Former Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison visited Lake Highlands Women’s League members Friday to share stories from her book, Unflinching Courage: Pioneering Women Who Shaped Texas. Hutchison has written three books which highlight the histories and character traits of some of America’s most fascinating and admirable females.
Hutchison graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in 1967, a time when law firms were slow to hire women. She applied to KPRC-TV in Houston, where she became a legal correspondent and one of the first on-screen newswomen in Texas.
Hutchison served in the Texas House of Representatives from 1972 to 1976 and became Texas State Treasurer in 1990. She was elected Texas’ first female senator in 1993 and was appointed to serve as the country’s representative to NATO in 2017.
Hutchison began with a quote from Alexis de Tocqueville, a French aristocrat and historian who visited America in the 1830s and wrote about the beauty of the American spirit.
“[I]f I were asked…to what the singular prosperity and growing strength of that people ought mainly to be attributed, I should reply: To the superiority of their women.”
“He saw that American women were equal,” Hutchison said. “They were respected. They ran businesses, especially during the war for independence. They were running the shops and keeping things going while their husbands were writing the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence.”
Hutchison interviewed women breaking barriers in the fields of science, religion and the military, among others. Her story on Emma Willard, an early proponent of educating girls in the 1700s, led to one about Lynne Cheney, wife of the former vice-president, who writes history books for children. When asked to share her strongest trait, Cheney replied that “stick-to-itiveness” was the key to her success and described her days as a high school twirler.
“We didn’t have girls’ sports back then,” Hutchison recalled Cheney saying, “but twirling taught me to keep on going when I was injured and to keep practicing when I lost.”
When asked if she competed, Cheney sat up straight.
“I was the Wyoming State Champion. Now, to retrieve my dignity here, I want to remind you that Ruth Bader Ginsberg was also a twirler.”
Mothers and authors aren’t supposed to have favorites, but Hutchison admitted she’s partial to the story of Virginia Hall. Born in the early 1900s and educated at Radcliffe and the Sorbonne, Hall spoke French, German and Italian. She lost part of her leg in a hunting accident in Turkey, which killed her dream of working for the CIA. Undeterred, Hall volunteered for the English special forces and became a spy during World War II. She’d go into German-occupied marketplaces in France and listen as Nazi soldiers let slip critical strategic plans, then she’d share them with her team. The Gestapo distributed a flyer warning, “The woman who limps is one of the most dangerous Allied agents in France. We must find and destroy her.”
Hall’s life-saving — and ingenious — solution was to disguise herself as an old woman selling cheese and begin riding a bicycle. She resumed spying on the Nazis and is now considered one of the most effective agents of WWII. She moved back to America, married a fellow American spy and is credited with having saved thousands of lives.
Hutchison believes that children in our state greatly benefit from their education in Texas history.
“Don’t ever, ever, ever let our public schools in Texas drop Texas history,” she implored League members. “It does imbue in our kids the uniqueness of Texas. What I wanted to write about is the uniqueness of the spirit of the early pioneers — especially the women. The men who came to Texas were educated — they were lawyers and they were doctors. The women were educated in the arts — they spoke languages, they played the piano, they knew history because they came from educated families.”
Hutchison shared her admiration for women pioneers, who were making a society in Texas while living with hardship and deprivation.
“I think the women of Texas set the tone for what Texas is — the free spirit, the wonderful, happy, gay, we-can-do-anything kind of spirit,” she said. “A lot of people don’t like Texas. We’re a little too loud. We like to have a little too much fun. But our hearts are as big as our mouths. And it was started in the 1800s.”
Hutchison’s books, American Heroines: The Spirited Women Who Shaped Our Country, Leading Ladies: American Trailblazers, and Unflinching Courage: Pioneering Women Who Shaped Texas, are used in women’s studies programs in colleges across the country. They are available wherever books are sold.
You may learn more about joining or supporting Lake Highlands Women’s League here.