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The purpose of this guide is to provide general reference and secondary sources pertaining to notable figures in the history and culture of the lower Rio Grande Valley. This guide is neither comprehensive nor exhaustive in its content and coverage as it is intended to serve as an entry point for new researchers.
Notable People & Families
Las Tejanas by Since the early 1700s, women of Spanish/Mexican origin or descent have played a central, if often unacknowledged, role in Texas history. Tejanas have been community builders, political and religious leaders, founders of organizations, committed trade unionists, innovative educators, astute businesswomen, experienced professionals, and highly original artists. Giving their achievements the recognition they have long deserved, this groundbreaking book is at once a general history and a celebration of Tejanas' contributions to Texas over three centuries. The authors have gathered and distilled a wide range of information to create this important resource. They offer one of the first detailed accounts of Tejanas' lives in the colonial period and from the Republic of Texas up to 1900. Drawing on the fuller documentation that exists for the twentieth century, they also examine many aspects of the modern Tejana experience, including Tejanas' contributions to education, business and the professions, faith and community, politics, and the arts. A large selection of photographs, a historical timeline, and profiles of fifty notable Tejanas complete the volume and assure its usefulness for a broad general audience, as well as for educators and historians.
Publication Date: 2010-01-01
Leaders of the Mexican American Generation by Leaders of the Mexican American Generation explores the lives of a wide range of influential members of the US Mexican American community between 1920 and 1965 who paved the way for major changes in their social, political, and economic status within the United States. Including feminist Alice Dickerson Montemayor, to San Antonio attorney Gus García, and labor activist and scholar Ernesto Galarza, the subjects of these biographies include some of the most prominent idealists and actors of the time. Whether debating in a court of law, writing for a major newspaper, producing reports for governmental agencies, organizing workers, holding public office, or otherwise shaping space for the Mexican American identity in the United States, these subjects embody the core values and diversity of their generation. More than a chronicle of personalities who left their mark on Mexican American history, Leaders of the Mexican American Generation cements these individuals as major players in the history of activism and civil rights in the United States. It is a rich collection of historical biographies that will enlighten and enliven our understanding of Mexican American history.
Publication Date: 2015-09-01
As a young American woman of Mexican descent, Adela Sloss-Vento was determined to become a writer, hailing from southern Texas, educated in San Juan, later lived in Corpus Christi during World War II, and then settled in Edinburg, she used her pen as weapon for more than sixty years, countering racial discrimination and exploitation of laborers, all the while championing the civil rights of Mexican Americans through the written word.
Aurora E. Orozco
Aurora Estrada Orozco was a Mexican-American community leader and writer. Aurora Estrada Orozco was born on May 8, 1918, in Cerralvo, Nuevo León, Mexico. Her family immigrated to the United States when she was young. She attended schools in Mercedes, Texas, and graduated from Mercedes High School in 1937
Daria A. Vera (Activist, Farm Worker, Pathbreaker)
Born in Rio Grande City, Texas, Daria Vera (1946–2020) became an activist for farmworker rights during the Melon Strike of 1966. She took part in the historic march from RGC to Austin. Learn more about her experience.
Dr. Clotilde Pérez García (Physician, Activist, Educator)
Dr. Clotilde Pérez García (1917–2003) was a Mexican-American physician, activist, author, and educator. Dr. García became one of seven women and the only Mexican-American woman to earn a medical degree from University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston in 1957. She practiced medicine in South Texas until 1995. Dr. García also devoted her time to activism and education, including with the American GI Forum (founded by her brother Hector), League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and Del Mar College Board of Regents. She became an avid genealogist, author and historian, and founder of the Spanish American Genealogical Association (SAGA).
