Women and the Creation of Urban Life: Dallas, Texas, 1843-1920

Women and the Creation of Urban Life: Dallas, Texas, 1843-1920

Women and the Creation of Urban Life: Dallas, Texas, 1843-1920

Women and the Creation of Urban Life: Dallas, Texas, 1843-1920

Synopsis

Those individuals remembered as the "founders" of cities were men, but as Elizabeth York Enstam shows, it was women who played a major role in creating the definitive forms of urban life we know today.

A case in point is Dallas. In its early years, women were establishing organizations that altered the functions of local government, amended the public conception of political issues, and changed the city's physical structure. Women stretched, redefined, and at times erased the essentially artificial boundaries between female and male, between "the private" and "the public" as aspects of human endeavor.

As Dallas evolved from a frontier town into a modern city, the varied facets of women's work revealed how their roles changed to shape, influence, and on occasion determine specific characteristics of urban life during times when female lives were supposed to be only private.

Enstam traces the ways national trends were expressed at the local level and analyzes women's accomplishments and the importance of their work as they assumed community leadership in perpetuating the traditions, education, fine arts, and customs of the larger culture, and in implementing Progressive principles in a specific community.

Urban historians, scholars of women's studies, historians of women, and readers with a general interest in history will find that the significance of these women's accomplishments in Dallas have echoed throughout the nation.

Excerpt

When Margaret Beeman married John Neely Bryan in February 1843, she became the first white woman to live where the city of Dallas would be. Seventy- six years later, on July 4, 1919, Nona Boren Mahoney presided when the Dallas Equal Suffrage Association met to celebrate ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Between the dates of these two events, the place called Dallas grew from a single log cabin into a city of more than 150,000, and life assumed many of its modern forms. Whether the effects of those eight decades were greater for women or for men is debatable, but for everyone, life changed in basic and lasting ways that affected employment, work in the home, and participation in the community. Women achieved many of those changes and, in the process, shaped essential elements of city living.

This book investigates women's lives and work during the years when Dallas developed from a frontier settlement into a modern city. Founded in 1841 and incorporated in 1856, Dallas offered advantages for such a study. Especially convenient was the city's youth, for great-grandchildren of the original settlers were available to recall family stories and census and city directory listings were relatively small, providing population surveys and samplings of manageable sizes. Moreover, with its founding during the decades when Americans began aggressively settling the trans-Mississippi frontier, the city's origins held few mysteries. In the 1840s, real estate speculators like Neely Bryan planted settlements as if they were crops, and subsequent local leaders solicitously tended their growth. Advertisements in the pioneer newspaper and articles in the earliest city directories proudly announced each acquisition, as residents built the institutions and established the practices characteristic first of antebellum, and then of modern, urban places.

In admittedly broad strokes over a period spanning nearly three generations, this book seeks to evaluate what women have done, not in comparison to . . .

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