HMRC Newsletter | April 2020

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.

Making it: Creative Women in Houston
HMRC Receives Theater LaB Houston’s Archives
Women Making News—Literally
Upcoming HMRC Events & Programs

Making it: Creative Women in Houston
By Alex Gazzolo, Programming and Community Outreach Coordinator

“Had I been a man, I probably would have tried to get more commercial work.  Boards of directors and planning committees do not normally choose a woman architect.” 

 “Women are glad to find a woman architect because they are not as frightened of having ideas forced on them as they would be with a man.”
- Betty Jo Jones1

Betty Jo Jones was a local architect specializing in residential work in the 1950s through the 1970s. Jones is currently the only female architect whose work is housed in HMRC’s Stephen Fox Architectural Archives. 

The Houston Metropolitan Research Center aims to collect the voices of Houston and document the history of our city. However, women's contributions are often unrecognized and underrepresented in the historical record. This matters—it impacts how we understand our past and how we imagine our future. In fact, on February 11, 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to create a national museum of women’s history.2

HMRC staff are diving into this history in order to curate a pop up exhibit featuring materials in our collections by and about creative women. This event will not be a complete showing of artistic women in Houston—not by a long shot. Rather, it is a selection of materials, full of gaps and missing pieces, that sheds light both on some of the creative women we know and those whose stories are waiting to be told.

In amplifying these stories, we seek to reflect the people and communities that have shaped our city in ways big and small. Featured women include “First Lady of Tejano Music” Lydia Mendoza, artist Grace Spaulding John, jazz and blues vocalist Jewel Brown, architect Betty Jo Jones, and more.

Though the Research Center is open to the public, we know not everyone thinks an afternoon digging through city directories and archival records is fun (we can agree to disagree!). To increase access to our collections for folks curious about Houston history, we host ‘pop up’ exhibits. In these one-night-only events, we pull a curated selection of our materials for our customers to engage with up close. It’s an opportunity to explore stories of Houstonians past and present. One of my favorite parts of pop-ups is the experience of engaging with history collectively: the archival materials are often a springboard for conversation and connection between attendees and staff. 

From painters to architects to musicians, Houston women have created work reflecting their lives and their city. We are looking forward to a future pop up exhibit celebrating these women and their accomplishments, and we hope you’ll be able to join us.

NOTE: This pop up exhibit was originally scheduled for April 2020. We have postponed this exhibit until further notice in the interest of the health and safety of our community. In these uncertain times, we are not able to offer our scheduled date, but we will announce one as soon as we are able.

Mrs. Betty Jo Jones," RG D 0006N-1957-1033-2, Houston Public Library, HMRC
Lydia Mendoza playing her bajo sexto,” MSS 0123-0042, Houston Public Library, HMRC.
Publicity photograph of Jewel Brown on a postcard,” MSS 0337-0030, Houston Public Library, HMRC.
1] Nancy Snyder, “Architect Specializes in People,” Houston Chronicle, August 15, 1971.
[2] Associated Press, “House Approves Plan to Create US Women's History Museum,” AP News, February 11, 2020.

HMRC Receives Theater LaB Houston’s Archives
By Abra Schnur, Processing Archivist

Theater LaB Houston opened its doors in 1993 in the historical First Ward district. Founder Gerald LaBita envisioned the theater as a space that would produce and stage national and international contemporary plays, both dramas and comedies, as well as musicals. It specialized in “off-Broadway” theater and operated until 2018.

During the 1980s, while Gerald LaBita was the Director for Human Resources at Finger Furniture and an adjunct instructor at Houston Community College, he was also active in local theater, participating in acting, stage managing, directing, lighting, and set design. He enjoyed working in the theater so much that he decided to create this own theater space.

The building, located at 1706 Alamo Street, was originally a small neighborhood grocery own by LaBita’s parents. It was reimagined to be a modular space, allowing for the flexibility in stage design and interaction with the audience. During the theater’s development, LaBita established a board and business plan for the theater. Thus, “the LaB” was born. He traveled to other major cities searching for productions and guest artists he could bring to the LaB.

 The LaB produced over 150 works and hosted three fringe festivals, a first of its kind in the city. The LaB also raised funds to create Thespian Park, which was located on the corner of Alamo and Colorado. This park featured murals depicting theater history designed by artist Rodolphe   Zarka. In 2012 LaBita sold the building on Alamo and the LaB partnered with Obsidian Art Space, the MATCH, and the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center to finish out its 25-year run.

