Hutchison on Powerful Women


The furor over the Texas Legislature’s anti-abortion shenanigans has made this week all about strong Texas women—we’re looking at you, state Sen. Wendy Davis. That makes this a perfect time for a book talk about courageous women in Texas history, right?

Former U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison will be talking about her book, Unflinching Courage: Pioneering Women Who Shaped Texas, on Thursday at 6 p.m. at Barnes and Noble in Plano. Republican Hutchison comes at the topic from a decidedly conservative viewpoint, though she considers herself an advocate for working women and has at times stepped away from her party’s far-right contingent on issues like abortion.

Hutchison’s book is mostly about the role women played in the often-mythologized settling of Texas. Interestingly, one of the stories Hutchison relates is that of Cynthia Ann Parker, whose 1839 abduction by Comanches and subsequent rescue 21 years later are foundational stories in the narrative of Texas settlement. The facts and circumstances of the story–including Parker’s agency in her rescue—have  been heavily debated. UT journalism professor Glenn Frankel’s recent book The Searchers uses Parker’s story to interrogate the mythologizing of Texas’ founding legends through the lens of the classic John Ford western.

Make no mistake, Hutchison’s book reflects her conservative perspective, celebrating the traditional roles played by white, mostly privileged, 19th and 20th century Texas women like Margaret Lea Houston, wife of Sam Houston, and Mary Ann Goodnight, wife of the powerful cattle baron. The book sometimes veers into a celebration of the ways in which these women supported their powerful husbands, but it also explores the power they wielded in their own right.

The Dallas Morning News reviewed the book recently, and you can find an excerpt and an interview with Hutchison from NPR here.

Whether you love her politics or loathe them, it’s hard to argue that Hutchison isn’t a pioneer herself. She’s the first woman to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate, a position she held for 20 years before retiring in January. Her unique position as a powerful, conservative woman makes her talk about Unflinching Courage an interesting opportunity to consider women’s history and ask hard questions about their current status in Texas.