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The Houston Metropolitan Research Center (HMRC)’s newest quarterly newsletter will offer updates on exciting happenings at HMRC. Our spotlight articles will give you a closer look at our materials, tips and research help from our expert staff, and much more.

A Lady of Some Notoriety: Pamelia Mann
Get Out the Vote: The Fight for Voting Rights in Houston
William Gutierrez: A Man for 'The People'

A Lady of Some Notoriety: Pamelia Mann
by Jennifer Unruh, Editor-in-Chief

Mrs. Pamelia Mann was one of many colorful individuals to live on the Texas frontier during the days of Texas Revolution and the Republic of Texas. She was a woman of notoriety amongst the frontier folk and had the “honor” of being the first Texas woman to receive the death penalty. Though she only lived in Texas from 1834 until her death in 1840, there are a surprising number of stories surrounding her.

Pamelia Mann gained some notoriety for openly defying General Sam Houston during the Texas Revolution. It happened during a point in the Revolution known as the Runaway Scrape, when Texans were fleeing from the Mexican army after the Goliad Massacre. General Houston wanted to borrow some of Mrs. Mann’s oxen in order to pull cannons—before this, the soldiers were pulling the cannons themselves. Mrs. Mann agreed, as long Houston and his troops were headed toward Nacogdoches (and away from the Mexican army). Houston assured her that they were.

A few miles outside Mrs. Mann’s property, Houston directed his troops toward Harrisburg instead. A furious Pamelia Mann, armed with two pistols and a long knife, rode down the army and demanded her oxen be returned, since Houston had lied to her. When the general refused, Mrs. Mann cut the oxen loose herself and drove them back home. (Later, a Captain Roeher went after Mrs. Mann to get the oxen back but returned to the troops empty handed and sporting a torn shirt.)

Not even a year later, Pamelia Mann and her family moved to the new city of Houston, then-capitol of the Republic. There, she set up a hotel called the Mansion House. This was more of a boarding house than what we would consider a hotel by today’s standards. Frontier hotels tended to be cramped, lawless places that also served as bordellos, and the Mansion House was no exception. Once, two roommates of the Mansion House ended their thorny relationship with a duel to the death over an accusation of theft (which as later proved false). A tenant of the nearby Houston House threatened to shoot the boarding housekeeper when he came to collect several weeks’ worth of delinquent rent. It took a strong spine to run a hotel in those days.

Early court records show that Pamelia Mann was no frontier angel. She was involved in numerous litigations from 1836 through 1840, and indicted on charges such as counterfeiting, fornication, larceny, and assault with intent to kill. An 1839 case found Mrs. Mann guilty of forging a check, which was a capital offense in the Republic of Texas. The district judge sentenced her to death by hanging, but the jurors felt that the sentence was too severe, and petitioned President Mirabeau Lamar for leniency. Though he purportedly also had a tumultuous relationship with Pamelia Mann, Lamar granted her a full pardon.

The indomitable Pamelia Mann died on November 5, 1840, likely from the same yellow fever that killed her husband, T. K. Brown, one month prior, and many other early residents of the city of Houston.

“Dawn at the Alamo,” MSS0187-1090, Houston Public Library, HMRC.
“Driskill Hotel,” MSS0187-1110, Houston Public Library, HMRC.
Ashby, Lynn. “Texas Army no match for a woman.” Houston Post, March 8, 1984. Vertical Files, Houston Public Library, HMRC.
Hogan, William Ransom. "Pamelia Mann: Texas Frontierswoman." Southwest Review 20, no. 4 (1935): 360-70. Accessed August 18, 2020.
Kilman, Ed. “Pamelia Mann’s Death Sentence Was Canceled; Chipita’s Stuck.” Houston Post, Texas Heartbeat, Undated. Vertical Files, Houston Public Library, HMRC.
Moore, Karen. “Pamelia Mann: Houston Businesswoman.” Unpublished manuscript, March 1986, typescript. Vertical Files, Houston Public Library, HMRC.

Get Out the Vote: The Fight for Voting Rights in Houston
by Elizabeth Mayer, Preservation Librarian

With the November 2020 election just around the corner, it is almost time for everyone to exercise one of their most important rights and responsibilities as citizens: voting.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. While the initial push for women’s suffrage began in 1848 with the Seneca Falls Convention, movements in the Southern states, such as Texas, started much later.

