Author Interview—Dr. Angela Boswell (Women in Texas History)
Discussion published by Linda Powell on Tuesday 2 April 2019.
Hello H-Texas readers,
H-Texas is launching a new project this week – Interviews. We are excited about this new opportunity to share Author Interviews regarding their most recent publications or research along with activities of Libraries, Collections, and Associations around the state. This is designed to showcase the latest scholarship along with the services offered by various Institutions to scholars of Texas History.
Today, we are joined by Dr. Angela Boswell, the Dean of Arts and Sciences and Professor of History at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. Dr. Boswell's earlier book, Her Act and Deed: Women’s Public Lives in a Rural Southern County, 1837–1873, won the Liz Carpenter Award for the Best Book on the History of Women. We will be discussing her most recent work, Women in Texas History, published by Texas A & M University Press in the Fall of 2018. March was Women’s History Month so we here at H-Texas sought a visit with Dr. Boswell about her book commemorating the vital role of women in Texas history.
Thank you, Dr. Boswell, for visiting with our subscribers here on H-Texas. Could you give our readers a brief synopsis of your new book? Is this written primarily for the casual reader or aimed at scholars and use in college courses?
AB: This book is a narrative history of women’s lives in Texas from the prehistoric period to the early 21st century. I draw upon the wealth of scholarly work on Texas women’s history to explore the lives of women of all classes, ethnicities, religions, and political affiliations, and to place them both within Texas history and the broader narrative of American women’s history. The book is intended for the general reader who may know little to nothing about Texas history, but it is well-documented and should provide scholars and students of history something to enjoy as well.
Given the events of the 2018 election, and the timing of Women's History Month, it seems like a great moment to bring women’s stories into the public eye. What types of sources did you use, where did you locate them, and how did you organize the book around those materials?
AB: Historians in Texas began researching the women of the state earlier and more exhaustively than perhaps any other state. This book draws primarily upon the work of those scholars, synthesizing those histories into a narrative that reflects the current state of the field. As I wrote the book, however, I found topics, areas, and groups of women who have not had as much scholarly treatment, and I also desired to bring more women’s voices into the narrative. Fortunately, there are many, many published primary sources on Texas women that filled some voids. In other areas, I relied upon general histories hoping to find information about women within. And, there was some archival research that I was able to incorporate, but that complemented the narrative rather than served as the foundation.
Was there one woman’s story that stands out from the others you included? Why?
AB: Oh, that’s impossible because there are thousands of fascinating women reflected in this book! While it covers famous and influential women, the book concentrates on the lives of everyday women and the work they performed to build Texas into the place they envisioned. So, in that vein, one of my favorite stories is that of Edith Pitts who tried to recreate her ideal of domestic space on the West Texas frontier. Because of the lack of wood to build homes, the settlers lived in dugouts which were rooms carved into sides of hills with roofs of beargrass and sod. One evening, while entertaining friends in her dugout which she had painstakingly decorated and made into a home in the eastern style, a steer walked across the roof and fell partway through. The steer’s leg dangled above the table where her husband’s guests were seated while dirt and grass poured down upon the dinner.
Finally, Dr. Boswell, how does your book fit into the emerging trends in both Women’s History on the larger scale and Texas History in particular?
AB: Women’s history has moved well past the compensatory and contributory phases where historians finally noted remarkable women and wrote about how women contributed to the male-centered historical narrative, so this book has little of that. The focus, instead, is on women’s lives on their own terms, concentrating on the spaces in which women spent their lives, such as family and reproduction, work, community building, and social reform (as well as politics in later years). The overarching story is about how unremarkable women coped with daily life, acted as agents in their own lives, and participated in the historical changes that shaped women’s future opportunities. Despite the large body of work by historians of Texas women, the narrative of Texas history as a whole has remained “mythic,” emphasizing the exploits of men, omitting women from those activities and concealing the reality of women’s lived experiences. Hopefully, this book will show not only how women fit into the Texas historical narrative, but also how women shaped it – whether they have been recognized in the past for doing so or not.
Dr. Boswell, thank you for sharing some insights regarding your latest book with us here on H-Texas.