Although they came from diverse backgrounds, a common thread links the women in Mary Dodson Wade’s latest book, Amazing Texas Girls.
“I wanted to call this book Gumption,” Wade says, “because I see that.”
Amazing Texas Girls, released Sunday by publisher Lone Star Books, trails the lives of 15 women, most born before 1920, who spent their childhoods in Texas.
“Some were born here,” Wade says. “Some were not, but they were all here as children.”
Readers will likely recognize the names of a few of the women, such as Cynthia Ann Parker and Lady Bird Johnson. Yet the author also included some lesser-known but equally riveting stories.
Armed with a major in English, a minor in history and a master’s degree in library science, Wade was a children’s librarian for 25 years and has written more than 50 books, many about Texans.
“What you do when you’re a librarian, you find the holes in the collection,” Wade says, adding that she noticed a thin section of Texas history books for young children.
Wade’s first book, Easter Fires, published in 1984, shared some early Texas, German and Comanche history. When the Germans first came to Fredericksburg, Wade says, instead of finding houses to live in, they found Comanche Indians whom the men went out to make peace with.
“The legend was the women and children left in the little settlement saw the fires burning in the hills,” Wade says. “The mothers didn’t want the little children to be alarmed, so they told the children it was the Easter bunny dying eggs.”
In Amazing Texas Girls, Wade shares more stories about women from various cultures.
“This is a diverse state,” she says, “and young people need to know that there were persons of their heritage who did interesting and important things.”
Wade says she could not find a Comanche to include in the book, but Cynthia Ann Parker (1826-71) “essentially became that when she was, you know, taken and assimilated into that tribe.” There are also stories about Cowgirl Hall of Famer Molly Goodnight (1839-1926) and Annie Mae Hunt (1909-2003), a black woman who lived for a time in Dallas.
“All Annie Mae Hunt ever wanted was for people to treat her with dignity,” Wade wrote. “For a woman who lived through beatings by racists, grueling menial work for pennies a day and the indignity of segregation, she never
lost her spirit to take life on her own terms.”
Lorraine Isaacs Hofeller (1896-2002) was the last known survivor of the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900.
“[Lorraine] had a remarkable memory and recalled that night sitting in her mother’s lap while that storm was coming through,” Wade says.
Wade says other Texas women certainly qualify as amazing but didn't live in Texas as children. A member of the Texas State Historical Association, she grew up in Arkansas, spent summers with her grandparents in the Ozarks and has lived in Houston since 1977.
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But what brought her to the Lone Star State?
“I married a Texan,” she says. “That’ll do it.”
Wade says while it may take time to gain recognition, she believes there are Texas women around today with the same grit.
“No era has a lock on that,” she says. “There have been times when they were not allowed the freedoms that they get today, but nerve, drive, ambition — those things are as old as humanity.”