A Celebration of Women History Month by Joseph Longo
In March of 1919 Kate Farnham was appointed policewoman. Farnham was later joined by Virginia Méndez, who was called the first “gun totting, badge wearing policewoman.” Mendez was said to be tough and as strong as any policeman. Both women lost their jobs because of political alignment and the position was again abolished in 1923.Mendez went on to serve as deputy county probation officer for many years. Farnham was moved to the position as matron at Washington Park, but the position was abolished and she ran the Upson Hotel, a boarding house on Upson Street.
Photo Credit: El Paso Public Library.
Emma Webster Fenley, was the first woman to serve as the deputy sheriff in El Paso in 1913. and also served as jail matron. Also in 1913, Webster was appointed county probation officer. As the probation officer, Webster dealt with women and delinquent children, making sure runaways got back to their family and transported children to reform school.
Jennie Westfall Warner was born in Shelby County, Indiana. She was a teacher for 12 years. Warner served as president of the El Paso Women’s Club, and served on the board of the El Paso YWCA. Warner was elected to the El Paso School board in 1923, serving as board secretary and chaired the district’s Finance Board until her retirement in 1933. Warner was elected to the El Paso School Board on an anti-Ku Klux Klan ticket in 1923 and was vocal about her opposition to the Klan. Warner also headed the Women’s Auxiliary at the first Presbyterian Church. Warner also headed a charity drive for the community chest.
Lucy Brooks was the first woman to serve on the Ysleta School Board and ran the Valley Inn.
Emma Capeheat was an early El Paso Businesswoman who owned and ran several beauty salons in the 1920s and 1930s. Capeheart was known for her modern hair styling faculties and also for her skills in hair weaving .
In 1923, Avis Fleming was reported to be the only first woman car distributor in the U.S.
1923 El Paso Herald Post.
Anna Maria Tobin was elected El Paso Treasurer in 1925 and served until 1941.
Maria Tarrant Tobias worked for Sheriff, Seth Orndorff as a secretary until 1925 when she was appointed county jailer, the first woman to hold this position. She held it until 1927 when she was discharged, but no reason was given. As Jailer, Tobias proved to be tough and fearless. In June of 1927, Tobias told the El Paso Herald that she was taking no extra precautions when a prisoner, Charles Bradley threatened to come get her after his sentence was up. After Tobias left as jailor she may have continued as Orndorff’s Secretary until he left office. Tobias then worked as register and bookkeeper for Texas College of the Mines(UTEP) Tobias died in El Paso in 1954.
When Tobias was left as County Jailer she was succeeded by Corita Eakin, who was the assistant jailer. Eakin was city register until the position was eliminated then Orndorff appointed her as an assistant jailer to help with the paperwork and business of the Jail. Eakin served until 1928
1932 Flowsheet, UTEP Special Collections.
Ruby Dichiara, was the first woman to pay her poll tax to vote in El Paso in 1918 . Dichiara ran her own home building company. She built and designed some of her houses in Mission Hills. A
subdivision was named after her.
El Paso Times.
Mary Lane Moon oversaw the construction of the Moon Family ranch in 1905, including their 11-room adobe house. Mrs. Moon also oversaw cotton farming, cattle operations, and took care of their chickens and peacocks until her death in 1926. Before her death, she was looking forward to her husband’s retirement so they could spend more time together, but she died before that happened.Mrs. Moon was an influential woman in Socorro politics. She served on the Socorro School Board and was one of the first elected Socorro trustees along with John O’Shea and Silverio Escontrias. She was on the board when Silverio Escontrias Pre-K was built on Buford. Her name was on a plaque that was put on the school building when it was completed to honor them. She was also active in Democratic Party politics and the Catholic church.
Nell Gardner ran a business school for women and reorganized her husband, Empire bottle factory business into Empire Moving. Gardner also found the El Paso Chapter of the Pilot Club and co founded the Pilot Home for Aged Folks.
Cross Nursery was founded in 1938 by Virginia Cross Mays. Mays bought land in the Upper Valley and planted a evergreen trees. She started off as a small backyard operation, with only one trailer and one helper, but soon started to grow. Mays was also well known for her skills as a landscaper, doing work for some prominent people in El Paso and New Mexico. In the 1940’s, her father, R.R. “Rube” Cross took over the business and with his leadership it expanded and grew into a larger operation. Some major landscaping projects included a copper plant in New Mexico, Van Horn Park, and 45 acres of grass and 15,00 worth of shrubs, and eight trees planing at Providence Hospital. He was joined in the business by Virginia’s Husband, Tom Mays, in 1947. Mays came to El Paso in 1942 as a sales manager for American Airlines, they had one daughter named Luann Mattox. In 1953, Mr. Cross opened an additional nursery called Green Thumb Nursery on Airway and later opened a location in the Northeast. Years earlier, in 1929, Mr. Cross had opened a nursery in South El Paso. Tom Mays eventually took over the business with his wife. In 1958, Mr. Mays was appointed to El Paso County Commissioner’s Court and acted as County Judge. Mr. Mays was reelected in 1962 and died in office in 1966. After his death, the business was sold to Jay Dawson, who renamed it Jay Dawson’s Cross Nursery.
