Women Who Made a Difference
A Case Study of the Women Who Lived in the Norman House
by Penny Clark
Former Archivist/Museum Curator
Sam Houston Regional Library & Research Center
Throughout history, women's contributions to society were ignored and belittled. After all, history was for many years a study of people in power such as kings and generals. Since few women ruled nations or led armies into battle, they were largely overlooked in the history books.
It is important to correct these past errors by examining the lives of women and recognizing the contributions that even so-called average women made to their families and communities. The women who lived in the Norman House, a historic structure moved to the grounds of the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center in Liberty, provide a case in point.
Probably the first woman to live in the Norman house was Mrs. Aurelia P. LaCour. Mrs. LaCour was born in Louisiana around 1818. She married Gilbert LaCour and had at least four children. Between 1848 and 1850 the LaCours joined the Creole migration from Louisiana to southeast Texas. In 1883 Aurelia purchased the property where the Norman House stood, and they probably built the Norman House. In 1887 they sold the property to B.F. Cameron. Later, in 1888 and 1889, Mrs. LaCour helped her husband operate the poor farm.
In 1890 Oscar LaCour, the LaCours' son, was seriously hurt when he was shot in the mouth during an argument over politics. T.J. Chambers, editor of The Liberty Vindicator, then expressed his sympathy and admiration for Mrs. LaCour: "No better woman lives than Madam LaCour, the venerable mother, who having already had to pass through her share of trouble in life, is now called upon to nurse and watch in her son's illness. . . But we are glad to say the old lady bears up well, and has the sympathy of our whole people."
Adelia Cameron was the next woman to live in the Norman House. Mrs. Cameron was born in Liberty in 1849. At the age of sixteen she married Captain B.F. Cameron, who was nine years older.
Like Mrs. LaCour, she was a mother who faced many difficulties in life. Adelia Cameron gave birth to nine children, six of whom died during her life. In 1892 when her infant son, John Bannon, died she expressed her and her husband's sorrow: "Five times we have 'passed under the rod.' Five pair of little hands are calmly folded, and five pair of beautiful eyes forever closed. But we feel that five pair of little arms will be ready to clasp us at the beautiful gate, and hope and pray that as our cross has been heavy our crown may be all the brighter." Mrs. Cameron lost her sixth child in 1901, when "consumption seized" her namesake, Adelia, "with its poisonous fangs."
The rigors of childbearing and rearing may have contributed to Adelia Cameron's chronic poor health. Like many wealthy women of that time, she journeyed for her health taking the waters at Sour Lake, and enjoying the dry climate of the Alamo City.
Despite poor health she was a leader in the cultural and religious life of Liberty. She served as president of the Woman's Reading Club, a group which studied fine literature including Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, and Socrates. While a Methodist she took part in fund raising dinners, organized a Sunday school class, and led a music program. Later she changed denominations but remained "earnest and zealous."
Adelia Wrigley Cameron died in the Norman House in 1903. After her death, Mr. Cameron moved away, but owned the property until 1910. For a time, the Cameron's daughter, Mattie, and her husband, Perl Blair, lived in the house. Mattie Cameron Blair was a beautiful and energetic woman. For example, in 1898 Mattie and her friend and in-law, Stella Steusoff opened a millinery and dressmaking shop with an ice cream parlor in an annex. Although this venture didn't last long, Steusoff was the next woman to grace the Norman House, living there around 1909. Stella Steusoff was a strong woman, a matriarch who raised three children. She worked tirelessly for the Episcopal church. In 1951 the fellowship hall of the church was named in her honor.
W.T. Norman purchased the house in 1910. His wife was the former Katherine Wasson. Mrs. Norman was a native of Louisiana, born in Summerfield in 1875. She was a widow when she married Mr. Norman around 1895. She was the mother of seven children, Wasson, Hollie, Elizabeth, Edna, W.T., Jr. ("Dub"), Norman, and William, known as Bill. All of her children lived to adulthood except Wasson who died of dysentery as a small child.
Kitty, as her friends called her, was by all recollections a sweet woman who was adept at all the domestic arts. She was an excellent seamstress who crafted garments that wore beautifully for decades. Her family still remember her great ability to cook delicious meals. She never knew how many people would be around her dinner table, as her husband frequently invited people home from court to eat. Her children followed their father's example and brought their playmates along when they came in to eat dinner. Children in the neighborhood frequently knocked on Mrs. Norman's back door and asked for a sugar butter biscuit. This treat was a hot biscuit fresh out of the oven covered with butter and sprinkled with sugar.
Perhaps part of the reason people clamored for food prepared by Mrs. Norman was that most of the food was raised at home. Kitty Norman was a prolific gardener producing all kinds of delicious vegetables. She also enjoyed planting flowers such as oleander bushes and coral vines that beautified her yard. Katherine Wasson Norman died in Liberty in 1959.
Mrs. Norman's oldest daughter, Elizabeth, was originally named Lizzie Gazelle, in honor of two of her father's sisters. She used the name, Elizabeth, in later years. Elizabeth Norman was born in 1900 in San Jacinto County. She graduated from high school in 1918, and taught in the grade school in Liberty in the early 1920s. Since there was a ten year gap between the births of the four oldest children and the three youngest children, she taught two of her younger brothers, Morris and Dub. In later years she taught at the Catholic school in Liberty. Elizabeth Norman, later known as Mrs. J.V. LaFour, participated in many civic affairs in Liberty. She was blessed with charm and great beauty.
Edna Norman, the younger daughter of W.T. and Katherine Norman, was born in San Jacinto County in 1903. When Edna entered school, her teacher, Edna Rayburn, decided she should have a proper name and so dubbed her "Edna." Edna Norman was always an excellent student graduating from high school in 1918. That fall at the tender age of sixteen she began her long teaching career at the Fregia settlement. She spent the rest of her teaching career in Houston. In Houston, she taught first grade at Montrose for many years. Later she taught at Kinkaid, a private school. By 1948 she was teaching English at San Jacinto High School. In 1967 she retired from teaching after giving 44 years of service to Houston schools.
Edna Norman was known for her love of scholarship and culture. She was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree from Southwest Texas State Teacher's College in San Marcos in 1933. Miss Norman obtained a Master of Arts degree from the University of Houston in 1944. She also did work toward a Ph. D. at the University of Michigan.
Miss Norman deserves special recognition for preserving the Norman House. She gave the house and an endowment to restore it to the Atascosito Historical Society.
Although none of the women who lived in the Norman House became famous they all possessed intriguing personalities. In the past, historians would not have recognized that raising and educating children was as important as fighting military battles and governing nations. During Women's History Month, we salute the women who lived in the Norman House recognizing that so-called average women made the world a different and better place.