Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with TSLAC Resources

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with TSLAC Resources

The Texas State Library and Archives Commission’s (TSLAC) Archives and Information Services Division holds a wealth of primary source archival documents, genealogy research resources, books, and more to spark your own research. In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, let’s kick things off with an overview of a few of our holdings that may be of interest.

State Archives Collections

The Hispanic heritage of Texas is integral to our history. Our flagship building, the Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives and Library Building, located in the Capitol Complex in downtown Austin, is named for Manuel Lorenzo Justiniano de Zavala y Sáenz, first vice president of the Republic of Texas. TSLAC holds many original documents relating to Zavala’s life and work, including writings, correspondence, documents from the Texas Revolution and early Republic period. Explore these on our Giants of Texas History: Lorenzo de Zavala website.

Lorenzo de Zavala translated into Spanish the declaration to the public announcing the colonists’ intention to fight for the restoration of the Constitution of 1824 and independent Mexican statehood for Texas. Read the translation in English here.

The significance of the Hispanic foundation of Texas is also reflected in part through early records held by the State Archives. The Nacogdoches Archives is a collection that includes 18th century Spanish colonial and Mexican national government records. TSLAC also has in our holdings the draft 1836 constitution for the republic with the bill of rights both in English and Spanish.

Correspondence, publications, broadsides and maps in Spanish illustrate how significant Hispanic culture is to what is now the state of Texas. Last year, we highlighted the Harry Lund collection in our Hispanic Heritage Month blog post. The Harry Lund collection contains more than 200 photos from the Morales Studio depicting the people of the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) in the first half of the 20th century. This collection is now fully digitized and browseable in the Texas Digital Archive (more below). Learn more about how to explore the Prints and Photographs Collections by visiting our research guide on the Archives and Reference website.

The Texas State Archives preserves and documents the heritage and culture of Texas by identifying, collecting, and making available for research the permanently valuable official records of Texas government, as well as other significant historical resources. Maintaining the official history of Texas government, the State Archives includes archival government records dating back to the 18th century, as well as newspapers, journals, books, manuscripts, photographs, historical maps, and other historical resources. By these records, all three branches of Texas government are accountable to the people. Taken together, the holdings of the Texas State Archives provide a historical foundation for present-day governmental actions and are an important resource for Texas studies.

Browse hundreds of archival collections, maps, prints and photographs, and more on our website. We make many thousands of digital resources available, as well—visit our Online Collections to learn about accessing records, databases, and Ancestry.com through TSLAC (free for Texas residents). There is also a wealth of curated online exhibits available to view on our website, with topics ranging from historic flags to women’s suffrage.

The Texas Digital Archive (TDA) manages, preserves, and facilitates access to the electronic records collections of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, including those transferred by state agencies or digitized by the State Archives. The TDA now makes more than 5.5 million records of state government, as well as business, family, and organizational papers, prints and photographs, artifacts, audio, and video available for free online at www.tsl.texas.gov/texasdigitalarchive, with more being added every day. All records in the TDA are unrestricted, and are thus available for public use, including for scholarly research, journalism, teaching using primary source documents, genealogy and family history, and creative arts purposes. Patrons may browse collections, perform keyword searches, and view and download records through the online portal.

An overview page listing all of our collections—archival and historical, digital, exhibits, genealogical, library, local, maps, newspapers, oral histories, and photographs—is also available on our website.

Genealogy Resources at TSLAC

Vital statistics indexes are an important part of the genealogical resources available at the library. While we do not have access to the certificates themselves, the library does own selected indexes to Texas births, deaths, marriages and divorces. The indexes are available for on-site use.

Texas county tax rolls on microfilm are available for on-site use from the early years of each county through the late 1970s.

Our index of county records on microfilm is available online, along with instructions for borrowing rolls through interlibrary loan.

Our City Directories include print and microfilm records.

Our newspaper collections include newspapers on microfilm, original print newspapers, and online newspaper subscriptions.

This is just a snapshot! Browse our other genealogy resources.

TSLAC Library Catalog

Did you know our catalog is searchable on our website at http://www.tsl.texas.gov/catalog?

