March is Women’s History Month! And we didn’t have to think twice about sharing one of our favorite archival collections on that topic: the papers of Hermine Dalkowitz Tobolowsky. Known as “the Mother of the Texas Equal Rights Amendment,” Tobolowsky coordinated the Amendment’s passage in 1972. Her papers document not only the years of hard work that went into that triumph, but also her involvement with other facets of the women’s movement.
Hermine Tobolowsky was born January 13, 1921, in San Antonio, Texas. She attended Incarnate Word College in San Antonio and the University of San Antonio (now Trinity University). She went on to obtain a law degree from the University of Texas at Austin School of Law. After facing blatant discrimination, she opened a private law practice in San Antonio and became ever-more involved with women’s groups that were interested in tackling the same issues she had faced.
By 1957, she had become the leader of the Texas-wide campaign for equal legal rights for men and women. The Texas Federation of Business and Professional Women had asked her to spearhead their causes, such as a bill empowering married women to own property separately from their husbands. By 1959, this had evolved into the Texas Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). After its passage 15 years later, Tobolowsky didn’t rest on her laurels. She continued her work in the Women’s Rights Movement, presenting speeches and workshops on women’s issues and serving as a legal advisor for numerous women’s organizations right up to her death on July 25, 1995.
But what was the ERA? A look at the fact sheet above gives you a sense of its original conception, but in its final form it “simply” amended the Texas Constitution to ensure that equality under the law couldn’t be denied due to sex, race, color, creed, or national origin. Its passage was a struggle, facing opposition at various times by the State Bar of Texas, private groups and lobbyists, and numerous legislators. After its inception, however, it was used time and again by Texas attorneys general, legislators, and women’s organizations to strike down laws, refine existing laws, or generally lobby for ongoing social and political change on behalf of women.
Tobolowsky’s collection is replete with correspondence, pamphlets, women’s organizations’ directories and newsletters, and even drafts of speeches and articles written by Tobolowsky and other women in the movement. A handful of her scrapbooks contain a wealth of information about her life and career as well. All of this great stuff can be found here at the Southwest Collection, so come on in and visit with our ever-helpful Reference staff to get your hands on it!