Feb 10, 2021 - 02:55 pm CST

Mrs. Willie Mae "Ankie" Kirk (1921-2013)  was a consummate humanitarian and two two key ideas within her personal philosophy drove her work in the community: the belief in "the worth and dignity of each individual" and her firm stance that "if you have anything at all, you have something to share." 

She began teaching in 1947 after attending and graduating from Old Anderson High School and Sam Huston College (Huston-Tillotson Univ) in 1947. She taught elementary education until she retired in 1982. She later accomplished her graduate work in education at Prairie View College and the University of Texas here in Austin. 

Kirk worked with other community members and leaders to heal racial tensions and to find ways to promote social justice and create quality education in Austin. 

She was a co-founder of the 1963-1964 Mothers Action Council, a timely and controversial local civil rights movement and collaborated with other citizens and community leaders on different FRONTS to heal racial tensions and promote social justice and education in Austin. 

In 1968 the Austin City Council appointed Mrs. Kirk to its first Human Rights Commission. After the race riot resulting from attempts to desegregate businesses in the UT area, she served on a committee to deal with the Representing this membership, she served on an ad hoc committee to deal with a race riot that resulted from attempts to desegregate businesses in the University of Texas area. Austin Mayor Jeffrey Friedman appointed her to the Library Commission in 1971. 

In order to save the Carver Library, Austin's first branch library, Mrs. Kirk lead fundraising and supported a bond initiative that saved it from demolition. 

Staying active in the community for her entire life, she supported her Alma Mater, Huston-Tillotson University, was a lifelong member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), an active member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, and a founding member of the Town Lake Chapter of The Links, Inc. She was also a member of Jack & Jill of America, the National Council of Negro Women, Girl Scouts of America, W.H. Passon Historical Society, and organizer of the Washington Heights/Holy Cross Neighborhood Club. 

She earned the respect of state and local leaders working from many spheres of society, political, educational, non-profit, and religious institutions. 

And in October 2012 the City of Austin recognized her collective achievements with the naming and dedication of the Willie Mae Kirk Library (formerly Oak Springs) in East Austin.

Feb 09, 2021 - 04:46 pm CST

Dr. John Jarvis Seabrook (1899-1975) was a well known community leader in the Austin area. 

He served the community as a pastor, educator, institution builder, and served as the president of Huston-Tillotson College from 1955 to 1965 (just after the merger of the two colleges took place). 

Not stopping there, he was a member of the Board of Directors for the Budget Committee of United Way, a member of the Citizens Committee for Community Improvement, on the Community Council of Austin and Travis County, the Long Range Planning Committee, the Citizens Committee on Health and Hospital Needs, the Austin Chamber of Commerce, the budget committee for the Austin Retired Teachers Association, and the Austin Citizens League. 

And he used his time as the Chairman of the Brackenridge Hospital board to encourage the City Council to float a bond issue to finish building the new Brackenridge Hospital Unit.  

He was also a member of Austin’s first committee on Human Relations - a group that came together to advise and consult with the city council on matters that involved racial, religious, or ethnic discrimination.

In the 1970s, Seabrook was active in the push to change the name of 19th street to Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. 

The issue with the change of name was due to pushback from many business owners who did not like the cost of street signs and the change of addresses that would be required. People then became more divided when a recommendation was made to use King’s name only on the east side of the freeway, where the population was primarily African American. Seabrook opposed the proposal to have two different names for the same street in his remarks to the City Council in April 1972, and again at the May 1, 1975 meeting. He reminded the Council that the street renaming had already been approved. However, it was at the May 1 meeting that Seabrook suffered a heart attack and collapsed at the podium, dying later that evening. 

Five days later, Mayor Roy Butler and the City Council unanimously adopted the original motion for renaming all of 19th Street after Martin Luther King Jr.

With the help of the Austin City Council and Huston-Tillotson University, May 1st has been declared J. J. Seabrook Day, a scholarship for community leadership, has been established for students at HustonTillotson by West Austin business owners, and the bridge on MLK over I-35 has been named the J. J. Seabrook Bridge.

Jan 20, 2021 - 01:20 pm CST

Holloway, Jean MacMullen (1911–1984) was born in San Francisco on October 16, 1911 and moved to Texas with her family in 1916. After graduating from the University of Texas at the age of seventeen, she married Sterling Holloway. She studied law in his office in Brownwood, TX, and at nineteen she successfully petitioned the Texas Supreme Court for permission to take the bar examination on the grounds that she was married and therefore not legally a minor (at this time twenty-one was the age at which you were old enough to vote, and was the age of majority in most areas). After passing the bar, she was granted a license to practice law in 1930r.

In 1936 the Holloways moved to Fort Worth, where she owned and managed the Commercial Employment Service. She was a licensed pilot and served at the Army Air Force Training Center in Fort Worth as assistant to Jacqueline Cochran, director of the Women's Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs), during World War II. 

She worked for Southwest Review from 1943 until 1945 and earned an M.A. degree at Texas Christian University in 1948, then a Ph.D. in English from the University of Texas in 1950. 

Jean served as the first editor of the newly established University of Texas Press from 1943 until 1945. Then, after moving permanently to Austin in 1954, she split her focus and alternated between writing and the law. She published two biographies, Edward Everett Hale (1956) and Hamlin Garland: A Biography (1960), and taught for a time in the English department at Huston-Tillotson College in 1965. She maintained a law practice with her husband and when he passed in 1976, she served as counsel to the firm. 

During her time in Austin she worked for integration, most notably as a founding member of the Austin Commission on Human Relations and editor of its newsletter. She also served on the Chancellor's Council at the University of Texas and in 1970 endowed the Jean Holloway Award for Teaching Excellence in the Arts and Sciences. In 1984 she gave $20,000 -matched by the university- to endow a lectureship in the College of Liberal Arts in her husband's name. Jean Holloway died on May 20, 1984, returning home from the Soviet Union, where she had been attending a legal seminar. She is now buried in Austin Memorial Park.

