The Texas cyclone: the life of educator-activist Anna J. H. Pennybacker

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Reidt, Kelley Marie

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Anna J. H. Pennybacker was a Texas educator, clubwoman, writer, lecturer, and social and political activist whose influence in the early twentieth century extended nationwide. Born in Petersburg, Virginia, on May 7, 1861, after moving to Texas in 1878, she attended the state’s first Normal School for Teachers in Huntsville. There she met Percival V. Pennybacker, her future husband with whom she worked to advance public education in Texas. Pennybacker’s articles on education-related issues appeared frequently in the Texas School Journal. In 1888, she published A New History of Texas, which became the first state-adopted textbook for Texas history. As a young woman, Pennybacker became involved with the growing women’s club movement. She served as president of the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs from 1901 to 1903 and of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs from 1912 to1914. Women’s clubs in the early twentieth century pushed for social reforms, education, and cultural improvement. Pennybacker’s participation put her at the forefront of many of the progressive social movements of the time. Pennybacker became more politically active as she grew older. During World War I, she worked with War Camp Community Service to better conditions for military personnel. She supported the woman’s suffrage movement and worked with the Texas Equal Suffrage Association, and the National American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1917, Carrie Chapman Catt appointed her a trustee of the Leslie Woman’s Suffrage Commission. In 1919, in preparation for women gaining suffrage, she attended the Democratic National Committee as an associate member. She promoted the World Court and League of Nations and attended meetings of the latter organization in Geneva. She traveled throughout Europe and the United States, lecturing on the many issues of importance to her, and her articles were published regularly in national magazines. Pennybacker continued her interest in education throughout her life and was closely associated with the Chautauqua Institute, which she helped to keep solvent during the 1930s. She served as president of the Chautauqua Women’s Club from 1917 until her death in 1938.