Dr. Mary Ann Headley Edgerton (Physician, Feminist, Pioneer)
Dr. Mary Ann Headley Edgerton (1882-1952) "was the first native of Rio Grande City, andpossibly the first Mexican origin woman in Texas, to become a medical doctor...She attended the Incarnate Word Convent in Rio Grande City... and graduated from Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia, PA, in 1910,when she was twenty-three. Edgerton returned to practice medicine in Rio Grande City and became famous for halting a smallpox epidemic in the city. Edgerton was also a feminist and a member of the National Women’s Party, an organization that worked for women’s rights." (Las Tejanas, p. 184-5).
Emilia Schunior Ramirez (Educator, Historian)
Emilia Schunior Ramírez (1902-1960), educator, historian, and author. She documented the lives of the people of deep South Texas, and is perhaps best known for her Masters Thesis "`Wetback' Children in South Texas," a study of the 1,200 children of undocumented workers in the schools in Edinburg, La Joya, and other Rio Grande valley communities.
Frances Isbell (Librarian, Historian, Veteran)
Frances "Fran" Isbell was Head Librarian at Weslaco Public Library for 20 years. She earned a BA in English literature (William & Mary College) and an MA in American history (Trinity University). Isbell joined the U.S. Air Force in 1949 and served for 20 years. Following retirement, she earned a Master of Library Science from UT-Austin and accepted the job in Weslaco in 1971. One of her earliest initiatives was to improve services and resources for the Mexican American community.
Gladys Porter (Civic Leader, Philanthropist)
Gladys Porter (1910–1980) was daughter of Earl C. Sams who was the first president of the J. C. Penney retail chain. She administered the Foundation set up in his name which provided funding to the City of Brownsville for the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville. During her travels in Africa, Porter became interested in conservation of world wildlife. Her love for animals manifested itself in the creation, building and daily operation of the zoo. She served as President for the Valley Zoological Society for 11 years.
Gloria Anzaldúa (Feminist, Writer, Poet)
Poet and activist Gloria Anzaldúa (1942-2002) was born in Raymondville, TX. She graduated as valedictorian of Edinburg High School in 1962. She received a B.A. in English, Art, and Secondary Education from University of Texas–Pan American (1968), and an M.A. in English and Education from the University of Texas at Austin (1972). Learn more from our research guide.
Ila Fox Loetscher (Aviator, Conservationist)
From Sea Turtle, Inc. "Prior to her fame as “The Turtle Lady of South Padre”, Ila Loetscher (1904-2000) was well known as a pilot. She was the first licensed female pilot in both Iowa and Illinois! She was a contemporary and frequent correspondent of Amelia Earhart as well as one of the original “99’s” (a support group of women pilots organized in 1929)."
Loetscher appeared in National Geographic documentaries and on numerous television shows, including The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Late Night with David Letterman, the Today Show, and Real People.
Izora Skinner (Educator, Author, Historian)
Izora Skinner (1925–2001) led a life of service first as an educator in public schools and higher education and later as a community leader in libraries, local history, and historic pereservation. She served on the RGV Council of Teachers, Edinburg Public Library Board, South Texas Library System, and Edinburg General Hospital Auxiliary. Her honors included Edinburg Daily Review's Woman of the Year (1984) and ZONTA's Woman ofthe Year (1992).
Jan Seale (Texas Poet Laureate)
Jan Seale was the 2012 Texas Poet Laureate. She is the author of nine volumes of poetry, the latest being The Parkinson Poems, published by Lamar University Literary Press. She has also authored two books of short fiction, five volumes of nonfiction, and a number of children's books.
Jovita González de Mireles (Folklorist, Educator, Writer)
Born in Roma, Texas and descended from the first settlers of the area, Jovita González (1904–1983) became the first Mexican-American president of the Texas Folklore Society in the 1930s.
Her writings tell the story of early 20th-century Texas from the Texas-Mexican perspective. "Among My People" and "With the Coming of the Barbwire, Came Hunger" are indicative of the author's sense of the realistic detail that became one of the hallmarks of later Texas-Mexican fiction.