By searching the library catalog, many of TSLAC’s titles and holdings can be discovered from the comfort and convenience of home.In the library catalog, you can find publications covering topics such as: Texas history, genealogy, United States federal documents, and much more! In fact, the State Archives’ finding aids can also be found in the library catalog. Check out our previous blog post, Out of the Stacks and into the Catalog: The Basics, which explores the features, functions, and various search strategies that you can use for navigating the library catalog.

While most of the books in TSLAC’s collections are in English, some patrons may prefer the experience of using Spanish-language navigation while searching the library holdings. Aunque la mayoría de los libros en las colecciones de TSLAC están solamente en inglés, el WebCat en español le puede ayudar con sus necesidades generales de búsqueda.

Other TSLAC Resources

Talking Book Program Recommended Titles

The Texas Talking Book Program (TBP) recommends titles on its blog. The “Staff Picks” series can be browsed going back to 2012, and many of the titles focus on Texas, the Southwest, the border region, and several titles are specifically recommended as Hispanic Heritage Month reads.

Texas Center for the Book Programs

The Texas Center for the Book, based at TSLAC, chooses a Great Read each year to promote statewide. The 2018 Texas Great Read, Shame the Stars by Guadalupe García McCall, is set during the explosive years of Mexico’s revolution, and has been called “a Texas reimagining of Romeo and Juliet.” Information about this book, as well as a video interview with the author and educator resources, are available on the Texas Center for the Book’s website.

This summer, the Texas Center for the Book launched the 2021 Literary Landmarks Roundup to double the number of landmarks in Texas. Four new sites were announced in August, including the Dr. Gloria E. Anzaldúa Literary Landmark at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Library In Edinburg, Texas. Anzaldúa’s book Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, published in 1987 became a foundational work in the areas of border studies, Chicana feminism, and LGBTQ rights. A ceremony unveiling the new Literary Landmark will be held this fall. Stay tuned to the Literary Landmarks website for more information.

This year, Texans celebrated 25 years of Children’s Day, Book Day / Día de los Niños, Día de los Libros,  a national initiative founded in 1996 by author and literacy advocate Pat Mora in celebration of children, culture, and literature. The Texas Center for the Book coined the term Lone Star Día for the Texas event and encourages statewide participation. On even numbered years, grants for the First Book Marketplace are made available through the Texas Center for the Book. Nationally, libraries, schools, churches and organizations are encouraged to discover “bookjoy” year-round—most events occur around the official national celebration, April 30th. TSLAC Information about the 2022 celebration will be posted in the new year. Meanwhile, a wealth of resources is available year-round on the Lone Star Día website, including a video from founder Pat Mora, information documents, handouts, downloadable artwork, and more. Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by starting to plan for your community’s 2022 Día now!

Learn more about the statewide programs of the Texas Center for the Book.


May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month


TSLAC joins the rest of the country in recognizing the contributions of those Americans with Asian/Pacific Islander heritage throughout the month of May. Though primary source documentation may be sparse at the State Archives, secondary sources like Nancy Farrar’s 1972 study, The Chinese in El Paso offer valuable descriptive information and data pulled from newspapers, census records and city directories.

The earliest arrival to Texas of Asians in any significant number were laborers from China who worked on the rail lines that were rapidly expanding across the state and connecting the country during the last decades of the nineteenth century. The Chinese migrants were young men who worked together on construction teams and would typically move from one site to another and often planned to eventually return home to China.

When the Southern Pacific Railroad was completed in 1881, the border city of El Paso was on the route to and from the west coast. While many laborers departed once the railroad line was built, some remained and established Chinese-run businesses located within a few city blocks of each other. A neighborhood referred to as “Chinatown” developed in downtown El Paso. A popular business to open was a laundromat, as the Chinese steam method had little competition in town


Image: Farrar, Nancy. The Chinese in El Paso. Texas Western Press, The University of Texas at El Paso, 1972. Texas Documents Collection, ZUA590.7 SO89 NO.33. Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Socially, the immigrants lived separately from the rest of the city early on. Because of strict immigration laws aimed specifically at Asians, women were not joining the men who had made the journey. The area was therefore comprised almost entirely of men. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 stemmed the flow of laborers coming to the U.S. and the exclusion continued with the Geary Act of 1902. Some exceptions were made, such as for merchants and teachers, and the prohibition was not always strictly enforced.  

