Texas through Women's Eyes: The Twentieth-Century Experience

By Judith N. McArthur; Harold L. Smith | Go to book overview

Part Two
POST-SUFFRAGE POLITICS,
DEPRESSION, AND WAR,
1920–1945

RURAL LIFE

The New Woman notwithstanding, most Texas women still lived in the countryside and filled traditional roles; one-third of all wage-earning women worked in agriculture. In 1920, rural dwellers were 68 percent of the population, and 40 percent of them lived in counties that had no urban centers. The state was in transition from a rural to an urban society, but rural people would outnumber city dwellers until World War II. While urban women enjoyed expanded educational and employment opportunities, a rising standard of living, and leisure time for clubs and civic work, rural women continued to have limited choices and small social networks. Some of them were truly isolated. In order to exercise her new right to vote, Helen Sewell, a young teacher at a one-room ranch school in Jim Hogg County, had to ride horseback thirty miles to Hebbronville.1

Although the heyday of cattle ranching was long over and the number of beef cattle and horses declining, ranch culture was deeply embedded in the western and southern parts of the state. Young women raised on ranches grew up on horseback and learned to brand and vaccinate cattle, break colts, and perform many other tasks for which competence mattered more than sex. The most athletic showed off their riding and roping skills in local rodeos. There were no “women’s jobs” in working cattle; when wives and daughters were part of a family labor force, they worked in tandem with men. Big Bend rancher Hallie Stillwell described her part in a fall roundup with her husband and son: “After we got a string of calves tied down… Guy did the branding, with a hot iron, Roy did the ear marking and castrating, while I did the vaccinating for blackleg. Then we all three did the dehorning, which is the most tedious job of all.… Then all the calves had to be untied and ‘turned up’ as we call it. Some of them got up fighting mad, especially the bulls which had just been made into steers. Sometimes they charged and we had to climb the fence.”2

Many more women got their livelihoods from agriculture. Cotton farming,

-61-

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