 

Jan 20, 2021 - 12:54 pm CST

 

John Mason Brewer (1896-1975) was born in Goliad in 1896. Over his fifty-year career as a teacher, writer, historian, poet, storyteller, and folklorist, he is most well known as the person who almost single-handedly preserved the African American folklore of Texas.

Brewer’s love of stories and folklore can largely be traced to his upbringing. His grandfathers were wagoners who hauled dry goods across Texas and his father worked as a barber, drover, grocer, mail carrier, postmaster, and cowboy.  With all the traveling, it’s no surprise they had stories to tell. His mother was a schoolteacher and gave him access to books of African-American history and encouraged a love of education that would follow him throughout his life. Between these influences, it’s no surprise his interest in writing and storytelling was piqued. 

Brewer attended public schools here in Austin and in 1917, he graduated from Wiley College with a BA in English. The next year he joined the army and went to France as an interpreter (he spoke French, Spanish, and Italian). When he returned to the states he worked as a teacher and wrote poetry, but also began to gather the folk tales he was hearing in his daily life at school and church gatherings or in general stores and barbershops. The stories would come from former slaves and their descendants and he recorded the stories in the local accents and dialects that the storytellers themselves had. 

Teaching in Austin in the 1930s put him into contact with folklorist J. Frank Dobie and and when Brewer shared some of his tales, they were published under the title of “Juneteenth” in Tone the Bell Down, a publication put out by the Texas Folklore Society. The next year “Old Time Negro Proverbs” was published and Negrito, a volume of his own poetry was published in 1933. Negro Legislators of Texas and Their Descendants (1935), The Negro in Texas History (1936), and An Historical Outline of the Negro in Travis County (1940) all followed. Heralding Dawn: An Anthology of Verse (1936) featured the poetry of black Texas poets. 

His three collections of black Texas folklore are what he’s most well known for: The Word on the Brazos: Negro Preacher Tales from the Brazos Bottoms of Texas (1953), Aunt Dicy Tales: Snuff-Dipping Tales of the Texas Negro (1956), and Dog Ghosts and Other Texas Negro Folk Tales (1958). While teaching in North Carolina he published Worser Days and Better Times (1965) and won an award for American Negro Folklore (1968). 

After being chosen one of twenty-five best Texas authors by Theta Sigma Phi,  Brewer became the first African American member of the Texas Folklore Society and the Texas Institute of Letters. He also became the first African American to serve  on the council of the American Folklore Society, eventually rising to the position of vice-president. He received grants for his research in Negro folklore from the American Philosophical Society, the Piedmont University Center for the Study of Negro Folklore, the Library of Congress, the National Library of Mexico, and the National University of Mexico. He described his own tales as “as varied as the Texas landscape, as full of contrasts as the weather” and his books serve as a timeless record of Texas storytelling, and powerful proof of what he called "folklore as a living force."

Jan 04, 2021 - 11:47 am CST

Peter Heinrich Mansbendel was born to Johann and Valeria Mansbendel on August 12, 1883, at Basel, Switzerland. At age ten Mansbendel began an internship in woodcarving, with further study at the Industrial Arts School. Once he completed his compulsory service in the Swiss Artillery he traveled to London and then Paris to study the work of skilled and well-known woodcarvers.

Mansbendel left Paris and arrived in New York on April 21, 1907. He changed his middle name to Henry and lists his occupation as Sculptor and Interior Decorator. While working as head of a woodcarving department for a period furniture organization he met and fell in love with Ida Clotilde Shipe, who’s father, Monroe Shipe, was the developer for Austin’s Hyde Park neighborhood. Mansbendel relocated to Texas and married Clotilde in May of 1911. Two years later he was granted US Citizenship. They had two children, a daughter, Valerie, and a son, Peter, Jr. Mansbendel owned his business working out of his Austin studio until 1939.

"Photo of Mansbendel smoking a pipe"

Photo courtesy of Doug Oliver

During the 1920s and 1930s leading architects in Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio called for Mansbendel to put finishing touches on their most important projects in both private and public buildings. He is respected for carved mantels and panelings, but perhaps is better known for the magnificent solid black walnut doors of the Spanish Governor’s Palace and the ornate doors at the Mission San Jose, both of San Antonio. Mansbendel frequently used the rich geography and passionate history of Texas for inspiration. His carving of the Battle of the Alamo in a preserved Alamo rafter is housed at the Laguna Gloria Museum.

"photo of black walnut doors of the Spanish Governor's Palace"

Photo courtesy of Doug Oliver

Woodcarvers bring beauty to everyday objects and raise them to objets d’art. Using simple tools, like chisel, gauge, plane, saw and bevel. Mansbendel created carvings of flowers, people, historical scenes and the occasional caricature. He made beds, mantels, doors, tables, chairs and staircases. On a less grand scale, he fashioned jewelry boxes, mirrors, inkstands, gavels, chests and animal figures.

"photo of wooden carved snail"

Photo courtesy of Doug Oliver

As a person of many talents, he also lent his skill to theatre as both a set designer and a performer. And since he was a native German speaker with quite a good singing voice, he was active in the all-male choral group, The Saengerrunde: the German Singing Society.

At the time of his death on July 19, 1940, his wife and he had lived in the home he designed and built for 28 years.

This man who devoted his life to creating works of art is buried with a surprisingly simple grave marker, bearing no resemblance to art that he’d devoted his life to creating.