While the Chinese population in El Paso would start to decline in the early twentieth century, other groups from countries in Asia were creating communities in Texas. Farmers had arrived from Japan to work the rice fields of Southeast Texas and other Japanese immigrants opened restaurants and shops in Houston and the surrounding counties, for example.

Discovering information about the growth of Asian communities in Texas can sometimes occur by chance. A closer look at this Houston streetscape from about 1927 reveals a restaurant called the Chop Suey Café on the right side of Travis Street.

[Trolley car in downtown Houston], about 1927, Places Collection, 1/103-1011, Prints and Photographs Collections. Texas State Library and Archives Commission. View in the TDA.

Here is a close-up view of the sign for the Chop Suey Café. The restaurant is in the shadow on the right-hand side of the street.

After the immigration laws changed in 1965 and restrictions on Asian immigrants were lifted, many more groups from regions across Asia would make their way to Texas. Houston emerged as a particularly attractive destination for various groups and is today one of the most diverse cities in the country.

Learn more about Asian Texans with resources from TSLAC.

TSLAC has in our collections publications related to the history of Asian communities in Texas, along with historical newspapers, city directories, and other sources.

Search the library catalog for more titles.


Image: Brady, Marilyn Dell. The Asian Texans. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2004.Texas Documents Collection, Z TA475.7 T312AS. Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Find online events through the Library of Congress’ page dedicated to Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month https://asianpacificheritage.gov/


Elizabeth Howard West: Texas Library Pioneer

Gina Watts, Reference Librarian

Elizabeth Howard West, state librarian, 1918-1925. Prints and photographs collection, 1/103-124-West. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

When Elizabeth Howard West was hired as state archivist at the Texas State Library in 1911, she had been through library training, worked in manuscripts at the Library of Congress, and held a master’s degree in history from the University of Texas. Her first task was to organize more than a thousand boxes from the Comptroller’s Office that had been collecting in a basement, and she went on to create the calendar (annotated listing) for the Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar papers. She departed in 1915 and went to the San Antonio Public Library, where she served as director.

Today we recognize Elizabeth Howard West as a pioneer in Texas history. In 1918, she became the first woman to direct any state agency when she accepted the position as state librarian. West had a vision for a state library that expanded library services to reach all Texans. When she began as state librarian, only 16 percent of citizens in Texas had access to a free public library. She worked to improve this statistic by serving as president of the Texas Library Association and helping establish a county library system. West was so skilled at this work that she helped other states do the same.

Elizabeth Howard West, state archivist, 1911-1915. Prints and photographs collection, 1/122-9. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

West also provided library services to groups and individuals who had limited or no access to books. She initiated library services for the blind in 1916 while serving as director of the San Antonio Public Library and brought these services to the Texas State Library in 1919. She acquired books in earlier forms of braille to better serve this population. She also provided services to African American library patrons despite the segregation practices of the era. Schools serving African American students were regular customers of the Texas State Library, but these patrons were not welcomed by everyone working in the Texas Capitol at the time. West developed a process to serve this group by having their requests prepared in advance and ready for pick-up when they arrived.

West was a strong advocate for maintaining a professional staff and added staff raises to her budget requests. She also stipulated training requirements for library and archives positions so that the legislature did not place well-connected but unqualified individuals in library jobs, as was a common practice by Texas politicians of the day.

After years of battling for higher budgets, more space, and better staff support, West eventually sought work outside of state government. In her wake she left behind a library that was made better by her diligence and care. Most important, she left TSLAC as a library that served everyone, not just a privileged few.

Elizabeth West’s records can be found in several collections:

Sources:

Gracy, David B. The State Library and Archives of Texas: a History, 1835-1962. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010.

Create Protective Enclosures for Fragile Books

By Heather Hamilton, Conservator

When faced with damaged or fragile books, conservators have several approaches they may take. A damaged book might be conserved by repairing a binding that is breaking. The covers may need to be replaced with new ones or the text block may have to be resewn. These treatments are intensive and time-consuming. At any given time, libraries and archives will have many books in need of conservation, and not every volume can be considered for full treatment. Another preservation option is to create custom enclosures for books. A common book enclosure is the phase box.

The term “phase box” has been in use for a long time, but it is often a misnomer. “Phase box” indicates that the book will be placed into the enclosure until the time comes when it can be more fully repaired.