In Texas, the first call to amend the constitution to address women’s suffrage came in 1868 and again in 1875. Both times, these efforts were shut down. In 1875, women were officially excluded from voting eligibility, along with “idiots, lunatics, paupers, and felons.”

In Houston, the fight for women’s suffrage began officially in 1903, when Annette Finnegan and her two sisters, Elizabeth and Katherine, founded the Houston Equal Suffrage League. From 1903 to 1920, suffragists in Houston continuously campaigned for the right to vote. Other frontrunners of the Houston suffrage movement included Minnie Fisher Cunningham and Hortense Sparks Ward.

The work of the Houston Equal Suffrage League wasn’t limited to voting rights. Oftentimes, the League would work to push legislation that they felt addressed issues of inequality. For example, Hortense Ward was also instrumental in writing and campaigning for the Texas Married Woman’s Rights Bill in 1913, which allowed married women the right to their own separate money and property.

While women’s suffrage is an important victory to celebrate for citizens’ rights, the fight for equal voting rights continued long after the ratification of the 19th Amendment. By the letter of the law, the 19th Amendment was supposed to grant voting rights to all women. For many women, this did not prove to be true in practice.

The poll tax, literacy tests, and several other voter restrictions systematically prevented many people of color from registering to vote. At the same time, these restrictions grandfathered-in white voters who would have otherwise not met the voting requirements. These problems lead to the push for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Voting Rights Act addressed voter suppression and underrepresentation of minority groups at the local, state, and national levels.

HMRC’s John J. Herrera papers (MSS 0160) contain a wealth of information on the Voting Rights Act and the fight for voting rights in Houston’s Latino community. The collection has been digitized in its entirety and is available on the Portal to Texas History. And to celebrate the efforts of all who fought for equal voting rights, be sure to cast your vote in the 2020 election.

“Portrait of Annette Finnegan,” SC0013-001, Houston Public Library, HMRC.
“Line of People Waiting to Pay Poll Tax,” RGD0006N-1966-0309N0009, Houston Public Library, HMRC.

William Gutierrez: A Man for 'The People'
by Victoria Ferro, HMRC Intern

My name is Victoria Ferro and I’m a graduate student at the University of North Texas, pursuing my master’s degree in Library and Information Services. Through my work at HMRC, I had hands-on experience that I lacked from distance learning. The process of discussion and analysis that came with working alongside professional archivists was enlightening and encouraging. My internship gave me practical and foundational knowledge to carry with me throughout my career. Let me tell you about the man whose collection I processed during my internship.

In 1970, William “Bill” Gutierrez was the first Mexican American to direct the Wesley Community Center, also known as the Wesley House, in Houston’s Near Northside community. He later became the Coordinator of Community Activities for the Mayor’s Citizens Action Office. These two important jobs are brief highlights of a far-reaching career in social and political advocacy for Mexican American citizens in Houston and beyond.

Mr. Gutierrez’s career in community service and political activism primarily spanned the 1970s. He was first introduced to the scene through the Harris County Neighborhood Youth Program, then later became an active member of Houston’s League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Council #60. He was also involved with LULAC’s Project S.E.R. (Service, Employment, Redevelopment), an employment center designed to serve the city’s Mexican American community, which also offered job training and education. Gutierrez also actively assisted with the LULAC’s Little School of the 400, an education project developed to teach Spanish-speaking preschoolers a speaking vocabulary of 400 basic English words to help them succeed in Houston schools.

HMRC’s collection of his papers contains an abundance of administrative records across a variety of positions, painting a picture of a consistently full calendar for Mr. Gutierrez. Despite his busy schedule, Gutierrez fostered many important and lasting connections with the people he served. The William Gutierrez Papers are filled with handwritten letters from citizens looking to Gutierrez for advocacy and advice on many things, such as discrimination claims to voters’ rights issues. His records also show the numerous programs he created, joined, and supported in response to the Mexican American community’s needs.

Mr. Gutierrez was only 35 years old when he passed away suddenly in December 1979 from a heart attack. In his obituary, he was described as always being an advocate for “the people.” A few short years after his death, his surviving wife, Linda Gutierrez donated his papers to HMRC to preserve his legacy and ensure access to all interested in learning about Houston’s Chicano leaders.

Pictures featured from archival materials in the William Gutierrez Papers (MSS 0237), Houston Public Library, HMRC.

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