Jovita Idár (Activist, Educator, and Journalist)
Jovita Idár Vivero (1885 – 1946) was an Mexican-American journalist, teacher, political activist, and civil rights worker, who championed the cause of Mexican-Americans and Mexican immigrants. Against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution, she worked for meaningful and effective change against the discrimination of ethnic Mexicans in South Texas.
Juanita Valdez-Cox (Activist, Community Organizer)
Juanita Valdez-Cox, is the founder of La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) and a non-profit community organizer from San Juan, Texas. As a former migrant worker, Valdez-Cox joined the United Farm Workers as a volunteer in the 1980s, working alongside Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.
Minnie Gilbert (Journalist, Historian)
In 1943, Minnie Gilbert (1900–1999) and Lucy Hobson Wallace established Valley ByLiners, a women’s writers group. She served as the first president and contributed articles to the group’s first three publications: Gift of the Rio (1975), Roots by the River (1978), and Rio Grande Round-Up (1980). She also published A History of First Presbyterian Church, San Benito, Texas 1910–1980 (1985) and the novel Sunrise Song (1984).
Norma V. Cantu (Civil Rights Attorney & Educator)
Norma V. Cantú (born November 2, 1954) is an American civil rights lawyer and educator. She is currently a professor of law and education at the University of Texas at Austin. She served as the Assistant Secretary of Education for the Office for Civil Rights under President Bill Clinton and as regional counsel for the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. See Distinguished Alumna, 1994. (video)
Rachel McLish (Bodybuilder, Author, Actress)
Rachel McLish (Raquel Livia Elizondo), is a bodybuilder and the inaugural winner of the 1980 Ms. Olympia. Rachel was born in Harlingen Texas on June 21, 1958 and graduated from Harlingen High School in 1973. She then graduated from the Pan American University in 1978 with a BA in health and physical education. After college, she founded the first health clubs in south Texas called the Sports Palace. According to an article published in Muscle & Fitness in 2001, “Rachel defined the rules of feminine physique.” Throughout the process, she has helped make physical fitness for women as much as it had always been for men. Apart from winning numerous awards in bodybuilding, she has written two books, has appeared in four films, and founded a line of athletic workout clothing. She is married to film producer, Ron Samuels.
Rosemary Mariner ( Veteran, Pioneer, Aviator)
Born in Harlingen Capt. Rosemary Mariner (1953-2019) always wanted to become a pilot. By age 17 she had already earned her private pilot's license. Mariner was the first woman to earn an aeronautics degree from Purdue University and was among the first women to fly jets in the U.S. Navy. Capt. Mariner was also the first woman to command an Operational Naval Aviation Squadron when she led VAQ-34 (callsign Flashbacks) during Operation Desert Storm. Later Capt. Mariner earned a Master’s degree in National Security Strategy and served as staff to the Joint Chiefs at the Pentagon. She retired after 34 years of military service, 17 carrier landings, and 3,500+ military flight hours in 15 different Navy aircraft. She was instrumental in the repeal of restrictions on women serving in combat.
Sister Norma Pimentel (Humanitarian)
Born in Brownsville, Texas, Norma Pimentel, MJ is a sister of the Missionaries of Jesus and the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. In 2020, she was listed as of TIME Magazine's Most Influential People. In May 2020, Sister Pimentel recorded a TED Talk called "Restoring Human Dignity at the US Southern Border".
Wilma "Dolly" Vinsant Shea (Nurse, WWII Veteran)
A San Benito native, Wilma "Dolly" R. Vinsant Shea (1917–1945) was an American flight nurse who served during World War II. She died in an aircraft crash and was later memorialized for her courage and sacrifice. She was the only servicewoman from Texas to die on active duty in Europe during World War II.
