Texas Women: Their Histories, Their Lives ed. by Elizabeth Hayes Turner, Stephanie Cole, and Rebecca Sharpless
Co-winner of the 2016 Liz Carpenter Award from the Texas State Historical Association, Texas Women: Their Histories, Their Lives represents the best of its genre: ambitious, representative, revealing, and eminently readable. It is a milestone. Edited by an esteemed trio of historians of Texas women, the book covers an ambitious chronology from 1600 to 2000 in three overviews, twenty biographic and composite essays, an epilogue, and a historiography that together address Latinas and American Indian, African American, and Euro American women in contexts of business, culture, diplomacy, education, economics, law, ranching, rodeo, reform, space exploration, and war. Its contributors are similarly diverse, including female and male academic and independent historians who represent a variety of cultural and content perspectives and range in their careers from freshly minted PhDs to retired professors.
Reflecting the state’s diversity is a continuing challenge for Texas history anthologies. The editors acknowledge this with the assertion that Texas is not southern or western, but both, adding that it is also “Midwestern, Mexican, western, and American.” They have admirably addressed this complexity not only chronologically and demographically, but also with divergent historical approaches to familiar and new topics, such as Juliana Barr’s focusing on Apache women as central to Native-Spanish diplomacy in eighteenth-century Texas; Gabriela González’s identifying the ideological origins of Jovita Idar’s transnational advocacy for La Raza; and Harold L. Smith’s crediting the lesser-known Casey Hayden with successful strategies used in the student-activist and women’s liberation movements of the 1960s. Other contributors, in addition to the editors, are Angela Boswell, Bianca Mercado, Renee M. Laegreid, W. Marvin Dulaney, Jean A. Stuntz, Eric Walther, Robin C. Sager, Laura Lyons McLemore, Ruth Hosey Karbach, Jessica Brannon-Wranosky, Judith N. McArthur, Victoria H. Cummins, Light T. Cummins, Kelli Cardenas Walsh, Mary Ellen Curtin, Nancy E. Baker, and Jennifer Ross-Nazzal. Paula Mitchell Marks’s epilogue provides perspective about her own experience as a historian of women. [End Page 255]
Still, published as it is by the University of Georgia Press in its Southern Women: Their Lives, Their Times series, the book is weighted toward accounts of southern, Anglo women. This is not a bias, but reveals the state of the field, which has matured under the leadership of scholars trained predominantly in southern women’s history (itself one of the earliest women’s history subfields to develop). As Marks notes, the topics, approaches, and scholarly perspectives of Texas women’s history have evolved since the 1970s, and “writing women into the record and thereby expanding and deepening it” remains an important “corrective” purpose (488). As a broadly cast collection, Texas Women epitomizes the historiographic crossroad, revealing at the same time how much has been and how much remains to be accomplished in Texas women’s history.
Readers will learn much, for example, about ways that Texas “has shaped a particular kind of gendered experience” (xi). This does not include, however, historic understanding of gender identity—what it has meant to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender in Texas—for historians have left this area of inquiry virtually unexamined. A minor inconsistency is revealed, too, in terminology—in this case whether to refer to “second-wave feminism” or to eschew it. Some contributors use it while others object.
As an academic field, Texas women’s history is young, having emerged finally in 1990. This collection reflects its maturity and robust health, the wealth of its subject matter, and its sizable pool of practitioners.