6:50pm

Sat April 20, 2013
Author Interviews

Kay Bailey Hutchison On Other 'Unflinching' Texan Women

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison knows what it means to be a pioneering female figure in her home state. In 1993, she became the first woman elected to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate.

Now, the former senator has written a book about the women who came before her, Unflinching Courage: Pioneering Women Who Shaped Texas.

In the book, Hutchison profiles several women who broke barriers and made history in the Lone Star State. Many of those women left a life of luxury and "moved to nothing," she tells All Things Considered host Jacki Lyden.


Interview Highlights

Why they went to Texas

"They came because there was free land. And so many of the families in Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, had numerous children. And it was hard, then for someone to make their way if they were the 10th child, and Texas offered free land. So that's why people came, and they brought their genteel wives, young wives, and that's how they settled and why they came to such harsh conditions."

On Jane Long, the 'Mother of Texas'

"She's thought to be the first woman to have an anglo baby in Texas. She came with her husband, she was in the hardest life because he was captured by the Mexicans because he was thought to be fomenting revolution. And she stayed in Galveston where she was by herself with her servant and her daughter, and she was pregnant at the time, she had her baby — delivered it herself, on the beach. They were almost starving because they had run out of rations but she didn't want to leave because she was afraid that her husband would come home and not know where to find her. But she endured incredible hardships."

How Hutchison uncovered the stories of these women

"It's diaries and letters, that's all you had. They didn't have newspapers, you had to get it from letters. And the letters where honest. They talked about the troubles that they were having."

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Transcript

JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

This is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. Coming up, music from the band Phoenix.

First, Kay Bailey Hutchison is a former U.S. Senator from Texas and the first woman to represent her state in the senate. Her new book, "Unflinching Courage: Pioneering Women Who Shaped Texas," explores the lives of Lone Star women from the frontier days to the 1950s. Senator Hutchison, welcome to the program.

KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: Thank you, Jacki. I'm so happy to be here to talk about the book and the role of history in making what we are today.

LYDEN: You know, for those of us who are not going to be as aware of Texas' history as obviously you are descended, as this book may explain, from pioneering stock, I have to say that I found the lives of these women absolutely fascinating. You've written other books about American women. How did you come to write this one with this series of profiles of these women?

HUTCHISON: Well, I have written previous books - two - that profiled the women who contributed so much to the making of America. Now, in Texas, the women who came with their husbands were educated, they had luxuries of life, and they moved to nothing.

LYDEN: You know, I was wondering reading this book - and I hope you'll not take this the wrong way - a lot of people come over from, say, Alabama or Louisiana or other parts of the Mid-Atlantic area, why anybody wanted to come. I mean, it wasn't the most hospitable territory. Was it for land grants, was it for farms?

HUTCHISON: You've got it, Jacki. They came because there was free land. And so many of the families in Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee had numerous children, and it was hard then for someone to make their way, if they were the 10th child, and Texas offered free land. So that's why people came. And they brought their genteel wives, young wives, and that's how they settled and why they came to such harsh conditions.

LYDEN: Let's spend a moment or two on Jane Long, who's often called the Mother of Texas. She's born in Maryland in 1798, and she marries this commander of the Texas Revolution, James Long. Tell us about the Longs.

HUTCHISON: She's thought to be the first woman to have an Anglo baby in Texas. She came with her husband. She was in the harshest life because he was captured by the Mexicans because he was thought to be fomenting revolution. And she stayed in Galveston where she was by herself with her servant and her daughter, and she was pregnant at the time.

She had her baby, delivered it herself on the beach. They were almost starving because they had run out of rations, but she didn't want to leave because she was afraid her husband would come home and not know where to find her. But she endured incredible hardships.

LYDEN: This is 15 years before the battle for the Alamo.

HUTCHISON: Right.

LYDEN: Can we talk a little bit about Margaret Houston? She is really young when she meets the great war hero Sam Houston, and there's 26 years that separate these two. And he has already had an Indian wife - something I had never known about Sam Houston - and possibly a child by that woman. Her parents are not exactly thrilled to see him turn up in Alabama.

HUTCHISON: Oh, that is right. And they - it was an instant attraction between them. And Margaret's mother was very firm that he was going to come and court her on her territory in Alabama. Margaret was not allowed to go to Texas to visit him as Sam Houston had asked her to do, so Houston did go to Alabama and visit her and do all the proper things. But even on their wedding day, the brother of Margaret took Houston into a room and said: Until you tell us the reason for the breakup of your marriage to Eliza Allen in Tennessee...

LYDEN: His first marriage. Mm-hmm.

HUTCHISON: ...which caused him to leave the governorship, yes, of Tennessee, we're not going to allow this to go forward. This was the wedding day. And Sam Houston, who has never revealed, nor has it ever been determined, what caused that breakup, he said: Well, you can pay the fiddlers and go home because I am not going to talk about that. And Margaret Houston then intervened, said: Tell the fiddlers to start playing because we're going to get married. And that was the end of that.

LYDEN: Yeah. It's...

HUTCHISON: And they had a great love affair and a very prolific writing record of it.

LYDEN: Because they are so separated so much of the time.

HUTCHISON: Yes, yes.

LYDEN: How did you learn about the lives of these women? This is so early. We're talking about the 1820s, 1830s. Were there diaries, letters?

HUTCHISON: It's diaries and letters. That's all you had. They didn't have newspapers. You had to get it from letters. And they were - the letters were honest. They talked about the troubles that they were having. And one of the things that I found was a suicide letter of Thomas Rusk, who was one of the two first senators from Texas, and he was the Secretary of War in the fight for independence, a great leader. There has not been a clear reason for his suicide until I happened to find the letter myself in the El Paso Public Library.

LYDEN: You did say, however, doesn't he say that he's really missing his wife, Polly, and that it's thought that the sorrow just doesn't leave him after she predeceases him?

HUTCHISON: Yes. And early historians have indicated that it was the pressure on him to support the candidacy of Sam Houston. And that's what historians have mostly said was his reason for the suicide. But the letter said it was his loss of his wife. And he had felt very badly because he couldn't get to her from Washington where he was in the Senate when she died.

LYDEN: Do you think these women have been overlooked by history outside of Texas, and maybe even inside? I mean, you mention having to piece these together from various archives. Did you learn things you didn't know?

HUTCHISON: Yes. Like, for instance, Margaret Houston, she had the breast tumor, after her second pregnancy, that had grown very painful. And she wrote Houston a letter and said: This is going to be a trifle of an operation. It will be very short. I will sit down and take it like a soldier. She bit on a silver coin and had a breast tumor removed, survived and had six more children.

These women did hold the household. So Margaret Houston had eight children. She raised them, stayed at home, hardly - never went to Washington, didn't go to Austin very much. And it was amazing what they could do by themselves. And so, really, the title of my book "Unflinching Courage" comes from the women and their bravery.

LYDEN: Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson's book is called "Unflinching Courage: Pioneering Women Who Shaped Texas." It's a fascinating book. Senator, thank you very, very much for sharing these stories with us.

HUTCHISON: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.