Thursday, May 11, 2017

Kerr county women who changed our community

Margaret Thatcher famously suggested if you wanted someone to speak, ask a man; if you wanted to get something done, ask a woman. In my study of local history I’ve found that many of the successful efforts to make our community a better place have been achieved by women. This has been true from the earliest days of our community.
It would be an exaggeration to suggest the communities of Kerr County would lack paved streets, that we would not have public schools or churches, and that bathing would be infrequent if it were not for women, but it’s not that far from the truth, either.
The following stories are about a varied group of local women. Most were well educated. Some were wealthy but most were not. Many of them overcame tragedies; several lost a child. Most knew hardship.
What unites them is their concern for others. Well, that and hard work.
Rosalie Dietert
Rosalie Dietert came to Kerrville with her husband Christian in 1857 when there were only five shacks in the whole town, all scattered near the banks of the Guadalupe. They were immigrants from Germany. Christian was a millwright who built several water-powered mills in surrounding communities. He built several in Kerrville, too.
Christian was appointed postmaster in 1868, though, in reality, he was postmaster in name only. Rosalie ran the local post office from her home on Spring Street. (That street still exists, but you have to know where to look. It’s opposite the front doors of Notre Dame Catholic Church on Water Street.)
The first post office fixture was a frame made by Christian Dietert out of cypress wood. Four feet high, three wide, and seven inches deep, it contained 12 pigeon holes six inches high, along with three compartments 14 inches wide by 6 high for newspapers and packages. A lower section 17 inches high comprised the entire width of the frame and was used for the general "paraphernalia pertaining to the office."  That little piece of furniture handled the entire volume of mail in Kerrville the twenty years, until 1888.
There were many firsts in the Dietert home. Because of the saw mill, theirs was the first house that used milled cypress lumber. They had the first stove, and the first Christmas tree in Kerrville.
Years later she was asked by her great-granddaughter “What ever made you leave your home, brave the sea, and throw your lot in an unknown land?”
“With me it was the spirit of adventure,” Rosalie Dietert replied, “All of the papers were full of the new world and of Texas.”
What did she find here? “There were no roads, or dry camping places, and danger of Indian raids was ever present.” In Kerrville, there was “nothing but a cluster of five small log huts, of one or two rooms, a wilderness of trees, and grass as high as a man, with Indians skulking through.”
About her life in Kerrville, she wrote “Hardly a day passed without its visitor or overnight guest, or a meal partaken that was not shared by some chance traveler.” Mrs. Dietert ran a very social home. She also taught many of the young people in the community how to dance.
That kindness and hospitality made Kerrville a community.
Florence Butt in her store
Click any image to enlarge
Many know the story of Florence Butt, the woman who started what is now H-E-B. She arrived in Kerrville in 1905 with her husband, Charles, their three sons, and two stepsons. Charles was ill, suffering from tuberculosis; it would kill him eventually, and take their adult son Charles as well.
Looking today at the company she started you’d assume life was easy for Florence Butt. It was not. She started her grocery store out of necessity: she needed to provide for her family. Her husband, a pharmacist, was too ill to work.
Kerrville was not particularly kind to families who brought tuberculosis with them to our community. The family lived in a tent on the outskirts of town for some time. Eventually Florence attempted to sell groceries door to door. At one house she was greeted with disdain: “We do not buy from paddlers,” she was told, as the door slammed in her face.
At a time when few women attended college, Florence Butt had a college degree. In fact, she graduated at the very top of her class. At a time when few women started businesses, she started a grocery store. At a time when women were not allowed to preach, she was generous to the poor, taught Sunday School, and helped establish a congregation on the east edge of town. And this was at a time when she could not vote.
The thing about Florence Butt is this: she did not give up. And she was unfailingly generous, especially to those in need.
Mary Holdsworth Butt
Florence Butt had a son named Howard who married extremely well, somehow persuading Mary Elizabeth Holdsworth to be his bride. Mary Butt was a Tivy graduate from a good Kerrville family. She graduated from college, trained to be a teacher. She was a teacher all of her life, though she spent very few of her years in a classroom.
In the late 1960s she took on a special project in Kerrville: she and her husband built a library.
Kerrville had a library, a little library in the building at the corner of Rodriguez and Water streets; previously the library was in the first floor of the old Charles Schreiner mansion on Earl Garrett Street.
Those old libraries were probably about right for a community the size of Kerrville in the 1960s. Small. Volunteer driven. Strapped for cash.
Mary Butt and her husband dreamed bigger and could afford to help make that dream possible. In 1967 the oddly-named Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library opened with an impressive amount of small-town fanfare. Lady Bird Johnson attended the dedication ceremonies. Looking through the photographs of the event one can feel the excitement of the occasion. It was a really, really big deal.
And yet it was completely in line with Mary Butt’s life as a teacher. With that one project she opened a million doors for our community.
Annie Walker Doyle
Fewer know the story of Annie Doyle. Like Florence Butt, she had a college education, and was one of the best-educated women in Kerrville. She was married to a well-educated minister, Henry Doyle, who suffered from tuberculosis.
Annie Doyle dedicated her life to teaching children, and the children she educated had been overlooked by our community. Her students, like Annie, were African-Americans. There was no school for them because of the color of their skin.
After Henry died, Annie stayed in Kerrville and taught elementary school in a building she helped obtain from the Kerrville school district and had moved to land she bought.
For many years she was not only the principal of the school, she was its only teacher. And she was paid less than other teachers in the school district.
When B. T. Wilson and his wife Itasco came to Kerrville, they asked that the school be renamed in Annie Doyle’s honor.
And what of her students? They changed the world.
Clarabelle Snodgrass
I think Clarabelle Snodgrass and Josephine “Dodo” Parker might be surprised to find themselves bound together in the same story. They were two very different women.
Clarabelle grew up in the Turtle Creek community, and later she and her husband Ross ranched on the Divide. After moving to town she became active in the Kerr County Historical Commission.
Dodo grew up in town; she was the great-granddaughter of Captain Charles Schreiner. Her husband, Clyde, was active in local businesses, including the Schreiner store downtown. Later in life she and others formed the Hill Country Preservation Society.
What did these two accomplish?
They helped preserve the history of our community.
Clarabelle Snodgrass was tireless in working within the historical commission to tell the history of our community. She obtained historical markers throughout the county, and her leadership helped save the original Tivy School building from demolition. That building now serves as the administrative offices of the Kerrville Independent School District. And she was instrumental in the publication of the Kerr County Album, in which hundreds of local families told their story.
Josephine "Dodo" 
Dodo Parker was just as tireless in preserving history. She and others worked hard to build a museum in the former home of her great-grandfather, the Schreiner mansion on Earl Garrett Street. For decades the old home served as a center for historic preservation.  Her work likely saved the old mansion from being torn down.
Both Clarabelle and Dodo are gone now, but the work they did helped preserve a great amount of our local history, and they helped build a foundation for those who follow.
I picked these stories because the few women mentioned really represent so many others.  To tell all of the good accomplished by Kerr County women would take thousands of pages.

I'm thankful for the hard-working women of our community, and proud of the community they helped build.  The story isn't over: the community continues to benefit from the hard work of its women.

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Texas Hill Country Culture Magazine.

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