"Mansbendel's headstone"

Jan 04, 2021 - 11:36 am CST

Phineas De Cordova (1819–1903) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and went to Jamaica as a young man. He married a Miss Delgado in 1847 and moved to Texas later that year. They first went to Galveston and Houston, then to Austin to work with his half-brother, Jacob (The De Cordova’s are credited as the first Jewish people to settle in Austin). The brothers determined that it was time to tell the world about the resources in Texas. They began a semi-monthly paper where the knowledge that the elder brother had of Texas, coupled with the literary abilities of the younger. ‘The Texas Herald’ was filled with descriptions of the State. About one thousand copies of each edition were distributed over the Southern and Western States. The articles were freely copied by the newspapers of the South and West, and attracted many immigrants. In 1850 Governor Bell requested that the printing office be moved to Austin, and a weekly newspaper, ‘the South Western American,’ was established. It was edited by Phineas, but published by both De Cordovas. The South Western American started the idea of loaning the school fund and donating a portion of the public lands to help with the building of railroads through Texas. Initially, the idea was ridiculed. One of the most prominent men of Texas, was especially vocal, but at the next election for the Legislature he was defeated by a large majority because of this very issue.

"portrait of Phineas DeCordova"

Image provided by Austin History Center Austin Public Libraries

Phineas always felt proud of this episode in his life, but when talking with friends he was careful to say that the honor of originating the measure should be given to Judge George W. Paschal and I.A. Paschal. They had suggested that ‘the American’ should advocate the plan and that they would also lend aid, but their names were to be kept out of it. In the 1850s de Cordova established a general land and agency business, and operated it with his son until he was forced to retire due to his health in the 1890s. He passed away in Austin on May 8, 1903, and is buried in one of the Jewish sections of Oakwood Cemetery.

"Family DeCordova Monument in Oakwood Cemetery"

Jan 04, 2021 - 11:27 am CST

Anna Hardwicke Pennybacker (1861-1938) was an accomplished suffragette, educator, author, and advocate for progressive causes. Born in Virginia, she attended Sam Houston Normal Institute and graduated in 1880 as part of its first class. She married a classmate, Percy V. Pennybacker, in 1884, but he died in 1899. Before he passed, they worked together as educators and she wrote and published ‘A New History of Texas’ in 1888. This textbook, known as “the Pennybacker text” was the standard for teaching Texas history for forty years.

"Photograph of Anna Pennybacker seated at desk, signed by her"

Photo provided by SHSU University Archives

Pennybacker started her career in advocacy with the Texas club movement, founding the Tyler Woman’s Club in 1894 (one of the first Texas women’s clubs). From 1901 to 1903 she led the Texas Federation of Women and raised $3,500 for women’s scholarships at the University of Texas while also lobbying successfully for the funding of a women’s dormitory. Under her leadership, the federation also started a traveling library and art collection that became permanent libraries in Texas.

From 1919 to 1920, she was an associate member of the Democratic National Committee and began a close friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt. They worked together on a number of issues including the advancement of women, world peace, and the furthering of the progressive reforms of the Democratic party. President Roosevelt even helped to fundraise at the Chautauqua Institutes’ Women’s Club in 1936, and Eleanor Roosevelt became the first and only First Lady to speak at Sam Houston State University in 1937.

"Photograph of Pennybacker with Eleanor Roosevelt"

Photo provided by SHSU University Archives

Anna Hardwicke Pennybacker spent her life working for causes she felt passionate about. She lectured all over the country on topics like the status of women and immigrants, near East relief, the World Court, and League of Nations. She also became the first woman in history to give the commencement address to the city of Houston’s combined high schools. She had such a varied record of contributions, from Food Administration of Texas in World War I to acting as a special correspondent to the League of Nations, that when she died in her home in Austin on February 4, 1938, she was known and regarded throughout the country for her work in social reforms. She is now buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Austin.

"Headstone of Anna JH Pennybacker"

 

Nov 20, 2020 - 03:25 pm CST

Fania Feldman Kruger (1893–1977) was born in Sevastopol, Crimea. Her father was a rabbi and because of the family's faith, Fania was not allowed to enter the Gymnasia when she initially applied. She was eventually admitted, but this initial denial may have been why education was so important to her throughout her life. 

In 1908, her family immigrated to the United States out of fear for their safety. Her father had been beaten badly by Cossack troops and she had witnessed other troops commit murder. She and her sisters had also become part of the political underground during the revolution of 1905, so by 1908 they decided it was time to leave. 

Image: Portrait of Fania courtesy of UTSA Special Collections

The family settled in Fort Worth, Texas where Fania learned to speak English, and 4 years later in 1912, she married Sam Kruger. In 1913, the couple moved to Wichita Falls. Sam opened a jewelry and antique store while Fania joined a Jewish women's group and the local literary society. The couple had two children and after her husband's death in 1952, Fania moved to Austin.

Image: Sam and Fania Kruger courtesy of UTSA Special Collections

Fania's experiences in Russia were a large inspiration for her poetry and were the core of her commitment to human rights and social change. When the state legislature pressured the University of Texas at Austin to keep soprano Barbara Smith from performing in its production of Dido and Aeneas because she was black, Kruger wrote in order to protest.  

Her poetry described Czarist cruelty and Jewish life and customs. She called for called for humane action for all people everywhere. Cossack Laughter (1938), The Tenth Jew (1949), and Selected Poems (1973) were the three big collections of her work that she published, but she was also published in Southwest Review, Crisis, American Guardian, American Hebrew, Texas Quarterly, and the Year Book of the Poetry Society of Texas. One poem, "Peasant's Pilgrimage to Kiev," was translated into Russian and published in Moscow. "To a Young Mother," a short story, was published in the October 1960 issue of Redbook magazine and was then produced and televised in Austin. It aired repeatedly between 1965 and 1970. Kruger both narrated and appeared in the film as a grandmother who observed a young woman with two children. In 1969 “The Tenth Jew” was set to music by the University of Cincinnati  who commissioned a violinist, a conductor, and the composer Frederic Balazs, director of the Philharmonia Orchestra.