In 1940 Ester Welch Varela was elected the first woman Justice of the Peace in El Paso County, defeating the long-time incumbent, T.H. Apodaca in Socorro . Varela was reelected in 1942 and retired in 1944. Varela was born in Oklahoma and had Cherokee Indian blood, Varela also ran a store in Arkansas.
Credit; El Paso Times
Lydia Gueling, Grueling went into business with her husband, then after his death in the early 1950’s, she took over the company, Westland Forwarding. She also owned and operated El Paso Plating Works and founded the Heirloom Antique Shop. Grueling was appointed the manager of the El Paso Freight Association. El Paso Plating Works receiving office was on 212 East Yandell, the antique shop and the Freight Association office were at the same location. During her time at El Paso Plating works, she oversaw construction of a new plating works factory on 2422 Wyoming. The first El Paso Plating works factory was on 2908 Durazno street.
She was president of the Lower Valley Women’s Club, a member of the El Paso Women’s Club, president of the New Mexico-El Paso Congregational Women Fellowship, she was also active in the Lower Valley Congregational Church and the Lower Valley Garden Club and the El Paso Women’s Department of the Chamber of Commerce. Greuling also went into real estate and was purchasing agent for a supply company. Grueling was active in the Ysleta School PTA and unsuccessfully ran for the Ysleta School Board against the incumbent, Jerry Stevens in 1942. Grueling died in 1988.
Louise Seymour and her brother established an 160 acres farm in Canutillo. The duo started with the poultry business, raising and selling chickens, but that business venture eventually folded and left them broke. Seymour worked for the Bureau of Entomology and Plant Quarantine for the U.S. Agriculture Department to help support the farm and to help out her brother. Seymour and her brother then went in the cotton business and started raising cotton on their farm. She ended up working in the office of a cotton gin her brother had bought into.
Credit: El Paso Times
In 1951, Seymour started breeding and raising Aberdeen Angus cattle. Seymour was one of the first few, and earliest, breeders of Aberdeen Angus in the county. Seymour’s original cattle business started with 44 cows, 23 calves and one registered bull. After Bill’s death in 1954 she took over sole operation of the farm. Seymour was a co-owner of the Lone Star Gin and served on the board and as secretary of the Borderland Co-Op Association.
Seymour served as chair of the El Paso County Programming Board and was appointed by U.S. Senator John Towers to the National Cotton Advisory Committee of the U.S. in 1971. Seymour was also one of the few women to served on the elected El Paso County Water Improvement Board in 1965.
Seymour was one of the first members of the Canutillo School Board in 1959, serving as vice-president. Seymour served on the board until 1966. She was also active in the Aladdin Woman’s Club and served as president of the Crescent Club. Seymour was active in the Thursday Book Club and the El Paso Color Camera Club. She also help organized the Canutillo Volunteer Fire Department
Felipa and her husband,Marcelino,
founded one of well known El Paso’s Tortilla and Tamales Factory in Ysleta.
Photo Credit: Henry Reyna
Felipa and marcelino opened their business on Harris and Alamelda streets in the 1950s.
Photo Credit: Henry Reyna
The first location was in Fabens.
Photo Credit: Henry Reyna
Champe Phillip was, director of the El Paso Cerebral Palsy clinic and was a physical therapist.
El Paso Times
Credit: El Paso Times
Dess Metcalfe was a member of the first group of the Women’s Army Corps who were deployed overseas. She also served as assistant chief of research for the U.S. Army at the Pentagon. She was honored by President Truman for her work in helping achieve integration of the Reserve and National Guard. She also served as president of R.M. Metcalfe Co. and was one the first members of the International Bluepoint Association. Metcalfe was active in the El Paso Republican Party.
Patricia Wolfe Watts and her first husband, Jerry Wolfe, came to El Paso in 1948 to work as operators for Sky Chief, operators of restaurants at the El Paso Airport. He was previously stationed at LaGuardia Airport in New York City. They opened the La Ponda Motel on Paisano. They also operated the Covered Wagon Restaurants and ran a cafeteria at the Ramada Inn and at Fred’s Mart. The couple also ran a cafeteria for Standard Oil.
