Flashback : Dallas

A Miscellany: History, Ads, Pop Culture

Category: Clubs

Empire Central and Its Fabulous Empire Club

empire-central_1958_ebay_det“Northwest Dallas” in 1959 — how quaint… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

“Empire Central.”

I have to admit that I’d never heard of anyplace in Dallas called Empire Central, but because I wanted to post the picture above (which I love) (and which is  from a 1959 ad), I felt I should at least look into finding out what and where it was and broaden my horizons a bit. So I did. It was (is?) an “office community” built in 1958 on 90 acres of land (later expanded), located in the “V” between Hwy. 77 (soon to be Stemmons Freeway) and Hwy. 183 (aka Empire Freeway, soon to be John W. Carpenter Freeway), with W. Mockingbird on the south and Dividend Drive on the north(-ish). It was developed as an office park as part of the already existing 1,200-acre Brook Hollow Industrial District (which, when its development began in 1953, was beyond the city limits) — both areas were developed by Windsor Properties. Empire Central was announced in 1957.

Unsurprisingly, almost every early newspaper story about plans for the new district mentioned what was considered to be its sexiest, most novel attraction: the Empire Club, an on-site dining and recreation club for employees — executives and underlings alike — who worked in the “community’s” office buildings. It was a round, 45,000-square-foot structure that sat on 9 acres and featured a distinctive roof which utilized 24 tamarack logs “more than 100 feet long, imported here especially for the club from the virgin forests of Washington” (DMN, Nov. 24, 1957). Its amenities included a sunken garden, a terraced dining room, lounge, swimming pool, putting green, and shuffleboard court, all nestled in a “garden-like atmosphere.” What a great perk!

The club was important in the conceptualization of the office park, as the developers insisted that a happy employee was a productive employee, as can be seen in the text from a 1959 advertisement which ran the week the club opened:

Two fundamental concepts were taken into consideration by Windsor Properties, Inc., in designing Empire Central.

First was the realization that the company able to attract the most capable employees at a given wage would be most successful. Second, the urbanization of our population has created the need for a measure of community life.

The Empire Club, as the heart of Empire Central, is designed to accomplish both objectives for management.

And that club looked cool. It was a cutting-edge design from the always impressive George Dahl, one of Dallas’ top architects. (Dahl worked on several other projects with W. C. Windsor — Sr. and Jr. — including a prison (?!) and several other buildings in the Empire Central District.) Dahl’s previous big round building — Memorial Auditorium/Dallas Convention Center — had opened in 1957, just months before construction began on this unusual and sophisticated clubhouse, something one would certainly not expect to find plonked down in the middle of such prosaic surroundings.




Below, the full ad, which appeared the week the new Empire Club opened in October, 1959 (click to see larger image):

Oct., 1959

At some point (or maybe always) the club began to be used by outside groups. In the ’60s, it was the site of a lot of Junior League and debutante activities and dances. In 1966 the Empire Club became The Round House restaurant (in which could be found the Fatted Calf club). The last listing I could find of a restaurant or club at that address (which was, originally, 100 Empire Central Drive and, later, 1100 Empire Central Place) was in 1971. Sadly, that cool-looking building was torn down somewhere along the way. What a shame! I just discover a George Dahl-designed building I’d never seen — in a part of town I’d never heard of — and *poof*! … it’s gone. …At least I didn’t have time to get too attached.


Here’s a great photo from 1960 (click it — it’s really big) looking southeast toward downtown from about Regal Row (bridge in foreground), with the new and improved Carpenter Freeway/Hwy. 183 in the center, and Stemmons — coming in from the left — meeting it in the distance; the Mockingbird bridge is just beyond it, just above the point. The Empire Central district — in between Stemmons and Carpenter — looks kind of puny here. You  might have to squint, but you can see the brown, round Empire Club building in the center of the triangle. If you listen closely, you might be able to hear a Southwestern Drug Company secretary splashing happily in the heated pool.



1958 ad

Jan., 1958

Google Maps


Sources & Notes

Top image is from a full-page magazine ad from 1958, found on eBay.

The 1960 photo appeared on the cover of Dallas magazine (October, 1960); I found it on the unbelievably thorough Dallas-Fort Worth Freeways site (main page is here, this photo is linked from here).

