This month is the 30th anniversary of the National Women’s History Project, the portion of National Women’s History Month that recognizes the individual contributions of women.
We know of no Cleburne or Johnson County parade or barbecue cookoff scheduled this month in their honor.
We think that’s sad, in that the hundreds of thousands of Cleburne and Johnson County women are worthy of a salute.
Unfortunately, we don’t know who a lot of them are, and a lot of the ones we do know about are dead.
So we want your help.
We are inviting Times-Review readers to nominate their favorite historical female figures of Cleburne and Johnson County. We ask that you include a short biographical sketch and even a photograph, if you know of one that exists, and send the package to us. Snail mail is fine. E-mail is even better at email@example.com.
A relatively obvious question arises here: Why do we know so little about the women who made Cleburne and Johnson County what it is today?
Unfortunate as it seems today, ours was a male-dominated society through the 19th century and much of the 20th century. When a woman did something spectacular, the news didn’t always make it onto Page 1 of Cleburne’s and Johnson County’s newspapers.
Does that mean that early Times-Review editors such as Harold Ratliff and Jack Proctor were male chauvinist pigs? Not necessarily. They just didn’t know any better. It took famous Cleburne newspaperwomen like our Beth Stewart and Beth Bradbury to educate them.
Stewart, our society editor through the ’60s and ’70s, wrote in 1967 of early Cleburne society:
“The city’s occupation taxes lent assistance in the search for early day amusements. Included in an early ordinance were provisions whereby the city could tax almost any conceivable type of fight that would have been held. Men, dogs, bears and bulls were all included. These forms of amusement were obviously for men only.
“What were the women doing? Since there seems to be no record of their amusements, we hope to ad lib a little and guess they spent their spare time at quilting bees, church socials and circles, and an occasional wedding.
“As years went by, to these were added the clubs and little theatre groups. And, of course, they were going through the rough process of establishing a home. Other forms of entertainment afforded the population during the 1870s were church debates, barbecues and speeches held to celebrate the Declaration of Independence.”
Something called the Lotus Club was popular with society types around 1900.
“By 1890, Cleburne boasted a population of about 6,000, and the leading club was the Lotus Club, an organization of couples who gave dances,” Stewart wrote. “In those days, the more elaborate ones were balls. By this time, the town was also socially divided. The elite lived on North Main or North Anglin streets. This was the group who gave the balls, which the ladies attended in elaborate gowns and the men in full evening dress.
“Among the homes where lights shined brightly for many a social function were the Pittman, Stratton, H.P. Brown and Conway homes. Mrs. M.M. Pittman, pioneer social leader and civic woman in Cleburne who died in 1948, described many times to her family and friends the fun they used to have in early day Cleburne.
“She designed her home to accommodate a large number of guests at one time, with a balcony for an orchestra at the head of the stairway. After she would have as many as 40 tables of games in the afternoon, the guests would return with their husbands for another party the same evening. She also enjoyed the house parties held at the old country club when more guests were invited for the weekend than her spacious home could accommodate.”
The Opera House brought culture to Cleburne. It still does. You can get your hair cut there.
“A highlight of the 1903 season was April 18, when the Glee and Mandolin Clubs of the University of Texas presented A Musical Treat for all Classes. Around 1910 or 1911, the Opera House was declared unsafe for large crowds. The uniform stamping of feet brought on by some of the more provocative entertainment features had caused the walls to weave and the floor to quiver in a dangerous way.”
Danger was a bad thing, Cleburne society decided, unless it included an occasional hanging.
“For the benefit of the Carnegie Library, the play ‘Little Princess’ was presented in about 1907,” Stewart wrote. “There were 200 in the cast, and it was held in the library’s auditorium. Ponder Lee Brown remembers this very well. She played the part of a cupid and was embarrassed to appear on the stage in her underwear.”
Ponder overcame this stigma in later years, becoming widely known for her stinging letters to the editor to the Times-Review.
“A rather unusual social event took place in 1908 on top of the old courthouse. It was a wedding,” Stewart wrote. “This was probably a promotional idea on the part of several Cleburne merchants — W.T. Scott and Sons, Dempwolf’s, Wofford’s and A.J. Wright and Sons, who provided the young couple with clothes, furniture and groceries.
“The bride was Lizzie Brown and the groom Lum Freeman. They were attended by Elilla Harwell and Edgar Roberts. In that day and time, a wedding on top of the courthouse was a forerunner for weddings on flagpoles, on horseback and in swimming pools that were to come later, particularly in the Twenties.”
Hard to top that in 2010, pun intended. Hail, all hail, Cleburne and Johnson County women. Send us those nominations.