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http://www.dallasnews.com/lifestyles/books/20150424-women-who-beat-long-odds.ece

By JOYCE SÁENZ HARRIS

Special Contributor
Published: 24 April 2015 10:49 PM

Three historians at three North Texas universities are responsible for organizing Texas Women: Their Histories, Their Lives. While one might expect that this book would come from a Texas university press, editors Elizabeth Hayes (University of North Texas), Stephanie Cole (University of Texas at Arlington) and Rebecca Sharpless (Texas Christian University) explain in the preface that the University of Georgia Press already had a history series called Southern Women: Their Lives and Times, a natural fit for the book they wanted to write.

Texas Women is written as a clear, concise narrative, starting in colonial times with chapters on the influences of American Indian women who lived in what would become Texas; Mexican women who settled in Texas when it was still part of New Spain; women of the Texas Republic; enslaved women of antebellum times; and Texas women of the late 19th and early 20th century, with emphasis on the struggle for women’s suffrage, legal rights, health care, access to education and professional standing.

Under Spanish law, which carried over to Mexico when it became independent, “Spanish women had rights,” writes Jean A. Stuntz of West Texas A&M University. “Indeed, even a poor servant woman had the right to file suit. Her marital status was not mentioned because it was not important.” One key difference between Spanish and English cultures: “Spanish women did not take their husbands’ names upon marriage. … A woman’s name and her legal identity did not disappear upon marriage, as they did in Anglo America.” Castilian imperial law followed the Spanish conquest into Mexico and thence to colonial Texas.

Dallas readers will be particularly interested in “Latinas in Dallas, 1910-2010,” by Bianca Mercado, a UNT postgraduate and a doctoral candidate at Yale who is completing a dissertation on Mexican communities and urban redevelopment in Dallas. This chapter includes stories of Anita N. Martinez, Adelaida Cuellar, Maria Luna, Faustina Martinez, Lena Levario, Diana Orozco and other women who pushed beyond cultural barriers and helped bring their families to prominence in Dallas business and politics.

Two other Dallasites merit their own chapters in Texas Women: Julia Scott Reed and Hermine Tobolowsky.

Reed was an experienced journalist who in 1967 became the first African-American writer hired full time at a major daily newspaper in Texas. She was a columnist for The Dallas Morning News. W. Marvin Dulaney, history department chair at UTA, tells how Reed brought a new breadth and depth to The News’ coverage of the black community in Dallas. Her column, “The Open Line,” ran three times a week from July 1967 until December 1978, when a stroke ended her career. She wrote “more thorough coverage of people, events and issues in the local African-American community than most of the nation’s newspapers had previously provided,” Dulaney writes. “In short, she presented a view of Dallas’ African-American community of which most whites had no awareness or understanding.”

Tobolowsky, a Dallas lawyer, was a driving force behind the Equal Rights Amendment. According to historian Nancy E. Baker of Sam Houston State University, “Unlike the majority of states that ratified the federal ERA, Texas had a vigorous pro-ERA movement dating back to the late 1950s, thanks in large part to Hermine Tobolowsky” and the Texas Business and Professional Women’s efforts to obtain a state equal rights amendment. While Tobolowsky “avoided the appearance of radicalism at all times,” she emphasized that legal sexual equality would benefit everyone, men as well as women.

Other prominent Texans profiled in Texas Women include politician Barbara Jordan, astronaut Mae Jemison, peace activist Casey Hayden, and the Houston Post’s Oveta Culp Hobby, who led the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps during World War II and was appointed the first secretary of Health, Education and Welfare by President Dwight Eisenhower. It is astonishing to realize, by the way, that there is no full-scale biography of Hobby, who was probably the most influential Texas woman of the mid-20th century. (The only biography of her that is available is one written for younger readers.)

Texas Women is heavily footnoted, but it isn’t ponderous. For anyone interested in the real women who built Texas while struggling against long odds, it is revelatory reading.

Joyce Sáenz Harris is a Dallas freelance writer.

Texas Women: Their Histories, Their Lives

Edited by Elizabeth Hayes Turner, Stephanie Cole and Rebecca Sharpless

(University of Georgia, $32.95)

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Photo: Robert Trachtenberg            

The average American woman probably has more than she thinks in common with five-time Emmy Award winner Candice Bergen.

Love, marriage, motherhood. Widowhood, grieving, remarriage. Midlife illnesses, aging parents, terrible losses. Career hiccups. Extra pounds and the realization that, after age 45, even famous beauties become mostly invisible in a society fixated on youth.

Bergen turns 69 next month, but retirement is not on her to-do list. Her second memoir, A Fine Romance (Simon & Schuster, $28), was published Tuesday, and on Wednesday evening she will appear as part of the Dallas Museum of Art’s Arts & Letters Live series to talk about her life in and out of the limelight.