However, many books remain in their phase boxes long-term, and that is a good thing, especially for leather bindings. Leather is inherently unstable over time. It becomes brittle and can develop red-rot, the dusty red powder we are familiar with on old leather books. Brittle leather is prone to breaking on the book’s hinge, where it flexes for opening. The leather spine piece, where a book usually has its title, will often break away from the binding when the hinges have failed. These damages can be repaired by replacing the damaged spine with new leather, but the replacement leather will age eventually as well. Nevertheless, leather rebindings and leather repairs are used by conservators. They are appropriate when a book’s binding is of particular artistic or historical significance. Book conservators are trained in historic methods and can repair or replicate leather bindings to restore the original appearance.

To build a phase box, the book’s length, width, and thickness are measured precisely in a measuring device made just for this purpose. Using these dimensions, two lengths of acid-free board are cut and folded to match the book. When the fit is just right, the book will be snug and will not shift inside the box.

There are a number of other protective enclosures used for library and archives collections. A clam-shell box is made much like a book binding and is usually covered in book cloth. These attractive and strong boxes are often made for high-value books. A portfolio with a four-flap enclosure inside can be used for thinner, lighter-weight books.

Phase boxes can be used for more than bound materials. Here at TSLAC, our historic photographs (daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes) are housed in individual phase boxes within a storage cabinet. The enclosures protect these glass and metal plates from physical damage and limit direct handling.

What about preserving family artifacts?

Protective enclosures are used in libraries and archives, but they are also appropriate for preserving family artifacts such as scrapbooks, family Bibles, and other bound volumes. For family documents that are unbound sheets, like photographs or certificates, another housing system is preferable. Place documents, unfolded whenever possible, into archival paper folders. Don’t overfill them. Place groups of folders into archival boxes. Choose a box that fits the folders well. If the folders are placed vertically and there is extra space in the box, fill it in with wadded-up, acid-free tissue so that folders do not fall over. Boxes and other archival supplies can be purchased from online stores. Look for high-quality, acid-free materials and comparison shop to make sure you are not over-paying for these specialty items.

More tips on preservation from the State Archives here: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/arc/preserve/index.html

TSLAC Releases Custom Zoom Backgrounds

TSLAC has released a group of custom Zoom backgrounds featuring scenes from the State Library and Archives. They are free to download and may be used by the public.

Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives and Library Building entrance.

These 26 new background options include both indoor and outdoor scenes from the Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives and Library Building in downtown Austin, the State Records Center in Austin, and the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center in Liberty, Texas.

Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives and Library Building at night.

Users can choose to virtually “appear” in various locations, including the TSLAC Reference Reading Room, outside the building (in the daytime or at night), or in front of the famous lobby mural depicting scenes and people from Texas history. Also available are scenes from inside the cavernous stacks at the State Records Center, inside and outside views of the Sam Houston Center, and even a historical photo showing how the Zavala Reference Reading Room looked back in the 1960s (Throwback Thursday, anyone?).

Zavala Reference Reading Room, about 1960s.

With these colorful and interesting custom backgrounds, you can now attend your Zoom meetings from in front of an impressive shelf of books, under the six flags of Texas, or outside near the green trees of Atascosito.

Grounds of the Sam Houston Regional Research Center and Library in Liberty.

The images are available below. Browse to find the right one for you! Click the image to open the full-size version in a new window, then right click to download to your local device. Use the back arrow on your browser to return to this page.These images are also available at https://www.tsl.texas.gov/freebackgrounds.

You can read more about how to install these or other custom backgrounds on the Zoom website. Please note that older computers may not allow full functionality of Zoom features, including the ability to use custom backgrounds.

TSLAC has been serving patrons and customers across all our locations throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, both remotely and in person. Read more about our current programs and services.

Letterpress Copybooks: An Archives Explainer

By Sarah Norris

The State Archives’ collections contain thousands of letterpress copybooks. Recently, our digitization team has been scanning copybooks kept by Texas governors and providing access to them in the Texas Digital Archive. The goal of this article is to briefly explore their history, condition problems, and what can be done for them today.

