carter, and Clinton on women's issues, education, and serving the senior population. Les died suddenly in 1974, and Liz returned to Austin in 1976, citing her love of family and love of Texas. She wrote Getting Better All the Time in 1986, Unplanned Parenthood in 1994, Start With a Laugh in 2000, and Presidential Humor in 2006, as well as many articles and lectures. Carpenter was given many awards throughout her life, including being named to the Texas Women's Hall of Fame in the 1980s. Two awards are named in her honor - The Liz Carpenter Lectureship at the University of Texas and the Liz Carpenter Award for the best scholarly book on the history of women and Texas. Carpenter died in Austin in March of 2010.
- Barbara Jordan
Barbara Jordan was born in Houston's Fifth Ward in 1936, the daughter of a Baptist minister and domestic worker. Jordan attended Texas Southern University where she was a member of the debate team; she was the first woman to travel with the team, and along with debate partner Otis King, integrated tournaments in the South, consistently sweeping competitions. Jordan went on attend Boston University School of Law, finishing in 1959. After practicing private law in Houston, she entered the political arena. Jordan was the first African-American elected to the Texas Senate since 1883 and the first southern black female elected to the United States House of Representatives. In 1976, Jordan was the first African-American woman to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, a speech that is still lauded as one of the best in modern history. After retiring from politics in 1979, Jordan taught ethics at the University of Texas at Austin Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. Among many other honors, Jordan was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994. In 1996, Barbara Jordan died of complications from pneumonia, a result of her battles with both multiple sclerosis and leukemia. She rests in the Texas State Cemetery, the first African-American woman to be buried there.
- Lady Bird Johnson
Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Taylor was born in Karnack, Texas on December 22, 1912. Lady Bird, the nickname given by nursemaid Alice Tittle, attended high school in Marshall and junior college at Dallas' St. Mary's Episcopal College for Women. In 1933 through 1934, she received a Bachelor of Arts in history and a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.
Mutual friends introduced Lady Bird to congressional aide and rising political star, Lyndon Baines Johnson. LBJ proposed on the couple's first date and the two were married a month later on November 17, 1934. Lady Bird financed her husband's first congressional campaign for Austin's Tenth District using a portion of her maternal inheritance. During World War II, Lady Bird ran the congressional office while LBJ served in the US Navy. In 1943, Lady Bird purchased Austin Radio station KTBC. The station proved an integral part of the LBJ Holding Company and became the main source of the Johnson family's fortune.
LBJ's political career gained momentum in the post war years, and in 1960, he became Vice President to John F. Kennedy. Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as Commander and Chief aboard Air Force One following President Kennedy's assassination on November 22, 1963. As first lady, Lady Bird initiated the Society for a More Beautiful National Capitol and worked with the American Association of Nurserymen to promote the planting of wildflowers along highways. In 1964, the first lady traveled through eight southern states aboard her train, "The Lady Bird Special," to foster support for LBJ's presidential re-election and the Civil Rights Act. She was influential in promoting the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, referred to as "Lady Bird's Bill," and the Head Start program .
Following the death of LBJ in 1973, Lady Bird turned her attention to Austin. The Town Lake Beautification Project transformed Austin's downtown lake, renamed Lady Bird Lake in 2007, into a useable recreation area. On December 22, 1982, Lady Bird and Helen Hays founded the National Wildflower Research Center outside of Austin. The Wildflower Center was established to increase awareness and research for North American flora. During her lifetime, the former first lady received the highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1977 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1988. Lady Bird died of natural causes on July 11, 2007, survived by two daughters, seven grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren.
- National Women's Conference
The National Women's Conference was held in Houston, Texas on November 18-21, 1977. Organized in response to a 1975 United Nations declaration that 1975 be the "International Year of the Woman" (later extended to "International Decade for Women"), President Gerald Ford established a National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year "to promote equality between men and women," US Representatives Bella Abzug and Patsy Mink sponsored a bill that approved $5 million dollars in federal funds to support both state and national women's conferences. The state conferences would be responsible for electing delegates to the national conferences and for consideration of issues that would be voted on at the national conference. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Bella Abzug as presiding officer of the aforementioned commission, which put the state conferences in motion and culminated with the national conference later that year.
On November 18, 1977, 2,000 state delegates and some 20,000 observers kicked off the conference. Speakers included Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Coretta Scott King, Liz Carpenter, Jean Stapleton, and First Ladies Rosalynn Carter, Betty Ford, and Lady Bird Johnson. Texas Governor Ann Richards, then a Travis County commissioner, was also present and spoke regarding the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Houston native Barbara Jordan was chosen to deliver the keynote address. Her rousing keynote address brought the audience to its feet with these lines:
"Human rights apply equally to Soviet dissidents, Chilean peasants, and American women! Women are human. We know our rights are limited. We know our rights are violated. We need a domestic human rights program. This conference should be the beginning of such an effort, an effort that would be enhanced if we would not allow ourselves to be brainwashed by people who predict chaos and failure for us. Tell them they lie -- and move on."
Delegates debated and collectively voted on 26 issues, including the ERA, child care, abortion rights, insurance, health, homemakers, sexual preference, rights of the disabled, elderly women's rights, and minority women's rights. The resulting National Plan of Action was submitted to President Carter and Congress in March 1978, and a month later the National Advisory Committee for Women was established.
- Women on the Move: Texas and the Fight for Women's Rights
For more about the National Women's Conference, its National Plan of Action, and Texas attendees, visit our web exhibit, "Women on the Move: Texas and the Fight for Women's Rights": https://www.womenonthemovetx.com/