Archivist Abra Schnur and volunteer Claudia Cardenas processed the new collection in the fall of 2019. The collection includes material such as programs, mailers, reviews, and production photos from some of the 150+ productions. Included are original set design renderings and photos of stages created by Boris Kaplun, and a wonderful collection of needlepoint ornaments created for many of the productions by patron Kathleen Gay Peeples. The collection also contains promo video clips of their later productions and a series of video montages from their building closing celebration in 2012.

Additionally, there are several playbills and programs from performances that inspired local productions at the LaB. There are architectural drawings and photographs of the building and renovation of 1706 Alamo Street and information on the creation of Thespian Park. Also donated was the original signage for the theater.

Our finding aid for this collection is available online. We have plenty of information about how to plan your visit to HMRC. If you'd like more information, you can contact us via email at:

Pictures feature archival materials from the Theater LaB Houston collection (RG E 0100), and appear courtesy of HMRC.

Women Making News—Literally
By Jennifer Unruh, Editor-in-Chief

August 18, 2020 marks the 100-year anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote. However, many women were making their voices heard even before then. Before, during, and after the suffrage movement, women authored, edited, and published newspapers and magazines on subjects they felt were important. Nearly all had an opinion about suffrage.

Would it surprise you to learn that not all women supported the women’s suffrage movement? As with any ideal, women occupied both sides of the argument about their right to vote. Some women advocated for enfranchisement with voting rights, while others stressed the importance of maintaining the traditional separation between women and politics. 

Mrs. Ida M. Darden (1886-1980) of Fort Worth, Texas, was a staunch opponent of Communist and Socialist influences in the United States. Darden was a prominent member of the Texas Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, an antisuffragist organization established in Houston in March 1916. She and organization president Pauline Wells argued that women’s suffrage was a Socialist plot.

In 1950, Darden launched her own newspaper, the Southern Conservative. The paper targeted Communist threats in the U.S. government and in its subtitle, pleaded for “a Return of Constitutional Government. ” The Southern Conservative ran from 1959 to 1961. A collection of Darden’s  papers was donated to HMRC in 1977, among which was a near-complete run of the Conservative. With the help of the University of Houston, almost every issue of the  Southern Conservative is available online.

Florence M. Sterling (1871-1940) was a businesswoman who worked alongside her brothers as they founded R. S. Sterling and Company and the Humble Oil Company. She was an active participant in the women’s suffrage movement and was president of several women’s voting organiztions.

Sterling edited and published her own magazine from 1923 to 1927, called the Woman’s ViewpointThe Viewpoint set out to bring attention to what women were doing in the U.S. while also urging women to use their newly-granted rights to vote and participate in civic and political affairs. We’re lucky to have a near-complete run of the Woman’s Viewpoint here at HMRC and you can read the first two volumes on our website.

Photo Credits: 

Image of Ida Darden, “[Untitled],” UTA Libraries, accessed March 11, 2020,

Image of Florence Sterling from the cover of Woman’s Viewpoint v.1 no.1 (December 12, 1923), 
Houston Public Library, HMRC.

Upcoming HMRC Events & Programs

Due to COVID-19, HMRC has postponed all April and May programming for the safety of our customers and staff. We miss you in the Texas Room and we look forward to seeing you again! In the meantime, we hope you'll stay connected with us and check out our virtual programming--

Suffrage Centennial Book Club:
Author Talk: Dr. Leandra Zarnow - Battling Bella: The Protest Politics of Bella Abzug

Wednesday, April 29, 2020 | 12 PM 
the virtual edition!

Dr. Leandra Zarnow, of the University of Houston History Department, will discuss her newly released biography of New York’s Bella Abzug, chair of the 1977 National Women's Conference. With a fiery rhetorical style forged in the 1960s antiwar movement, Abzug vigorously promoted gender parity, economic justice, and the need to “bring Congress back to the people.” This deeply researched political biography highlights how, as 1960s radicalism moved protest into electoral politics, Abzug drew fire from establishment politicians across the political spectrum—but also inspired a generation of women.

Do you have a question for Dr. Zarnow about Bella Abzug? Patrons can submit questions to the author here. Questions submitted by April 20 may be answered by Dr. Zarnow on video on April 29! Link to video will be shared on 4/29. 

Preservation Week Instagram Takeover
April 25 - May 2

Tune in to HPL's Instagram to join HMRC's Preservation Librarian on a behind the scenes adventure! In celebration of Preservation Week, take a peek at how the archives preserve our materials and learn tips for taking care of your own treasured memories. 

Stay tuned for more upcoming programs in 2020!

Archived Blogs

January 2020
October 2019
July 2019
April 2019
January 2019
October 2018
July 2018

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Ise Darden is someone I continue to encounter as a local historian and as a scholar of Texas women's history. e of the more interesting facts about her is her running for the U. S. Congress in the 1930s despite her opposition to the vote.

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