This area — what is it called? The consensus seems to be “Brook Hollow.” Or maybe “Stemmons Corridor” (the Wikipedia entry for the latter is here).

The Flashback Dallas post on the area’s 1920s-era namesake golf club — “Brook Hollow Country Club — 1940s” — is here.

(Thank you, Dallas History Facebook group for the helpful tidbits!)

Think it should be bigger? Click it!


Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.


The Dallas Chapter of “The Women of the Ku Klux Klan” — 1920s


by Paula Bosse

I’ve managed to avoid mention of the Ku Klux Klan since starting this blog a couple of years ago, which is saying something, because the KKK pretty much ruled this city for a good chunk of the 1920s. The Dallas chapter — Klan No. 66 — had more than 13,000 men as members; it was one of the largest chapters in the nation (by some accounts, THE largest chapter). Members included politicians, judges, and law enforcement officials. But what of the Klan-leaning ladies who were not allowed to join? Before I plunge into that, let’s look at what’s going on in this weird, be-robed group shot, a photo taken around 1924 in Ferris Plaza with poor Union Station as a backdrop. (Click these for much larger images.)







In the early 1920s, women — who had led the temperance movement and whom had recently been given the right to vote — began to form groups that tackled social issues. Some of these groups espoused the same general rhetoric as the KKK. One of these groups was formed in Dallas in 1922 — the “American Women” group was the brainchild of three women, including Alma B. Cloud, who appears to have been only 21 years old. One of the other founders was her partner in a short-lived ladies’ clothing boutique. Cloud immediately hit the lecture circuit, giving free lectures on “Americanism” to (white Protestant) women around Texas.

cloud_taylor-tx-daily-press-08222Taylor Daily Press, Aug. 22, 1922

By the following summer, the male leadership of the Klan allowed a “Women of the Ku Klux Klan” to be created; its national headquarters was in Little Rock.


They were not officially part of the KKK but were, in theory, a separate entity. While not, perhaps, as outwardly extreme as their male counterparts, they were certainly as virulently racist and intolerant. They might not have been lynching people and threatening violence, but they were busy pushing their exclusionary, white supremacy agenda. And both the men and the women liked to dress up in white robes and hoods. Here’s what the women looked like when they added masks to the ensemble (not Dallas — location of photo unknown).


Several of the independent women’s groups founded previously were happily absorbed by the WKKK — including Miss A. B. Cloud’s group. In fact, Miss Cloud became the leader of the Dallas chapter. The “Klaliff.” The headquarters for this group — which campaigned for “progressive morality”– was in a little space on North Harwood.

WKKK_1924-directory1924 Dallas directory

1924 seems to have been the big year for both the KKK and the WKKK. The women found themselves at lots of parades with burning crosses and other … “functions” — so why not form a drum corps? A few clippings. (Click for larger images.)

kkk-women_amarillo-globe-times_031624Amarillo Globe-Times, March 16, 1924

klan-women_dmn_073124Dallas News, July 31, 1924

kkk-women_mckinney-courier-gazette_111224McKinney Courier-Gazette, Nov. 12,1924

By 1926, the KKK was starting to lose its power, and the fear and intimidation they had instilled in much of the pubic began to wane. The (men’s) KKK had had to downsize and move into the women’s headquarters, and their candidates began losing elections. Even worse, you know things were getting bad if someone was suing the KKK for delinquent robe-payment!

KU KLUX KLAN WOMEN SUED FOR ROBES BILL: Suit for $4,463.80 was filed in the Forty-Fourth District Court on Friday afternoon by John F. Pruitt against the Women of the Ku Klux Klan, Inc. The petition alleges that the plaintiff sold the defendant, a corporation, 6,000 robes at $2.50 each during the two years preceding the filing of the suit, for which the defendant agreed to pay $15,000 to the plaintiff. It is alleged that $4,463.80 remains unpaid. (DMN, Nov. 28, 1925)

The power once exerted by the Ku Klux Klan had diminished greatly by the end of the 1920s, and while the Klan has never disappeared completely, it will never again reach the heights it had attained in the 1920s.