Image: Sam and Fania Kruger with her sisters courtesy of UTSA Special Collections

Her work was highly impactful, and she won multiple awards for it: First place for the best poem of the year from the Poetry Society of America for "Passover Eve" in 1946 and the Lola Ridge award also from the Poetry Society of America in 1947 for "Blessing the New Moon." The Poetry Society of Texas awarded her the Clementine Dunne Award for "Son of Tomorrow" in 1950. She also won first place for poetry in 1956 from the New York City Writer's Conference. And as a member of the poetry societies of England, America, Texas, and Austin and of the Texas Institute of Letters she was frequently a public speaker and would give readings of her work.

She eventually returned to the Soviet Union in 1959 which was over 50 years since she had left. She visited Moscow and Yalta, but she was unable to go to Sevastopol where she had been born, possibly because it was then the site of a Soviet naval base. Her reception in Russia was surprising for Kruger. She was treated as a celebrity. She was interviewed by press, radio, and television journalists, she was given the use of a chauffeured car, and was one of a select group to take an inaugural airline flight to Yalta. While she was there, something she was asked repeatedly was if she thought Russian life was superior to life in the United States, and she replied that it was not. However, while in Russia, she suffered a minor heart attack and spent three days recovering before returning home.

As she became known internationally as well as in Texas she corresponded with many writers and editors in those literary circles. She knew Langston Hughes well enough to trade poems with him and would occasionally send him her homemade strudel. Fania died in Austin on July 16, 1977, and was buried in Temple Beth Israel Cemetery within Oakwood Cemetery.

 

Nov 13, 2020 - 01:25 pm CST

Hart Stilwell was born in 1902 in Yoakum, Texas. When he was two, his large family relocated to the Rio Grande Valley. His life growing up pretty chaotic and there was a lot of conflict with his father, a former Texas Ranger with anger issues who was prone to mood-swings and threats of violence.

At seventeen Stilwell began studying at the University of Texas and worked for The Daily Texan, graduating with a degree in journalism in 1924. In 1925 he married Mary Gray Seabury. After graduating he became a reporter for The Brownsville Herald and later served as their editor. In the later 1920s Stilwell shifted his attention to free-lance writing while continuing to contribute articles to newspapers across Texas for the duration of his life.

Border Town, his first novel, was published in 1945. It was a rebuke of the race relations in the Rio Grande Valley. It was a story as told by a cynical reporter who was in love with a Mexican woman who had been raped by a wealthy Anglo businessman. 

"Book Cover: Uncovered Wagon"

Image courtesy of Austin Public Libraries

It was only two years later that Stilwell published his most critically acclaimed novel, Uncovered Wagon. This was a thinly veiled account of Stilwell’s relationship with his father. It was named one of the fifty best books of Texas by A.C. Greene, “you don’t find many Texas writers who can face the bitter reality of rural poverty in a changing society as Stilwell does.” Sadly, Campus Town, his third novel, was less successful than his others.

"Stillwell with J. Frank Dobie"

Photo taken by Russel Lee and provided by The Hart Stillwell Papers, The Wittliff Collections, Texas State University

He drew strongly from his own life experiences and they all carry strong tones of intense liberalism and a hatred of intolerance. His daughter actually called Uncovered Wagon an “autobiography” and said that her father only changed names and place names because his mother objected to the harshness he showed in his narrative.  

He also enjoyed writing non-fiction. He collaborated with Slats Rogers on Rogers’ autobiography and assisted his wife, Anne Stilwell, in the writing of a book on neglected children called ‘The Child Who Walks Alone.’

"Stilwell with Wife Anne"

Photo taken by Russel Lee and provided by The Hart Stillwell Papers, The Wittliff Collections, Texas State University

As an avid sportsman Stilwell published two well-known books on hunting and fishing in Texas and Mexico as well as different articles that appeared in: Field and Stream, Outdoor, Hunting Yearbook, and other outdoor sports magazines. 

Stillwell was writing right up until he died.

 "Book Cover: Glory of the Silver King"

Image courtesy of Austin Public Libraries

Earlier in the decade he had begun working on a full-length book that focused on human interference in the natural world. He channeled his concern about the domestication of wild animals and the increasing use of biological engineering on animals and plants that were consumed by humans. Along with this, he was working on a manuscript about fishing, a children’s book on wolves, and several short essays when he died on May 13, 1975 in Austin, TX.

He is buried next to his wife, Anne, in Austin Memorial Park in Austin, Texas.

 

"Headstone reading Stilwell"

 

 

Nov 05, 2020 - 11:39 am CST

James A. Michener was born in NYC in 1907, but never knew who his birth parents were. As a foundling he was adopted by Mabel Michener and raised as a Quaker. In his teens he hitchhiked and traveled by boxcar all across the US gaining life experiences that fed into his later writing. After graduating from Swarthmore College summa cum laude he became a teacher. He began his writing career with articles on teaching social studies published between 1936 and 1942.

"James Michener surrounded by ivy circa 1960"

Image Courtesy of University of Northern Colorado Archives and Special Collections

During WWII he enlisted in the Navy and served as naval historian in the South Pacific from 1944 to 1946. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1948 for the collection Tales of the South Pacific (1947), that he sent to his former publisher anonymously. When it was adapted for Broadway by Rodgers and Hammerstein it won another Pulitzer Prize as a musical and turned Michener’s book into a bestseller.

"Image of James A. Michener's Tales of the South Pacific"

Image courtesy of Austin Public Libaries

Michener would do very in depth research for his novels and traveled extensively. Hawaii (1959) took four years to write and was written after he had moved to Honolulu and become active in Hawaiian civic affairs. 

Occasionally Michener would shift his focus towards American life. Centennial (1974) was written for the bicentennial of the US and Chesapeake (1978) featured families on the east coast and Chesapeake Bay. Space (1982) was a fictional chronicle of the U.S. space program. With the Covenant (1980) he returned to international stories and wrote about South Africa against the background of apartheid. In Mexico (1992) he deals with the problems of contemporary Mexico, through the lens of bullfighting and Indian slavery in the country’s silver mines. 