In the 1960s, the Wolfes organized Jerry’s Restaurants Inc., which had locations at the Ramada Inn and later at the Mesa Inn. The Wolfes opened the first Pancake Castle in the Southwest, which was on Montana Avenue. After Jerry died, Patricia took over as president and later married John Wyatts. Even as president, she continued to be involved in the day-to-day operations of her restaurants. Wolfe also opened a location at The Roadway Inn.
credit; El Paso Times
Katherine “Kay” Deaver was born in Dayton, Ohio. She had no formal but was educated by a private tutor. She studied Math and Latin. Deaver moved to Cleveland where she worked in the fashion department of Halle Brother’s Department Store. She later became a buyer for the store, buying jewelry, neck ware, and other accessories in New York City. Deaver came to El Paso in 1945 with plans to move to California, but decided to remain in El Paso. Deaver also was hired by the Canton Chamber of Commerce in Ohio to put on some radio shows. In El Paso, she worked as scriptwriter for KSTM Radio Station. She was also experienced in newspaper writing and layout. From KTSM, she went to work for the advertising department at the Popular Department store.
Deavers won first place from the Texas Press Women for a fashion show script. She help organized the El Paso Chapter of Texas Press Woman and served as it’s secretary. At The Popular Department Store, she was involved in a group that met there, called Pad In Pencil group. The group provided scholarships to Nurses. She also headed a annual essay contest called “My Mother is Best Because.” She also wrote light verse. She was involved in the Maid of the Cotton Fashion show and pageant.
Credit: El Paso Times.
Rudy Fieste operated the French Provincial Shop, which started as an upscale furniture store, she later redeveloped it to a fashion boutique. In 1971, she turned over the business to Jackie Butchofsky. Butchofsky, along with Mary Haas and Betty Bauman founded Tres
Mariposas, ,which is a well-known fashion boutique in El Paso in 1970.
Credit: El Paso Times
Credit: El Paso Times
ran a prosperous farm near fabens with her son, Richard Bills.
Mabel Peck was a minster and led the Christian Unity starting from the 1940s to the 1960s. Peck also was a published author.
El Paso Herald Post June 19,1965
June 23,1965, El Paso Herald Post
Dr. Rene Noren was born in 1926 in Chicago. She earned a B.S. from Roosevelt University and earned a degree from Kirkville College of Osteopathy. She opened up her own clinic in El Paso in 1955 called, Park Foothills Hospital Clinic. Dr. Noren served as an examiner for the Federal Aviation Agency and for the Association of Aerospace Medicine. She was named in “Who’s Who of American Women” and wrote an article on a type of congestive failure in an osteopathic magazine. Noren was an examiner for Pan American Insurance, the first El Paso osteopathic doctor and surgeon to be chosen. Prior to her arrival to El Paso, she was practicing in Port Arthur. Dr. Noren was chosen to be the Sunrise Shopping Center Woman of the Year. She served in the U.S. Women Army Corp. Noren’s Hospital was on 8201 Sheridan road.
Dec 5,1959, El Paso Herald Post.
Feb 7,1959,El Paso Herald Post.
Ann Brennan. Damiani graduated from the Texas Medical School in Galveston. Damiani became a neuropsychiatrist and was one of the handful and the first women psychiatrists in El Paso. Damiani specialized in children psychiatry. She was a member of the Texas Medical Society. Damiani married, divorced, and had two children. In 1961 Damiani testified for 15-year-old, Cory Bearden, who was convicted with his father for hijacking a Continental Air Line plane that was traveling from Phoenix to El Paso. It landed in El Paso and after the nine-hour confrontation with authorities, they were able to subdue the Beardens. Dr. Damiani testified that Cory was a confused young man, who was confused by his father. She also said he was torn between the loyalty to his mother and father. Clearly, the defense was trying to the make things easier for the young Bearden, blaming his father for masterminding and recruiting him. Mr. Bearden wanted to use the plane to go to Cuba and then he would have sold the plane to Fidel Castro and in return, he would be allowed to live in Cuba. Dr. Damiani died in Big Spring, Texas in 1974.
Since 1954 the El Paso County Historical Society has been a driving force in the historic scene of El Paso. EPCHS strives to foster research into the history of the
El Paso area; acquire and make available to the public historic materials; publish and encourage historical writing pertaining to the area; and to develop public consciousness of our rich heritage.