Whatever happened to Miss A. B. Cloud? After having been ousted from her “imperial” position (for reasons I don’t really care enough about to investigate), she had a few sales jobs and eventually began to present motivational sales talks. There was an Alma B. Cloud in California who was mentioned in several news stories from the 1930s — she presented motivational lectures to students on how best to plan their future adult lives. Um, yes. I’m not 100% sure this was the same A. B. Cloud who was the former WKKK gal from Big D, but it seems likely. I wonder what those students would have thought had they known of her pointy-hooded past?


Sources & Notes


Top photo is titled “Ku Klux Klan Women’s Drum Corps Dallas in Front of Union Station,” taken by Frank Rogers; it is from the George W. Cook Dallas/Texas Image Collection, DeGolyer Library, Central University Libraries, Southern Methodist University — it can be accessed here. I have manipulated the color.

Women of the Ku Klux Klan letterhead comes from the Women of the Ku Klux Klan Collection, Archives and Special Collections, University of Mississippi Libraries; the collection can be accessed here.

The photo of the masked WKKK women is all over the internet — I don’t know its original source or any details behind it, but it’s creepy.

“Women of the Ku Klux Klan” on Wikipedia, is here.

“Women of the Klan: Racism and Gender in the 1920s” by Kathleen M. Blee, is here.

“Charity by Day, Punishment by Night: The Ku Klux Klan in Fort Worth” — from the great FW history blog Hometown by Handlebar — is here.

And, probably best of all, the Dallas Morning News article “At Its Peak, Ku Klux Klan Gripped Dallas,” by the wonderful and much-missed Bryan Woolley, can be read here. This article contains facts and figures, describes the sort of “madness of crowds” atmosphere in the city at the time, and details some of the horrible atrocities committed by the KKK in Dallas. Woolley cites historian Darwin Payne’s assertion that if one considered every adult man in Dallas who would have been eligible to have joined the Klan (this excludes, of course, those of African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Catholic, or Jewish descent), one in three of them was a member of the Dallas chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. ONE IN THREE.

A few short mentions of the Dallas WKKK have been compiled here.

UPDATE: For a look at racism in modern Dallas, watch the half-hour film “Hate Mail,” made in 1992 by Mark Birnbaum and Bart Weiss, here. It includes interviews with several prominent Dallasites, as well as interviews with a couple of Klan leaders.

Click pictures and clippings to see larger images.


Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.


HR Meeting at the Carousel Club

ruby-girls_carousel-club“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

by Paula Bosse

Jack and the girls. …Before.


I think this is the Carousel Club. It might not be. The source of this photo is a bad, bad, bad, spammy site with loud commercials. They get no credit from me. “No soup for you!”

Click picture for larger image.


Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

The Idle Wild Social Club: Life Magazine Presents Black Debutantes — 1937

debs_life_120637-detThree of 1937’s debs (click for larger image and caption)

by Paula Bosse

In December of 1937, something appeared in a national mainstream magazine that had probably never appeared before: photographs of a society ball celebrating African-American debutantes. In the December 6, 1937 issue of Life magazine — in the recurring “Life Goes To a Party” pictorial feature — four pages were devoted to coverage of the annual Idle Wild Social Club ball (later Idlewild Social Club, and later Cotillion Idlewild Club — none of which is to be confused with Dallas’ 130-plus-year-old super-exclusive, white Idlewild Club). The letters this unusual pictorial elicited were either congratulatory or, dismayingly, shocked and irate. Although today these photos are nothing unusual, in 1937, to see African-Americans depicted in a magazine such as Life as just normal, everyday Americans, was exceedingly uncommon. To see photos of black high-society must have made people’s heads explode. So kudos to Life for running the only slightly patronizing story and for publishing some wonderful photographs.

life_debs_120637_aLife magazine, Dec. 6, 1937


The Idle Wild Social Club was started in Dallas around 1918 by a group of socially well-placed black men — perhaps as a response to the white Idlewild Club. By the early 1920s they, like the white club, were presenting the cream of the crop of their young women to society in debutante balls. The ball covered by Life took place on November 18, 1937. The women making their debuts were:

  • Eddy Mae Johnson
  • Glodine Marion Smith
  • Lorene Marjorie Brown
  • Gladys Lee Carr
  • Gladys Lewis Powell
  • Hattie Ruth Green

life_debs_120637The debs and their escorts (Life, Dec. 6, 1927)

life_debs_120637-club-membersClub members (Life, Dec. 6, 1927)

life_debs_120637-crowd“Social chitchatterers” (Life, Dec. 6, 1927)

life_debs_120637-couple(Life, Dec. 6, 1927)

Read the article and see additional photos featured in this pictorial here.