"Image of James A. Michener's My Lost Mexico"

Image courtesy of Austin Public Libraries

Not all of Michener’s works were fictional. The Fires of Spring (1949) and his 1992 memoir, The World Is My Home, were both autobiographical. His last completed book was A Century of Sonnets (1997).

"James A. Michener reading a book circa 1960"

Image Courtesy of University of Northern Colorado Archives and Special Collections

In his later life, Michener became a philanthropist. He contributed millions of dollars to universities and the Authors League Fund. And before his death, he donated 1,500 Japanese prints to the University of Hawaii. He and his wife Mari Sabusawa Michener also left a generous endowment to the University of Texas in the early 1990s creating the Texas Center for Writers that became the Michener Center for Writers to honor him after his death. 

In 1997 he determined that he had “accomplished what he wanted to accomplish” and decided to take himself off of dialysis, dying in his home at 90 years old. 

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Feb 09, 2021 - 04:46 pm CST

Dr. John Jarvis Seabrook (1899-1975) was a well known community leader in the Austin area. 

He served the community as a pastor, educator, institution builder, and served as the president of Huston-Tillotson College from 1955 to 1965 (just after the merger of the two colleges took place). 

Not stopping there, he was a member of the Board of Directors for the Budget Committee of United Way, a member of the Citizens Committee for Community Improvement, on the Community Council of Austin and Travis County, the Long Range Planning Committee, the Citizens Committee on Health and Hospital Needs, the Austin Chamber of Commerce, the budget committee for the Austin Retired Teachers Association, and the Austin Citizens League. 

And he used his time as the Chairman of the Brackenridge Hospital board to encourage the City Council to float a bond issue to finish building the new Brackenridge Hospital Unit.  

He was also a member of Austin’s first committee on Human Relations - a group that came together to advise and consult with the city council on matters that involved racial, religious, or ethnic discrimination.

In the 1970s, Seabrook was active in the push to change the name of 19th street to Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. 

The issue with the change of name was due to pushback from many business owners who did not like the cost of street signs and the change of addresses that would be required. People then became more divided when a recommendation was made to use King’s name only on the east side of the freeway, where the population was primarily African American. Seabrook opposed the proposal to have two different names for the same street in his remarks to the City Council in April 1972, and again at the May 1, 1975 meeting. He reminded the Council that the street renaming had already been approved. However, it was at the May 1 meeting that Seabrook suffered a heart attack and collapsed at the podium, dying later that evening. 

Five days later, Mayor Roy Butler and the City Council unanimously adopted the original motion for renaming all of 19th Street after Martin Luther King Jr.

With the help of the Austin City Council and Huston-Tillotson University, May 1st has been declared J. J. Seabrook Day, a scholarship for community leadership, has been established for students at HustonTillotson by West Austin business owners, and the bridge on MLK over I-35 has been named the J. J. Seabrook Bridge.

Historical Biographies of Austin Cemeteries
Jan 20, 2021 - 01:20 pm CST

Holloway, Jean MacMullen (1911–1984) was born in San Francisco on October 16, 1911 and moved to Texas with her family in 1916. After graduating from the University of Texas at the age of seventeen, she married Sterling Holloway. She studied law in his office in Brownwood, TX, and at nineteen she successfully petitioned the Texas Supreme Court for permission to take the bar examination on the grounds that she was married and therefore not legally a minor (at this time twenty-one was the age at which you were old enough to vote, and was the age of majority in most areas). After passing the bar, she was granted a license to practice law in 1930r.

In 1936 the Holloways moved to Fort Worth, where she owned and managed the Commercial Employment Service. She was a licensed pilot and served at the Army Air Force Training Center in Fort Worth as assistant to Jacqueline Cochran, director of the Women's Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs), during World War II. 

She worked for Southwest Review from 1943 until 1945 and earned an M.A. degree at Texas Christian University in 1948, then a Ph.D. in English from the University of Texas in 1950. 

Jean served as the first editor of the newly established University of Texas Press from 1943 until 1945. Then, after moving permanently to Austin in 1954, she split her focus and alternated between writing and the law. She published two biographies, Edward Everett Hale (1956) and Hamlin Garland: A Biography (1960), and taught for a time in the English department at Huston-Tillotson College in 1965. She maintained a law practice with her husband and when he passed in 1976, she served as counsel to the firm. 

During her time in Austin she worked for integration, most notably as a founding member of the Austin Commission on Human Relations and editor of its newsletter. She also served on the Chancellor's Council at the University of Texas and in 1970 endowed the Jean Holloway Award for Teaching Excellence in the Arts and Sciences. In 1984 she gave $20,000 -matched by the university- to endow a lectureship in the College of Liberal Arts in her husband's name. Jean Holloway died on May 20, 1984, returning home from the Soviet Union, where she had been attending a legal seminar. She is now buried in Austin Memorial Park.

 

Historical Biographies of Austin Cemeteries
Jan 20, 2021 - 12:54 pm CST

 

John Mason Brewer (1896-1975) was born in Goliad in 1896. Over his fifty-year career as a teacher, writer, historian, poet, storyteller, and folklorist, he is most well known as the person who almost single-handedly preserved the African American folklore of Texas.

Brewer’s love of stories and folklore can largely be traced to his upbringing. His grandfathers were wagoners who hauled dry goods across Texas and his father worked as a barber, drover, grocer, mail carrier, postmaster, and cowboy.  With all the traveling, it’s no surprise they had stories to tell. His mother was a schoolteacher and gave him access to books of African-American history and encouraged a love of education that would follow him throughout his life. Between these influences, it’s no surprise his interest in writing and storytelling was piqued. 

Brewer attended public schools here in Austin and in 1917, he graduated from Wiley College with a BA in English. The next year he joined the army and went to France as an interpreter (he spoke French, Spanish, and Italian). When he returned to the states he worked as a teacher and wrote poetry, but also began to gather the folk tales he was hearing in his daily life at school and church gatherings or in general stores and barbershops. The stories would come from former slaves and their descendants and he recorded the stories in the local accents and dialects that the storytellers themselves had. 

