Today’s Austin Found tip comes, not from a reader, but from a digital newsletter.
“Texas Day by Day,” a daily email blast of short “this day in history” items published by the Texas Historical Association, informed us that, on May 10, 1937, Life magazine profiled Mary Lucy Kyle Hartson as the only woman mayor in Texas.
We had to know more.
At the time age 72, this great-grandmother was elected mayor of Kyle in a write-in vote. She served from 1937 to 1941 and again from 1944 to 1946. Born in 1865, she died in 1956.
“Along with the ‘all-woman’ city council elected in 1944, she made ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not,’” the newsletter continues. “During Mrs. Hartson’s mayorality, the town built a municipal water system, installed street lights, updated the fire department and kept the city clean.”
Of her administration, Hartson said: “We balanced the budget and cleaned up the town. Then when everything was under control, I retired.”
Recall that Austin’s first woman council member, Emma Long, was not elected until 1948, and its first and only woman mayor, Carole Keeton, was not elected until 1977.
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Meanwhile, the city of Kyle, whose most famous daughter was Pulitzer Prize-winning author Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980), has had three woman mayors.
Hartson’s bloodlines run deep in Hays County. Her grandfather, Claiborne Kyle, settled on the Blanco River with his wife, Lucy Bugg Kyle, and their eight children in 1850. Her father, Fergus Kyle, is the namesake for — you guessed it — the city of Kyle, which he founded in 1881. He and his wife, Anna Moore Kyle, had nine children.
Hartson’s grandfather and father served in the Texas legislature. Her father fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War.
But, wait, the name Kyle rings another bell, doesn’t it?
Hartson’s brother, Edwin Jackson Kyle, served as president of the athletic association at what would be come Texas A&M University. He was appointed U.S. ambassador to Guatemala and wrote books on farming that were used by state schools for decades.
And yes, Kyle Field, where the Aggies play football, was named after him.
Hartson, who graduated from what would become Sam Houston University in Huntsville, married George Dorr Hartson, an electrical engineer, who took jobs that led the couple to Dallas and Laredo. He died in a mining accident in Mexico and left his widow with two children and another born three months after his burial in Kyle.
Hartson was not, however, without resources. From 1901 to 1925, she served as postmistress of Kyle. After she retired as mayor in 1946, she moved to Wichita Falls to live with her daughter. Into her 80s, she was still active in the Woman’s Forum, Daughters of the American Revolution and United Daughters of the Confederacy.
More can be discovered about Hartson in “Kyle,” a slender picture book from Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series put together by Betty Harrison and the Hays County Historical Commission.
Why did we trust that original digital blast about Mayor Hartson? It came — as their tidy newsletters do every morning at 8 a.m. — from the authoritative Texas Historical Association. Don’t confuse this nonprofit group with the Texas Historical Commission, the state agency that oversees historical sites, markers and historic preservation policy.
The Austin-based association of scholars and history buffs instead goes back 1897, making it the oldest learned society in the state. It publishes the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, the Texas Almanac, and, most importantly, the Handbook of Texas, the encyclopedia of the state, which is available for free in a extremely searchable and constantly updated edition online which attracts more than 400,000 visitors per month from 200 countries and territories.
For decades based at the University of Texas, the nonprofit group, which counts 6,000 members, decamped for eight years to the University of North Texas in Denton before returning to UT in 2016.
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