There was an outcry in response to the article, and some of it was shockingly ugly — read the letters to the editor about the “Negro Ball” that Life published in the next issue, here (use the magnification tool at the top of the page to increase the size of the text).

Here is the more progressive response, from the Jan. 1938 issue of the NAACP’s magazine, The Crisis:


Progress moves at a snail’s pace, but if coverage of a debutante ball can help to move things forward even a step or two … great!


All photos from Life magazine, Dec. 6, 1937; the scanned article (and, in fact, the entire scanned issue) is here.

The January, 1938 issue of The Crisis is available online; the page featuring the editorial is here. (This issue also has an interesting article, “Free Negroes In Old Texas” by J. H. Harmon, Jr., here.) The Crisis Wikipedia page is here.

To read coverage of earlier Idle Wild Social Club balls — published in the black-owned Dallas Express — see this from 1922, and this from 1923.

The African-American debutante ball has been called Cotillion Idlewild for many years now; information on their 2014 ball is here. (Again, this is not to be confused with the (white) Idlewild Club, which has been throwing heart-stoppingly elaborate balls in Dallas since the 1880s.)

Apparently there is a history of the club out there — Idle Wild Social Club History (1940) — and, according to WorldCat, appears to be available at nearby libraries.

Personally, I don’t really “get” debutante balls, but growing up in Dallas, I know that they’ve always been big, big, BIG deals. A. C. Greene’s snarky article “Social Climber’s Handbook” (D Magazine, October, 1976), is both amusing and informative; read it here.


Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.


The Dallas Athletic Club Building, 1925-1981

dallas-athletic-clubThe Dallas Athletic Club, 1920s

by Paula Bosse

Dallas’s premier architects Lang & Witchell designed the Dallas Athletic Club building. It was built between 1923 and 1925 on a triangular piece of land located at St. Paul, Elm, and Live Oak, its entrance facing St. Paul. It was one of the city’s top private clubs, catering to Dallas’ businessmen. Aside from sports and recreational facilities — swimming pools (for men and women), gymnasiums, games courts, billiard rooms, etc. — the club also offered meeting rooms, a dining room, a ballroom, and lounges. It also offered use of hotel-like “rooms” to members and their guests. (If it was anything like old movies from this period, I assume it was a handy place to stay if a DAC member was in the doghouse with his wife — or in the midst of divorce proceedings. “If the VP from the home-office calls, Miss Klondike, I can be reached at my room at the club.”) The building also housed a variety of non-DAC-related businesses and offices — my great aunt had a hat shop there in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

The Athletic Club was a major social and recreational spot for years and was something of a landmark in the east end of downtown. In the 1950s the membership opened a country club and golf course near Mesquite but kept the downtown facility open as well. But with suburbia’s surge and downtown’s decline, it was only a matter of time until the club closed the downtown facility. The DAC finally sold the building in 1978, and it was demolished in 1981 to make way for the 50-story 1700 Pacific tower. It had a good run.


Before construction began, an artesian well was dug on the property.

dac_artesian-well_dmn_031722DMN, March 17, 1922

When it was finished five months later, “water sufficient to produce 300,000 gallons of water every twenty-four hours was reached” (Dallas Morning News, Aug. 20, 1922).


Photo by Charles Erwin Arnold showing construction in progress:

dallas-athletic-club_construction_DHSvia Dallas Historical Society



The progress made to date on the new home of the Dallas Athletic Club Building, which is under construction. […] The picture was snapped from an upper floor of the Medical Arts Building. […] The facing for the three lower floors is of gray Bedford stone. The exterior walls for the upper floors will be of dark red brick. The large openings extending from the fourth to sixth floors will contain the massive windows over the men’s swimming pool. The men’s gymnasium will be on the south side of the fourth floor. When completed, the building will cost approximately $2,000,000, and it will be the most modern athletic club in the United State, according to club officials. (DMN, Nov. 25, 1923)


dac_berloy-ad_1924_cropAd for “Berloy Floor Cores” from 1924. Great photo!