Letterpress book, outgoing correspondence, March 8 – December 26, 1860.  2014/109-5-84, Texas Governor Sam Houston records. Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

As office recordkeeping practices expanded in the 19th and early 20th centuries, methods were sought to create multiple copies of documents at one time. One of the earliest strategies, invented in 1780, was the letterpress copying method. Not to be confused with letterpress printing, letterpress copying used a piece of equipment called a copy press. Copy presses can still be found in antique shops and are frequently mistaken today for small book presses. Letterpress copying was very common throughout the 19th century. Its use began to decline around 1900 as office workers turned increasingly to typewriters and carbon copy sheets.

To make a copy using a copy press, an individual first wrote on a sheet of paper with a special, water-soluble ink. The paper was placed in the press and covered with a dampened sheet of thin, translucent paper. Then, the press was tightened, creating a partial transfer of the ink from the bottom sheet onto the top sheet. The copied text is then read from the opposite side of the translucent sheet (it appears backwards on the side with the actual impression).

Letterpress copybook cover. Jacob de Cordova letter book. 2012/174, Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Because the process was so popular, stationers and office supply manufacturers sold pre-bound books filled with translucent copy sheets. The copies were made in the copy press straight into the books. These are what we know today as letterpress copybooks.

Special inks and papers were used to facilitate this process. The inks were often iron gall ink mixed with a humectant like sugar or glycerin to keep the ink wet for a longer time. Dyes were frequently added to make the copied ink more readable.The copying paper was made translucent by using very short paper fibers and occasionally by adding a waxy or oily coating. This reduced the tiny air pockets that naturally make paper appear opaque.

The materials and methods that enabled letterpress copying created a variety of aging difficulties. Iron gall ink is already well known for its ability to “burn” through paper and cause inked areas to drop out completely. Added dyes are unstable and can fade over time, sometimes even without significant light exposure. Humectants like sugar and glycerin can cause the ink to become sticky in moist environments, even years later. Translucent papers made from short paper fibers are inherently fragile and extremely sensitive to moisture. Any water exposure can cause the paper to expand irregularly and dramatically. Waxy or oily coatings may have made the papers highly acidic. These papers are very prone to break, especially in areas where iron gall ink and water exposure have already damaged them.  And to further complicate matters, inks and papers were often made from proprietary formulations of ingredients; their details varied among manufacturers and even among batches.

Letterpress book, outgoing correspondence, June 1868 to November 1868 (Gov. Elisha Pease) 014/076-7-1, Texas Governor Elisha Marshall Pease records of his third term. Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Today, many letterpress copies are so fragile that their content can be lost by simply turning a page. Such damage seems to cry out for major conservation treatment. Unfortunately, logistical issues complicate this approach. Letterpress sheets are bound into books of many hundreds of pages. These books cannot be practically disbound, creating access issues for treatments that involve washing. Further, the sheer number of sheets per volume, and volumes per collection, make treatment prospects daunting. The level of treatment required to address these materials’ severe degradation issues simply does not scale up in any manageable way. 

Letterpress book, outgoing correspondence, March 8 – December 26, 1860.  2014/109-5-84, Texas Governor Sam Houston records. Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

So what can be done for these books? Three broad options are available:

  1. Prioritize: Given the large number of copybooks and often their poor condition, prioritization is key. Focusing on critical topics, people, or years helps to target our most significant resources with finite preservation time.
  2. Treat as possible: The most achievable conservation treatment is basic mending, likely with heat-set or solvent-set tissue to avoid unnecessary water exposure.  Conservators have explored a variety of chelating treatments (which help stabilize iron gall ink,) but the inherent difficulty of washing bound sheets makes these treatments impractical at scale. If desired, targeted deacidification can be pursued with a spray such as Bookkeeper.
  3. Digitize: Because there is no satisfactory, scalable conservation treatment, the ultimate solution for letterpress copybooks is digitization. Because of the translucency of the sheets, white paper must be placed beneath each sheet during digitization to improve legibility. Careful handling is essential, and mending may first be necessary to stabilize damaged sheets. Given the time-intensive nature of this work, again, prioritization is key.

Further Reading

Antoine, Beth, Marion Mecklenburg, Robert Speakman, and Mel Wachowiak. 2011. “The Conservation of Letterpress Copying Books: A Study of the Baird Collections.” The Book and Paper Group Annual 30: 9-27.  https://cool.culturalheritage.org/coolaic/sg/bpg/annual/v30/bp30-02.pdf

Cleveland, Rachel-Ray. 2000 “Selected 18th,19th and 20th Century Iron Gall Ink Formulations Developed in England, France, Germany, and the United States, for use with the Copy Press Process.” Postprints of The Iron Gall Ink Meeting, Newcastle Upon Tyne, England: University of Northumbria, 23-30.