All rise : Reynaldo G. Garza, the first Mexican American federal judge by
Publication Date: 1996-09-01
In 1961, Reynaldo G. Garza, of Brownsville, Texas, became the first Mexican American federal judge in U.S. history. A Kennedy nominee, Garza had risen from the obscurity of his humble South Texas beginnings to become a major player in Democratic politics... Students and scholars of Mexican American culture, Borderlands studies, American politics, and judicial history will find in this biography an invaluable resource.
Américo Paredes by
Publication Date: 2010-03-08
Américo Paredes (1915-1999) was a folklorist, scholar, and professor at the University of Texas at Austin who is widely acknowledged as one of the founding scholars of Chicano Studies. Born in Brownsville, Texas, along the southern U.S.-Mexico Border, Paredes' early experiences impacted his writing during his later years as an academic...With the publication of his dissertation, "With His Pistol in His Hand": A Border Ballad and Its Hero in 1958, Paredes soon emerged as a challenger to the status quo...He was a co-founder in 1970 of the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin and is credited with introducing the concept of Greater Mexico, decades before its wider acceptance today among transnationalist scholars.
Catarino Garza's Revolution on the Texas-Mexico Border by
Publication Date: 2004-07-26
Catarino Garza's Revolution on the Texas-Mexico Border rescues an understudied episode from the footnotes of history. On September 15, 1891, Garza, a Mexican journalist and political activist, led a band of Mexican rebels out of South Texas and across the Rio Grande, declaring a revolution against Mexico's dictator, Porfirio Díaz. Made up of a broad cross-border alliance of ranchers, merchants, peasants, and disgruntled military men, Garza's revolution was the largest and longest lasting threat to the Díaz regime up to that point. After two years of sporadic fighting, the combined efforts of the U.S. and Mexican armies, Texas Rangers, and local police finally succeeded in crushing the rebellion. Garza went into exile and was killed in Panama in 1895.
Charles Stillman, 1810-1875. by
Publication Date: 1956
Charles Stillman is considered the founder of Brownsville. He was partner in firm of M. Kenedy and Company, which opened the Rio Grande to steamboat navigation and controlled much of the commerce of Northern Mexico, 1848-1868.
The Legacy of John H. Shary by
Publication Date: 2001-01-01
John H. Shary visited the Valley in 1912 and saw the potential for large-scale citrus production. After buying land in the Mission area, he launched the commercial citrus industry. Under his leadership, Mission became the leading citrus producing city in Texas. However, before his citrus business flourished, Shary developed and sold land in Hidalgo County. He actively promoted the area and sponsored train excursions that brought in hundreds of midwesterners looking for a good investment or better life. This book discusses the promotion of the Rio Grande Valley, and details of Shary's life and land development.
The patriarch : the remarkable life and extraordinary times of Franciso Yturria by
Publication Date: 2006
A personal history of the pioneering businessman, banker, and rancher, Francisco Yturria, who was a business associate of Charles Stillman, founder of Brownsville, Texas, as well as Mifflin Kennedy and Richard King of King Ranch fame. This account is also a history of the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas and that of the Yturria family.
William Crawford Gorgas, his life and work by
Publication Date: 1924
William Crawford Gorgas KCMG (1854 –1920) was a United States Army physician and 22nd Surgeon General of the U.S. Army (1914–1918). Having survived yellow fever himself while posted to Fort Brown, Gorgas is best known for his work abating the transmission of yellow fever and malaria by controlling the mosquitoes that carry these diseases. At the time, his strategy was greeted with considerable skepticism and opposition to such hygiene measures. However, the measures he put into practice as the head of the Panama Canal Zone Sanitation Commission saved thousands of lives and contributed to the success of the Canal's construction.
Congressman Kika de la Garza
Eligio “Kika” de la Garza was from Mission, Texas. He served 32 years as a House Representative for the 15th District of Texas, actively working to uplift agriculturalists, making international political connections, protecting RGV businesses and livelihoods, and finding solutions to food insecurity in the United States. Visit the research guide to learn more about the Eligio (Kika) de la Garza Congressional Papers housed at the University Library in Edinburg.
