Johanna Riordan was born in Cork County, Ireland, but grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. She came to Fabens in 1902 as the young bride of Patrick O’Donnell who worked for the railroads that played a big role in the development of Fabens. Johanna remembered being the only Anglo women in Fabens as well as the first Anglo woman to give birth in Fabens. Fabens at this time was just developing, it was barren and isolated. She took care of and cooked for many visitors, railroad employees, Rangers and other who knew of her hospitality. She opened the Old Island Inn in Fabens, and brought some top notch entertainment acts, like the Metropolitan Opera, to perform there.
O’Donnell help organized the Fabens Townsite and the Fabens school district. O’Donnell also, by train, took the school census and went out to recruit students for the newly established school. O’Donnell, along with Gladys Bramwell, were the fist women to serve on the Fabens School Board in 1920. She was defeated in 1922 but served again in the 1930’s and by 1934 she was Board President. She was one of the first women to serve as a school board president in El Paso County. She came back again by a write-in in the 1944 school board election, serving again as school board president until her retirement in the 1950s.
O’Donnell was also active in the local Democratic party and served as an election judge. She was a member of the Thomason Hospital Board of Trustees and was active in the local Red Cross.O’Donnell died in 1966 in Fabens
The photo above is of O’Donnell Intermediate School in the Fabens School District named for Mrs. O’Donnell and her family.
El Paso Historical Society Volunteer,