Work is nearing completion on the concrete framing for the five upper floors of the thirteen-story Dallas Athletic Club building at Elm and St. Paul street, and bricklaying will be started probably this week. The five upper floors will be used for office purposes, with the club quarters on the eight lower floors, except for some storerooms facing the two streets. (DMN, Nov. 16, 1924)


dallas-athletic-club_so-this-is-dallas_c1946_sm1946-ish (click for much larger image)

The above pictures portray some of the many features of one of Dallas’ greatest civic assets, the Dallas Athletic Club. The club’s home is the modern thirteen-story club and office building, facing St. Paul Street, bounded by Elm and Live Oak streets. It was completed in 1925 at a cost of almost $3,000,000.

The Club utilizes the basement and eight floors of the building. The first five floors are devoted to facilities for the services of members and their families, including clubs and private dining rooms, game rooms, swimming pools for men and women, gymnasium, etc. Three floors are given over to living quarters for members and their out-of-town guests. On these floors are eighty bedrooms and suites, all decorated and furnished in accordance with the highest standards of modern hotels. The Club’s year ’round program of cultural and recreational activities for members and their families play an important part in the business and social life of Dallas. Membership is by invitation.  (“So This Is Dallas,” a guide for newcomers to the city, circa 1946)



Aerial view from 1938, looking east; the DAC is in the center, with Elm Street to the right. (SMU)


dallas-athletic-club_matchbook_cook-collection_degolyer_smu_a     dallas-athletic-club_matchbook_cook-collection_degolyer_smu_b
1950s matchbook, via SMU


In March, 1981 it was announced that the building would be imploded.

The former Dallas Athletic Club building, which for 53 years served as a health club and meeting place for Dallas businessmen, will be imploded. […] A 50-story office building will be constructed on the site. The 57-year-old building has been empty since the club moved from the building in 1978. (Dallas Morning News, March 22, 1981)

And on March 22, 1981…


dallas-athletic-club_demo_dmn_032381bDMN, March 23, 1981

The end of an era.

But let’s remember happier times for the Dallas Athletic Club building and gaze at this idealized version from Lang & Witchell’s original drawing (circa 1922).



Sources & Notes

Bird’s-eye view of the construction site is by Charles Erwin Arnold and is from the Arnold Photographic Collection, Dallas Historical Society; its ID number is A.68.28.17.

Aerial view is a detail from a photograph taken by Lloyd M. Long in 1938; it is from the Edwin J. Foscue Map Library, Southern Methodist University. The full photo can be seen here; the same photo, with buildings labeled, is here.

Lang & Witchell drawing from The Yearbook of the Dallas Architectural Club, 1922.

Dallas Morning News clippings and photos are as noted.

Live Oak used to cut through the block bounded by St. Paul, Elm, Ervay, and Pacific. To get an idea of where the building was, here is a 1962 map of the area (the full map can be seen here).


The Dallas Athletic Club is still around. Their website is here.


Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Brook Hollow Country Club — 1940s

brook-hollow-country-club_1940sA modest clubhouse… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

A photo of Brook Hollow Country Club from a 1940s guide for newcomers. This photo is from a page of the area’s country clubs. This looks positively quaint.


From an early edition of “So This Is Dallas,” a guide for new residents of Dallas — this edition is from the early ’40s. Thanks to the Lone Star Library Annex Facebook group for loan of the image.

For an early history of the Brook Hollow Country Club (including a photo of the overgrown thicket before it became a golf course), see here.

The Brook Hollow Golf Club is a bit swankier these days. The official site is here.


Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

The Century Room’s Retractable Dance Floor

ad-adolphus-hotel_century-room_sm(click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

If you’re getting all dressed up for a night on the town, you want to make sure you get your money’s worth, entertainment-wise. That’s why you head to the tony Century Room at the swank Hotel Adolphus. Not only is there dining and dancing, there’s also an ice show. Yep, an ice show. When “Texas’ Only Complete Floor Show on Ice” has wrapped up, a dance floor magically covers the ice, and you and your honey can trip the light fantastic to the fabulous strains of Herman Waldman & His Orchestra. Skates optional.




Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Society Ladies and Their Great Big Hats

shakespeare-club_c1895The Dallas Shakespeare Club (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Had The Graduate been set near the beginning of the twentieth century rather than the middle of it, that famous scene out by the pool (er…near the horse trough) might have gone something like this:

Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.