Rhodes, Barbara and William Wells Streeter. 1999. Before Photocopying: The Art and History of Mechanical Copying. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press & Herald Bindery.

Titus, Sonja, et al. 2006. “The Copy Press Process: History and Technology, Part 1.” Restaurator 27 (2): 90-102.

Titus, Sonja, et. al. 2009 “Stabilising Local Areas of Loss in Iron Gall Copy Documents from the Savigny Estate.” Restaurator 30 (1-2): 16-50.

Ubbink, K. and R. Partridge. 2003.  Preserving Letterpress Copying Books. Canadian Association for Conservation of Cultural Property 28: 38-45.

Help Us Improve the Texas State Library and Archives Commission Website


Help the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) improve our website by completing the TSLAC Website Survey. The survey does not require any knowledge or opinion of the Commission and takes less than ten minutes of your time. Responses are completely anonymous.

Take the survey by clicking the link below:
bit.ly/tslacsurvey2020

Thank you!

“I Duel Solemnly Swear:” Oaths of Office on File

By Taylor Fox, Reference Librarian

Are you considering running for office? If you win, you’ll need to swear an oath. Public officials swear oaths of office to assure their loyalty to the government and to affirm their promise to uphold the duties of the position. Until 1938, Texas’ oath included a promise that the individual had never fought in, challenged someone to, or accepted a duel!

The oath of office changed slightly from 1846 to 1938, but more or less read as:
“I, _____ do solemnly swear, (or affirm), that I will faithfully and impartially
discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as _____ according to the
best of my skill and ability, agreeably to the Constitution and laws of the United
States and of this State; and I do further solemnly swear (or affirm), that since
the adoption of the Constitution of this State, I being a citizen of this State,
have not fought a duel with deadly weapons, within this State nor out of it, nor
have I sent or accepted a challenge to fight a duel with deadly weapons, nor have
I acted as second in carrying a challenge, or aided, advised or assisted any person thus offending. And I furthermore solemnly swear, (or affirm), that I have not
directly, nor indirectly paid, offered or promised to pay, contributed, nor promised
to contribute any money, or valuable thing, or promised any public office or
employment, as a reward for the giving or withholding a vote at the election at
which I was elected, (or if the office is one of appointment, to secure my
appointment.) So help me God.”

Below is an example of an oath from 1870, accessed online through Ancestry in the collection Texas, Bonds and Oaths of Office, 1846–1920 from TSLAC’s Secretary of State Bonds and Oaths of Office:

Charles L. Abbott (April 26, 1870), Bond and oath, Texas Secretary of State. Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Available from Ancestry.com; Internet; accessed February 2020.

The oath was changed in 1938, when voters approved the constitutional amendment recommended by House Joint Resolution No. 20, 45th Legislature, Regular Session (1937). Following the approval of the amendment, the oath no longer included a reference to dueling.

You can explore more Texas oaths of office online through Ancestry or Ancestry.com Texas in the collection: Texas, Bonds and Oaths of Office, 1846–1920. TSLAC offers access to a number of digital collections through the Ancestry database. Learn more about Ancestry Texas by viewing the Second Saturday workshop presentation on our workshops page. 

For more information about TSLAC’s library and archives collections and how to access them contact Reference Services at ref@tsl.texas.gov or call 512-463-5455.

Margie Neal, First Woman Elected to the Texas Senate

By Susan Floyd, Archivist

In 1927, two years after Miriam “Ma” Ferguson became the state’s first woman governor, four years after Edith Wilmans entered the Texas House of Representatives as the first woman in the Legislature, and only eight years after Texas women’s suffrage rights were acknowledged and enforced by the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, Margie Neal became, as Governor Allan Shivers said at Margie Neal Appreciation Day in Carthage in 1952, “the first woman to invade the masculine sanctity of the Texas Senate.”

Margie Elizabeth Neal was born in 1875 in Clayton, Panola County, Texas, to William Lafayette and Martha Anne Gholston Neal. Later in life, she recalled that her interest in politics was sparked at age ten, when she saw then-Governor John Ireland speak in Carthage in 1885 or 1886. She attended, but did not graduate from, Sam Houston State Teachers College.