Congressman Rubén Hinojosa
Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, a longtime businessman and native of the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, was elected to represent Texas’ 15th Congressional District in November 1996, filling the seat of retired Congressman Kika de la Garza.
Author Rolando Hinojosa-Smith (1929–2022) grew up in Mercedes, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley. His novels tell a stories from divergent perspectives, noting the dignity, strength, and resilience of the Texas-Mexican people of the lower Rio Grande Valley.
John Randall Peavey, 1892-1985
John R. Peavey came to the Valley at age 13 from the mid-West. He served as a deputy sheriff, as chief scout for the U.S. Army border troops from 1916 to 1920, and as assistant chief of the Valley sector of the U.S. Border Patrol. He also served as a Texas Ranger and after his retirement, he continued to hold a commission as a special Ranger.
After he retired he remained active in public life by serving as an appraiser and investigator for a group of Upper Valley banks.
Rattling yours, Snake King by
Publication Date: 1964
William Abraham King (1877-1952), AKA the Snake King, built a wild animal farm near Palm Blvd called "Snakeville". Not only did the Snake King gain worldwide fame, but his son Manuel went on to become the World's Youngest Wild Animal Trainer with a particular interest in lions. The pair would take their act on the road and Manny would later appear in movies like "Darkest Africa"
Santiago Brito (unknown–1892)
Santiago Brito was the first Hispanic to be elected Cameron County Sheriff (1884) and later Police Chief (1890). He also served as a Special Texas Ranger and gained notoriety for solving a train robbery in 1891. Prior to his law enforcement career, Brito was the owner of El Democrata, a Spanish-language newspaper. Brito was assassinated on August 21, 1892 returning home from a dance on the outskirts of Brownsville.
John Closner (1853-1932)
One of the Rio Grande valley's largest landowners and developers, John Closner promoted irrigation and diversified farming. He served as Sheriff of Hidalgo County (1890-1918) and later served as a U.S. Deputy Marshal. He was also known as a Democratic Party boss. (Image of John Closner's home in Edinburg.)
The research guides compiled by UTRGV staff and students are intended to assist patrons who are embarking upon new research endeavors. Our goal is to expand their knowledge of the types of resources available on a given topic, including books, archival materials, and websites. In so doing, our compilers have taken care to include collections, digital items, and resources that may be accessed not only through UTRGV but also via other institutions, repositories, and websites.
We wholeheartedly respect the research interests of others. Therefore, please contact us if you wish to submit a resource for consideration, or if you have a question about or an issue with a specific cited resource.
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Digital Collections at MOSThistory
Adela Sloss-Vento: Civil Rights Activist, Public Intellectual & Feminist (PowerPoint)
Keywords: Civil Rights, Activist, Feminist, Mexican American, Mexican American Civil Rights, Public Intellectual
Aurora E. Orozco: Mexican Immigrant in Mercedes, Texas/Community Leader and Educator in Cuero, Texas (PowerPoint)
Keywords: Mexican, Writer, Advocate, Immigrant, Spanish Language Prohibition, Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas--Mercedes, Mercedes High School, Texas--Cuero
Early Civil Rights in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, 1900-1930 (Video)
Keywords: Mexican American War, Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Civil Rights, Mexican American Civil Rights, Segregation, Discrimination, White, Black People, Spanish, Mexican, Texas--Harlingen, J.T. Canales, Texas--Brownsville, Aurora Orozco, Adela Sloss Vento, Texas--Pharr, Texas--San Juan
LULAC's Founding and the Lower Rio Grande Valley (PowerPoint)
Keywords: Civil Rights, Activist, Feminist, Mexican American, Mexican American Civil Rights, Lower Rio Grande Valley, LULAC, Order Sons of America, Orden Hijos de America, Harlingen Convention, Order Sons of America, Newspapers