Benjamin: Yes, sir?

Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?

Benjamin: Yes, sir, I am.

Mr. McGuire: …Millinery.

Benjamin: …Exactly how do you mean?

Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in millinery. Think about it. Will you think about it?

Benjamin: Yes, I will.

Mr. McGuire: Enough said. That’s a deal.


Photograph of the Dallas Shakespeare Club is from the Dallas Historical Society; it appears in the book Women and the Creation of Urban Life in Dallas, Texas, 1843-1920 by Elizabeth York Enstam (College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 1998). Enstam’s caption of this photograph identifies two women in the front row, on the right as Sallie Griffis Meyer (1863-1932), future president of the Dallas Art Association, and May Dickson Exall (1859-1936), president of the Dallas Shakespeare Club from 1886 until her death. Ms. Enstam has labeled this photo as “about 1895” — this appears to be incorrect. Other sources cite a year of a photo that sounds like this one, as being from 1911, taken on the steps of the Dallas Country Club. I think that this probably IS 1911, and it appears to have been taken on the steps of the first Dallas Golf and Country Club in Oak Lawn, a few months before the club moved into its current location in Highland Park. I’m going to make a wild guess and say that this photo might have been taken on April 27, 1911 when the club met at the Oak Lawn club to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Shakespeare (their meeting had been delayed to take place on the day following Shakespeare’s birthday). Below is a photo of the old country club, from The Dallas Morning News (Feb. 20, 1912), printed when it was announced the old club’s very valuable land would be sold.

dcc_oak-lawn_dmn_022012(click for larger image)


Dialogue (all but one word) from the film version of The Graduate, screenplay by Buck Henry, based on the novel by Charles Webb. “Millinery adaptation” by Paula Bosse, based on the screenplay by Buck Henry which was based on the novel by Charles Webb.

Click photos for larger images.


Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

The Ladies’ Reading Circle: An Influential Women’s Club Organized by Black Teachers in 1892

ladies-reading-circle_negro-leg-brewer_1935The Ladies (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

When one thinks of “ladies’ clubs” of the past, one probably tends to think of groups of largely well-to-do women in fashionable dresses, gloves, and smart hats who gathered for quaint meetings in one another’s homes to discuss vaguely literary or cultural topics, sip tea, chit-chat, and gossip. Often they would plan projects and events which would aid pet community or charitable causes. There were clubs of varying degrees of serious-mindedness, but, for the most part, club meetings were mostly an excuse for women to socialize. 100 years ago, these women rarely worked outside the home, and these groups offered an important social and cultural outlet for well-educated women of means. White women. Women of color were not part of that particular club world. They had to create clubs for themselves. And they did.

In 1892, eight African-American teachers in Dallas organized their own club, the Ladies’ Reading Circle, and while it, too, was an important social outlet for the women, the focus of the group tended to be more serious, with reading lists comprised primarily of political, historical, and critical texts.

The members of the Ladies’ Reading Circle (a group that lasted at least until the 1950s) were, for the most part, middle-class black women who set an agenda for the club of education, self-improvement, and social responsibility. Like most women’s clubs of the time, each meeting of the LRC was held in a different member’s home and usually ended with a “dainty” luncheon and light musical fare, courtesy of the Victrola or player piano; but what set the LRC apart from most of the other women’s clubs of the day was the choice of reading material — from books on world history and international politics, to texts on current affairs and social criticism. (Several surprising examples appear below.)

Not only did the women gather weekly to discuss current and cultural affairs, they also worked to improve their community by tackling important social issues and by inspiring and encouraging young women (and men) who looked to them as civic leaders. Noted black historian J. Mason Brewer dedicated his 1935 book Negro Legislators of Texas to the women of the Ladies’ Reading Circle. The photograph above is from Brewer’s book, as is the following dedication:


Included were the names of the members, several of whom had organized the club in 1892:


One of the LRC’s concerns was establishing a home which, like the white community’s YWCA, offered housing and career training for young women. The charming frame house the club bought for this purpose in 1938 (and which is described in the Jan. 10, 1952 News article “Ladies Reading Circle Seeks $7,500 for Expanding Home”) still stands at 2616 Hibernia in the State-Thomas area

lrc-home_2616-hibernia_google2616 Hibernia (Google Street view, 2014)