Bergen, a one-time model turned actress, grew up in Beverly Hills, the child of Hollywood royalty. Her father, ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, was a huge star of radio, film, stage and early TV screens; his most famous dummy, Charlie McCarthy, is in the Smithsonian Institution. Candice Bergen’s first memoir, Knock Wood, covering the initial decades of her life and career, was published in 1984 to critical and popular acclaim.

In A Fine Romance, Bergen writes that when Knock Wood was a success, she had “trouble enjoying it.” The next year, she had her daughter, Chloe, with her first husband, French film director Louis Malle. With the birth of her child, “my writing fuse shorted out,” Bergen said in a recent telephone interview. “I didn’t write again for 30 years.” Thus, tackling a second memoir required her to retrain what she calls her “writing muscle.” She blew three deadlines for A Fine Romance, “managed to drag it out over four years … and wrote the book, stupidly, on my iPad.”

A Fine Romance is, like its predecessor, an engaging read: smart, funny, highly personal and surprisingly candid. It covers her unconventional marriage to Malle, who died of cancer at age 63 in 1995, when Chloe was just 10; her delayed introduction to motherhood at 39; her rocket ride to TV stardom in 1988 with the hit CBS comedyMurphy Brown; the perks and perils of her subsequent fame; the difficult days of Malle’s illness, his death and her widowhood; and the happiness she has found in her second marriage, to New York businessman Marshall Rose.

Daughter Chloe is the constant of A Fine Romance’s narrative, the centerpiece around which Bergen, in motherhood, constructed her life.

“She’s probably much more like her father than like me; she has his dynamism and his intellect,” Bergen says. “Like him, she can never do less than two or three things at a time. She was born a multitasker. But she gets her sense of humor from me, and also partly from my brother,” Kris Bergen.

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Photo: Mia McDonald

Now 29 and the social editor of Vogue, Chloe is engaged to financial analyst Graham Albert, and her mother is busy planning a summer wedding — “very small, only 50 people” — at Louis Malle’s cherished French country home, Le Coual. Right now, Mom is still trying to figure out where all the guests will stay for this destination wedding deep in southwest France, a half-day’s journey from Paris. “I’m just turning it over to the Fates,” Bergen says. “I can do no more.”

Malle and Bergen adored each other, but they were from very different worlds. For the first five years of their marriage, she concentrated on being with him wherever he worked, which mostly was in Paris; even after Chloe’s birth, they managed to be together more often than not. “Up until Murphy Brown, we were rarely apart,” Bergen says.

In Los Angeles, Bergen’s mother and brother lived only a few minutes away, and Murphy Brown’s schedule was flexible enough to accommodate Chloe’s schooling and a normal family life. But the show’s success and its long run on TV meant that Bergen’s life with Malle became a trans-Atlantic commuter marriage, with her husband bearing the brunt of the travel.

It might be the world capital of film, but Malle didn’t like living or working in Hollywood. “He was convinced they put something in the water in LA,” Bergen says with a laugh. “It never would have been home for him. I certainly understood that. Anyone who does what we do has to deal with this.”

Though she enjoys visiting Paris and loves Le Coual, Europe could never quite be home for Bergen, either. While she does speak French, “I’m an American girl … and culturally, France is very different.”

Having the Bergen family in LA “was great for Chloe,” Bergen says. “But it was not great for her not to have her father always there.” Malle and his daughter had to work harder to maintain a close relationship, and “it was anguishing,” despite the fact that Chloe was mature beyond her years. Later, she had surrogate father figures, such as her Uncle Kris and her adored godfather, the late film director Mike Nichols, whose presence in their lives was, Bergen says, “a great gift.”

Bergen married Marshall Rose in 2000, and they make their principal home in New York City, not far from Chloe. He was a widower with grown children, and he proposed to Bergen after only three months of dating. She still has a pied-à-terre in LA, as well as Le Coual in France, but she concedes that “travel seems less appealing” at this more settled stage of her life.

“It’s been a very traditional marriage,” she says, “and I am still getting used to that.” He is “the most attentive and loving” husband, and she treasures his companionship all the more because she didn’t always have it before. At this age, she says, it feels good to have that.

“I probably enjoy my time alone a little less,” Bergen says. Being married “is like having radiant heat next to you in bed, and I get used to that.”

Candice Bergen will discuss A Fine Romance at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at First Presbyterian Church, 1835 Young St., Dallas, as part of the Dallas Museum of Art’s Arts & Letters Live. Tickets are $15-$65.  dma.org/tickets or 214-922-1818.