Teaching in Austin in the 1930s put him into contact with folklorist J. Frank Dobie and and when Brewer shared some of his tales, they were published under the title of “Juneteenth” in Tone the Bell Down, a publication put out by the Texas Folklore Society. The next year “Old Time Negro Proverbs” was published and Negrito, a volume of his own poetry was published in 1933. Negro Legislators of Texas and Their Descendants (1935), The Negro in Texas History (1936), and An Historical Outline of the Negro in Travis County (1940) all followed. Heralding Dawn: An Anthology of Verse (1936) featured the poetry of black Texas poets. 

His three collections of black Texas folklore are what he’s most well known for: The Word on the Brazos: Negro Preacher Tales from the Brazos Bottoms of Texas (1953), Aunt Dicy Tales: Snuff-Dipping Tales of the Texas Negro (1956), and Dog Ghosts and Other Texas Negro Folk Tales (1958). While teaching in North Carolina he published Worser Days and Better Times (1965) and won an award for American Negro Folklore (1968). 

After being chosen one of twenty-five best Texas authors by Theta Sigma Phi,  Brewer became the first African American member of the Texas Folklore Society and the Texas Institute of Letters. He also became the first African American to serve  on the council of the American Folklore Society, eventually rising to the position of vice-president. He received grants for his research in Negro folklore from the American Philosophical Society, the Piedmont University Center for the Study of Negro Folklore, the Library of Congress, the National Library of Mexico, and the National University of Mexico. He described his own tales as “as varied as the Texas landscape, as full of contrasts as the weather” and his books serve as a timeless record of Texas storytelling, and powerful proof of what he called "folklore as a living force."

Historical Biographies of Austin Cemeteries
Jan 04, 2021 - 11:47 am CST

Peter Heinrich Mansbendel was born to Johann and Valeria Mansbendel on August 12, 1883, at Basel, Switzerland. At age ten Mansbendel began an internship in woodcarving, with further study at the Industrial Arts School. Once he completed his compulsory service in the Swiss Artillery he traveled to London and then Paris to study the work of skilled and well-known woodcarvers.

Mansbendel left Paris and arrived in New York on April 21, 1907. He changed his middle name to Henry and lists his occupation as Sculptor and Interior Decorator. While working as head of a woodcarving department for a period furniture organization he met and fell in love with Ida Clotilde Shipe, who’s father, Monroe Shipe, was the developer for Austin’s Hyde Park neighborhood. Mansbendel relocated to Texas and married Clotilde in May of 1911. Two years later he was granted US Citizenship. They had two children, a daughter, Valerie, and a son, Peter, Jr. Mansbendel owned his business working out of his Austin studio until 1939.

"Photo of Mansbendel smoking a pipe"

Photo courtesy of Doug Oliver

During the 1920s and 1930s leading architects in Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio called for Mansbendel to put finishing touches on their most important projects in both private and public buildings. He is respected for carved mantels and panelings, but perhaps is better known for the magnificent solid black walnut doors of the Spanish Governor’s Palace and the ornate doors at the Mission San Jose, both of San Antonio. Mansbendel frequently used the rich geography and passionate history of Texas for inspiration. His carving of the Battle of the Alamo in a preserved Alamo rafter is housed at the Laguna Gloria Museum.

"photo of black walnut doors of the Spanish Governor's Palace"

Photo courtesy of Doug Oliver

Woodcarvers bring beauty to everyday objects and raise them to objets d’art. Using simple tools, like chisel, gauge, plane, saw and bevel. Mansbendel created carvings of flowers, people, historical scenes and the occasional caricature. He made beds, mantels, doors, tables, chairs and staircases. On a less grand scale, he fashioned jewelry boxes, mirrors, inkstands, gavels, chests and animal figures.

"photo of wooden carved snail"

Photo courtesy of Doug Oliver

As a person of many talents, he also lent his skill to theatre as both a set designer and a performer. And since he was a native German speaker with quite a good singing voice, he was active in the all-male choral group, The Saengerrunde: the German Singing Society.

At the time of his death on July 19, 1940, his wife and he had lived in the home he designed and built for 28 years.

This man who devoted his life to creating works of art is buried with a surprisingly simple grave marker, bearing no resemblance to art that he’d devoted his life to creating.

"Mansbendel's headstone"

Historical Biographies of Austin Cemeteries
Jan 04, 2021 - 11:36 am CST

Phineas De Cordova (1819–1903) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and went to Jamaica as a young man. He married a Miss Delgado in 1847 and moved to Texas later that year. They first went to Galveston and Houston, then to Austin to work with his half-brother, Jacob (The De Cordova’s are credited as the first Jewish people to settle in Austin). The brothers determined that it was time to tell the world about the resources in Texas. They began a semi-monthly paper where the knowledge that the elder brother had of Texas, coupled with the literary abilities of the younger. ‘The Texas Herald’ was filled with descriptions of the State. About one thousand copies of each edition were distributed over the Southern and Western States. The articles were freely copied by the newspapers of the South and West, and attracted many immigrants. In 1850 Governor Bell requested that the printing office be moved to Austin, and a weekly newspaper, ‘the South Western American,’ was established. It was edited by Phineas, but published by both De Cordovas. The South Western American started the idea of loaning the school fund and donating a portion of the public lands to help with the building of railroads through Texas. Initially, the idea was ridiculed. One of the most prominent men of Texas, was especially vocal, but at the next election for the Legislature he was defeated by a large majority because of this very issue.

"portrait of Phineas DeCordova"

Image provided by Austin History Center Austin Public Libraries

Phineas always felt proud of this episode in his life, but when talking with friends he was careful to say that the honor of originating the measure should be given to Judge George W. Paschal and I.A. Paschal. They had suggested that ‘the American’ should advocate the plan and that they would also lend aid, but their names were to be kept out of it. In the 1850s de Cordova established a general land and agency business, and operated it with his son until he was forced to retire due to his health in the 1890s. He passed away in Austin on May 8, 1903, and is buried in one of the Jewish sections of Oakwood Cemetery.