In the spring of 1893, Neal earned a first-grade teaching certificate and began her career in the Mount Zion community in east Panola County. She subsequently taught in several schools, including in Forney, Scottsville, Marlin and Fort Worth, before returning home to Carthage in 1904 to be the primary caregiver of her mother, whose health was failing. However, this move also provided her a new professional opportunity. From 1904 to 1911, Neal was publisher and editor of the Carthage East Texas Register. A large portion of the newspaper’s content was editorial writing. Neal used its pages to champion the establishment of a Y.M.C.A. in Carthage, push for city clean-up and tree-planting projects, argue for the creation of a chamber of commerce and press for improvements to county roads. But the Register’s most consistent editorial interest was in public education. As editor, Neal argued for improvements to school facilities and sponsored scholarships to local business colleges.

Photograph: “Margie E. Neal—The Progressive Editor.” From Harris, Walter L. The Life of Margie E. Neal, MA thesis, University of Texas, 1955. Available from TSLAC-MAIN Collection (non-circulating) ARC 923.2764 N254H.

From 1912, her mother’s health worsened, and Neal was forced into semi-retirement for four years. Despite these family obligations Margie Neal was also instrumental in the founding and development of both the Carthage Circulating Book Club from 1907 and the Panola County Fair, first held in 1916. Her interest in women’s suffrage also continued to grow, and she became secretary of the Panola County Equal Suffrage Association.

In 1918, the Texas Legislature recognized women’s right to vote in state primary elections.[1] In an effort to bolster women’s turnout in Panola County, Margie Neal ordered professionally printed buttons reading “I have registered” and distributed them among women. At the end of the 1918 voting drive, more than 500 women in the county had registered. Margie Neal was, unsurprisingly, the first woman to cast a vote in Panola County.

Margie Neal was the first woman to serve as a member of the State Teachers Colleges board of regents (1921-1927) and the first woman to serve as a member of the State Democratic Executive Committee in 1918. She was also a delegate to the 1920 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. In 1922 and 1924, she turned down first Governor Pat Neff’s and then Governor Miriam Ferguson’s offer to appoint her Secretary of State.

Photograph: Margie E. Neal in 1925. From Harris, Walter L. The Life of Margie E. Neal, MA thesis, University of Texas, 1955. Available from TSLAC-MAIN Collection (non-circulating) ARC 923.2764 N254H.

Neal’s work as a regent was the primary impetus for her 1926 Senate run. She was a frequent visitor to Austin during legislative sessions; in an interview later in life, she recalled a specific visit during which she became concerned about the direction certain legislation was heading, leading her to think to herself, “If I had a vote… I might do more for education than I am doing as a college regent sitting in the gallery.”[2] She returned to Carthage and sought advice from trusted colleagues, family, and friends, then decided, in March 1926, that she would run for the Texas Senate from District 2.

This district included Panola, Harrison, Gregg, Rusk and Shelby Counties. Neal’s only opponent in the Democratic primary was Gary B. Sanford of Rusk County, who had prior experience as a member of the Texas House of Representatives. Neal launched her campaign on June 12 in the Carthage County Courthouse, followed by five weeks of intensive campaigning in all five counties of the district. Her platform consisted of four components: better public schools—especially rural schools, to be achieved through an increased per capita apportionment; an improved state highway system, to be achieved through a new gasoline tax; more aid for farmers, labor, and capital; and a streamlining of laws for improved law enforcement. In the end, Neal defeated Sanford in every county but his own, and, facing no opponent in the general election, was elected to the Senate on July 28, 1926.

Continue reading

TSLAC Conservation Blog Moves to New Home

By Sarah Norris, Conservator

TSLAC Conservation is moving to a new digital home!  Please reset your bookmarks to https://www.tsl.texas.gov/conservation/  . E-mail subscriptions will continue as always, with no updates needed.  Come visit us at our new address for upcoming posts on a POW Journal; fragile, tracing-paper maps from Texas Supreme Court case files; our upcoming exhibit, “Setting the Texas Table”; and more.  See you soon!

Conservator Sarah Norris applies heat-set tissue with a tacking iron to a manuscript with iron gall ink.