But the group was organized primarily as a “reading circle,” and the minutes of three randomly chosen meetings show the sort of topics they were interested in exploring. The following three articles are from the post-WWI-era, and all appeared in The Dallas Express, a newspaper for the city’s black community.

lrc_dallas-express_040320April 3, 1920

lrc_dallas-express_041020April 10, 1920

lrc_dallas-express_102023October 20, 1923

My favorite juxtaposition of content on the pages of The Dallas Express was the article below which reported on a white politician’s promise that he would fight to keep “illiterate Negro women” from voting — just a column or two away was one of those eye-popping summaries of the latest meeting of the Ladies’ Reading Circle. My guess is that the black educators who comprised the Ladies’ Reading Circle were probably far more knowledgeable about world events than he was.

negro-womans-suffrage_dallas-express_052220May 22, 1920

In reading the limited amount of information I could find on the LRC, I repeatedly came across the name of one of the earliest members, Callie Hicks (she is in the 1935 photo at the top, seated, second from the right). She was a dedicated teacher as well as a respected civic leader who worked for several causes and was an executive of the Dallas branch of the NAACP. A Dallas News article about Miss Hicks appeared in Feb., 1950 when she was named “Woman of the Year” by one of the largest African American women’s organizations in Dallas County (“Honor Caps 40 Years of Helpful Teaching,” DMN, Feb. 10, 1950). Miss Hicks died in May, 1965.


It’s a shame that the Ladies’ Reading Circle is not better known in Dallas today. I have to admit that I had never heard of the group until I stumbled across that 1935 club photo. Their tireless work to improve the intellectual lives of themselves and others no doubt influenced the generations that followed.


Sources & Notes

Top photograph, dedication, and member list, from Negro Legislators of Texas and Their Descendants; A History of the Negro in Texas Politics from Reconstruction to Disenfranchisement by J. Mason Brewer (Dallas: Mathis Publishing Co., 1935).

Minutes from the Ladies’ Reading Circle meetings all printed in The Dallas Express.

Relevant material on the LRC and other historic African-American women’s clubs can be read in Women and the Creation of Urban Life, Dallas, Texas, 1843-1920 by Elizabeth York Enstam (College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 1998), here.

The Handbook of Texas entry for one of the founding members of the Ladies’ Reading Circle, Julia Caldwell Frazier, can be found here.


Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved

U.S. Revenue Cutter “Carrie Nation” Successfully Navigates the Trinity In Valiant Effort to Keep Dallas Dry! — 1931

The ship’s arrival, passing under the streetcar viaduct…

by Paula Bosse

I spent a couple of hours looking through the archives of The Dallas Morning News this morning, hoping to find a nice juicy April Fools’ prank from the past. Everything was fairly run-of-mill. Until I came across this. THIS is great. I don’t know who wrote the story, but there is, at least, acknowledgement for the wonderfully weird photo above — the photo credit reads: “Perpetrated by C. J. Kaho, News Staff Photographer.”

Below is the accompanying story about the United States Revenue Cutter Carrie Nation and the news of its journey up a surprisingly navigable Trinity River in order to anchor itself beneath the Commerce Street viaduct and make sure that the rum-runners in the Gulf don’t gain a foothold in bone-dry Prohibition-era Dallas. The photo and report appeared in the pages of The Dallas Morning News on April 1, 1931, beneath the headline “Lots of Dallas People Failed to See This.”

Unwilling to let such an important story fade away — and with a few more good lines left to get into print — this appeared the next day, on April 2, 1931: “Navigation Assured!”

Then some killjoy editor probably insisted on this, which also appeared on April 2, 1931:


Rev. J. B. Cranfill was a Baptist leader and a noted Prohibitionist. I love the line “Dr. J. B. Cranfill was so overcome with joy that he wept copious tears, taking care to shed them into the canal, so as to increase its depth.”

And I laughed out loud at the “where the West begins” dig at Fort Worth.

But, seriously, that photo is great. The little streetcar chugging over the viaduct is just the perfect garnish.

Read about the famed, notorious Bonehead Club of Dallas in a 1991 Texas Monthly article by Helen Thompson, here. Thank you, Boneheads!


Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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