"Family DeCordova Monument in Oakwood Cemetery"

Historical Biographies of Austin Cemeteries
Jan 04, 2021 - 11:27 am CST

Anna Hardwicke Pennybacker (1861-1938) was an accomplished suffragette, educator, author, and advocate for progressive causes. Born in Virginia, she attended Sam Houston Normal Institute and graduated in 1880 as part of its first class. She married a classmate, Percy V. Pennybacker, in 1884, but he died in 1899. Before he passed, they worked together as educators and she wrote and published ‘A New History of Texas’ in 1888. This textbook, known as “the Pennybacker text” was the standard for teaching Texas history for forty years.

"Photograph of Anna Pennybacker seated at desk, signed by her"

Photo provided by SHSU University Archives

Pennybacker started her career in advocacy with the Texas club movement, founding the Tyler Woman’s Club in 1894 (one of the first Texas women’s clubs). From 1901 to 1903 she led the Texas Federation of Women and raised $3,500 for women’s scholarships at the University of Texas while also lobbying successfully for the funding of a women’s dormitory. Under her leadership, the federation also started a traveling library and art collection that became permanent libraries in Texas.

From 1919 to 1920, she was an associate member of the Democratic National Committee and began a close friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt. They worked together on a number of issues including the advancement of women, world peace, and the furthering of the progressive reforms of the Democratic party. President Roosevelt even helped to fundraise at the Chautauqua Institutes’ Women’s Club in 1936, and Eleanor Roosevelt became the first and only First Lady to speak at Sam Houston State University in 1937.

"Photograph of Pennybacker with Eleanor Roosevelt"

Photo provided by SHSU University Archives

Anna Hardwicke Pennybacker spent her life working for causes she felt passionate about. She lectured all over the country on topics like the status of women and immigrants, near East relief, the World Court, and League of Nations. She also became the first woman in history to give the commencement address to the city of Houston’s combined high schools. She had such a varied record of contributions, from Food Administration of Texas in World War I to acting as a special correspondent to the League of Nations, that when she died in her home in Austin on February 4, 1938, she was known and regarded throughout the country for her work in social reforms. She is now buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Austin.

"Headstone of Anna JH Pennybacker"

 

Historical Biographies of Austin Cemeteries
Nov 20, 2020 - 03:25 pm CST

Fania Feldman Kruger (1893–1977) was born in Sevastopol, Crimea. Her father was a rabbi and because of the family's faith, Fania was not allowed to enter the Gymnasia when she initially applied. She was eventually admitted, but this initial denial may have been why education was so important to her throughout her life. 

In 1908, her family immigrated to the United States out of fear for their safety. Her father had been beaten badly by Cossack troops and she had witnessed other troops commit murder. She and her sisters had also become part of the political underground during the revolution of 1905, so by 1908 they decided it was time to leave. 

Image: Portrait of Fania courtesy of UTSA Special Collections

The family settled in Fort Worth, Texas where Fania learned to speak English, and 4 years later in 1912, she married Sam Kruger. In 1913, the couple moved to Wichita Falls. Sam opened a jewelry and antique store while Fania joined a Jewish women's group and the local literary society. The couple had two children and after her husband's death in 1952, Fania moved to Austin.

Image: Sam and Fania Kruger courtesy of UTSA Special Collections

Fania's experiences in Russia were a large inspiration for her poetry and were the core of her commitment to human rights and social change. When the state legislature pressured the University of Texas at Austin to keep soprano Barbara Smith from performing in its production of Dido and Aeneas because she was black, Kruger wrote in order to protest.  

Her poetry described Czarist cruelty and Jewish life and customs. She called for called for humane action for all people everywhere. Cossack Laughter (1938), The Tenth Jew (1949), and Selected Poems (1973) were the three big collections of her work that she published, but she was also published in Southwest Review, Crisis, American Guardian, American Hebrew, Texas Quarterly, and the Year Book of the Poetry Society of Texas. One poem, "Peasant's Pilgrimage to Kiev," was translated into Russian and published in Moscow. "To a Young Mother," a short story, was published in the October 1960 issue of Redbook magazine and was then produced and televised in Austin. It aired repeatedly between 1965 and 1970. Kruger both narrated and appeared in the film as a grandmother who observed a young woman with two children. In 1969 “The Tenth Jew” was set to music by the University of Cincinnati  who commissioned a violinist, a conductor, and the composer Frederic Balazs, director of the Philharmonia Orchestra.

Image: Sam and Fania Kruger with her sisters courtesy of UTSA Special Collections

Her work was highly impactful, and she won multiple awards for it: First place for the best poem of the year from the Poetry Society of America for "Passover Eve" in 1946 and the Lola Ridge award also from the Poetry Society of America in 1947 for "Blessing the New Moon." The Poetry Society of Texas awarded her the Clementine Dunne Award for "Son of Tomorrow" in 1950. She also won first place for poetry in 1956 from the New York City Writer's Conference. And as a member of the poetry societies of England, America, Texas, and Austin and of the Texas Institute of Letters she was frequently a public speaker and would give readings of her work.

She eventually returned to the Soviet Union in 1959 which was over 50 years since she had left. She visited Moscow and Yalta, but she was unable to go to Sevastopol where she had been born, possibly because it was then the site of a Soviet naval base. Her reception in Russia was surprising for Kruger. She was treated as a celebrity. She was interviewed by press, radio, and television journalists, she was given the use of a chauffeured car, and was one of a select group to take an inaugural airline flight to Yalta. While she was there, something she was asked repeatedly was if she thought Russian life was superior to life in the United States, and she replied that it was not. However, while in Russia, she suffered a minor heart attack and spent three days recovering before returning home.

As she became known internationally as well as in Texas she corresponded with many writers and editors in those literary circles. She knew Langston Hughes well enough to trade poems with him and would occasionally send him her homemade strudel. Fania died in Austin on July 16, 1977, and was buried in Temple Beth Israel Cemetery within Oakwood Cemetery.

 

Historical Biographies of Austin Cemeteries
Nov 13, 2020 - 01:25 pm CST

Hart Stilwell was born in 1902 in Yoakum, Texas. When he was two, his large family relocated to the Rio Grande Valley. His life growing up pretty chaotic and there was a lot of conflict with his father, a former Texas Ranger with anger issues who was prone to mood-swings and threats of violence.

At seventeen Stilwell began studying at the University of Texas and worked for The Daily Texan, graduating with a degree in journalism in 1924. In 1925 he married Mary Gray Seabury. After graduating he became a reporter for The Brownsville Herald and later served as their editor. In the later 1920s Stilwell shifted his attention to free-lance writing while continuing to contribute articles to newspapers across Texas for the duration of his life.

Border Town, his first novel, was published in 1945. It was a rebuke of the race relations in the Rio Grande Valley. It was a story as told by a cynical reporter who was in love with a Mexican woman who had been raped by a wealthy Anglo businessman. 

"Book Cover: Uncovered Wagon"

Image courtesy of Austin Public Libraries

It was only two years later that Stilwell published his most critically acclaimed novel, Uncovered Wagon. This was a thinly veiled account of Stilwell’s relationship with his father. It was named one of the fifty best books of Texas by A.C. Greene, “you don’t find many Texas writers who can face the bitter reality of rural poverty in a changing society as Stilwell does.” Sadly, Campus Town, his third novel, was less successful than his others.

"Stillwell with J. Frank Dobie"

Photo taken by Russel Lee and provided by The Hart Stillwell Papers, The Wittliff Collections, Texas State University

He drew strongly from his own life experiences and they all carry strong tones of intense liberalism and a hatred of intolerance. His daughter actually called Uncovered Wagon an “autobiography” and said that her father only changed names and place names because his mother objected to the harshness he showed in his narrative.  

He also enjoyed writing non-fiction. He collaborated with Slats Rogers on Rogers’ autobiography and assisted his wife, Anne Stilwell, in the writing of a book on neglected children called ‘The Child Who Walks Alone.’

"Stilwell with Wife Anne"

Photo taken by Russel Lee and provided by The Hart Stillwell Papers, The Wittliff Collections, Texas State University

As an avid sportsman Stilwell published two well-known books on hunting and fishing in Texas and Mexico as well as different articles that appeared in: Field and Stream, Outdoor, Hunting Yearbook, and other outdoor sports magazines. 

Stillwell was writing right up until he died.

 "Book Cover: Glory of the Silver King"

Image courtesy of Austin Public Libraries

Earlier in the decade he had begun working on a full-length book that focused on human interference in the natural world. He channeled his concern about the domestication of wild animals and the increasing use of biological engineering on animals and plants that were consumed by humans. Along with this, he was working on a manuscript about fishing, a children’s book on wolves, and several short essays when he died on May 13, 1975 in Austin, TX.

He is buried next to his wife, Anne, in Austin Memorial Park in Austin, Texas.

 

"Headstone reading Stilwell"

 

 

Historical Biographies of Austin Cemeteries
Nov 05, 2020 - 11:39 am CST

James A. Michener was born in NYC in 1907, but never knew who his birth parents were. As a foundling he was adopted by Mabel Michener and raised as a Quaker. In his teens he hitchhiked and traveled by boxcar all across the US gaining life experiences that fed into his later writing. After graduating from Swarthmore College summa cum laude he became a teacher. He began his writing career with articles on teaching social studies published between 1936 and 1942.

"James Michener surrounded by ivy circa 1960"

Image Courtesy of University of Northern Colorado Archives and Special Collections

During WWII he enlisted in the Navy and served as naval historian in the South Pacific from 1944 to 1946. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1948 for the collection Tales of the South Pacific (1947), that he sent to his former publisher anonymously. When it was adapted for Broadway by Rodgers and Hammerstein it won another Pulitzer Prize as a musical and turned Michener’s book into a bestseller.

"Image of James A. Michener's Tales of the South Pacific"

Image courtesy of Austin Public Libaries

Michener would do very in depth research for his novels and traveled extensively. Hawaii (1959) took four years to write and was written after he had moved to Honolulu and become active in Hawaiian civic affairs. 

Occasionally Michener would shift his focus towards American life. Centennial (1974) was written for the bicentennial of the US and Chesapeake (1978) featured families on the east coast and Chesapeake Bay. Space (1982) was a fictional chronicle of the U.S. space program. With the Covenant (1980) he returned to international stories and wrote about South Africa against the background of apartheid. In Mexico (1992) he deals with the problems of contemporary Mexico, through the lens of bullfighting and Indian slavery in the country’s silver mines. 

"Image of James A. Michener's My Lost Mexico"

Image courtesy of Austin Public Libraries

Not all of Michener’s works were fictional. The Fires of Spring (1949) and his 1992 memoir, The World Is My Home, were both autobiographical. His last completed book was A Century of Sonnets (1997).

"James A. Michener reading a book circa 1960"

Image Courtesy of University of Northern Colorado Archives and Special Collections

In his later life, Michener became a philanthropist. He contributed millions of dollars to universities and the Authors League Fund. And before his death, he donated 1,500 Japanese prints to the University of Hawaii. He and his wife Mari Sabusawa Michener also left a generous endowment to the University of Texas in the early 1990s creating the Texas Center for Writers that became the Michener Center for Writers to honor him after his death. 

In 1997 he determined that he had “accomplished what he wanted to accomplish” and decided to take himself off of dialysis, dying in his home at 90 years old. 

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Historical Biographies of Austin Cemeteries