Ebby Halliday and the Modern American Woman and Family
I never met Ebby Halliday in person, but anyone who lives in North Texas certainly feels like they know her personally because her face and brand is so well-known. The success of her brand could be a lesson to anyone who studies marketing and branding. As I read the front page article about her today in the Dallas Morning News, I learned something about her that I didn’t know we had in common–we both sold Cloverine Salve door-to-door as industrious young girls. That made me laugh, but it also made me think about how different the world is now from when she and I ordered our tins of Cloverine Salve and sold it to neighbors. (By the way, it was an excellent product, which I just discovered is still available). Ebby was from a time when women had a hard time rising up the ladder of success in any field other than “domestic goddess.” As the article said, “Forget about breaking glass ceilings. Ebby had to come through the industry’s hardwood floor.” It was so different in those days. Louise Raggio, another ground-breaking Dallas pioneer, was the only female in her SMU Law School graduating class in the early 50’s. She once told me that after she graduated from law school, because no one would give her a job, she had to sell Tupperware on the side to help make a living. Luckily, she had a friend named Sarah T. Hughes, who also happened to be the first woman in Texas to be appointed to a state district judicial bench and later served as the federal judge who swore Lyndon Johnson into the presidency. Louise credited Judge Hughes into talking the Dallas District Attorney into eventually giving her a job as a lawyer. Sarah T. Hughes understood Louise’s struggles because she had had similar experiences when she relocated to Texas with her husband, who was also a lawyer. No one would give Hughes a job as a lawyer, but she did work out a deal with some lawyers that if she would serve as their receptionist she could use some office space and they would refer some cases to her. Even when Louise Raggio went into practice with her husband, she said he had to sign the employment contracts with her clients because a married woman did not have the ability, under Texas law at that time, to sign contracts themselves. And that was the way it was from the the beginning, with some remnants of those days even lingering into 1980s. But thanks to these ladies all that has changed, and most would agree it is a change for the better.
In July of this year, DMagazine had an article called “Divorce, Dallas Style,” which talked about when women in the late 70’s and early 80’s divorced, their identities were often so tied to their husbands that they were devastated, “…having either to re-establish their identities or hitch their Mrs. to another man.” Eight Dallas women, who have recently divorced, were featured in that recent DMagazine article, but their profiles are profoundly different from those women in earlier generations who found themselves divorced and feeling somewhat lost. These modern women include heads of corporations, bank vice presidents, accountants, real estate professionals, and entrepreneurs. Divorce is still painful—as a divorce lawyer, I can guarantee that despite these women’s smiles, it is still painful; no doubt their hearts are wounded, but they are landing on their feet, not devastated, bitter and scarred for life as were so many women up through the 1980’s (and beyond) who had no personal identity other than wife and mother. This is not, in any way, to diminish the importance of the role of wife and mother, but, as a divorce lawyer, I can state from personal experience that women who do not have a Plan B to fall back on, in the event of divorce, disability or death, have a much harder time taking care of themselves and their children if they find themselves in that situation.
The sad thing was, for professional women who started out in the days of Ebby Halliday, marriage and family were often required sacrifices for professional success. Ebby Halliday didn’t marry until she was around 50 and she never had children of her own; maybe that was her choice, but more likely than not, it was a statement of the times. Even though Louise Raggio was married and had children, she lived out what Ebby said women had to do, “Work like a dog, and act like a lady.” Louise told me that she spent every Sunday afternoon cooking dinners for her family for the next week. Seems, even Louise was a partner in the law firm with her husband or an assistant District Attorney, the domestic duties still firmly rested on her shoulders. But thanks to these lovely, always gracious ladies, the times they were a-changing. In the 1960’s, Louise Raggio worked tirelessly to persuade the Texas legislature to pass the first Texas Family Code, and she did it with quiet finesse. She once told me that she was little and blonde, and the legislators thought she looked too “helpless and dumb” to be much of a threat, so they were willing to support her “little law.” That little law changed the world for people like my grandmother, who divorced in the mid-60’s. Even though she had worked at what is now Lockheed-Martin for nearly 20 years, she was unable to buy a $500 Ford Galaxy 500 or even get a telephone without her baby brother co-signing for her. While Louise Raggio was in Austin getting the Family Code passed, as today’s Dallas Morning News article said, “[Ebby Halliday was pulling] up a legion of women [through that] industry’s hardwood floor.” Her company, now 70 years old, had a sales volume of $6,64 billion last year, according to the Dallas Morning News.
So, what does this milestone of the passing of another great female Texas icon mean for women and families in Texas? As family lawyer, to me it reminds me that, because of the work of people like Ebby, women have more choices now. They can choose to have a career AND a family, if they want. I see women today negotiating for 2-3 day work weeks with law firms so that they can be present for their children (or taking care of elderly parents), so they are not unable to support themselves and those children if they are divorced or their spouse dies or becomes disabled. When I started out, as women in those days, we had to do all that the men could do and a good deal more without ever letting anyone “see us sweat.” One of my funniest (now, it is) examples is that when I was pregnant, I had really bad morning sickness (in my case 24 hour/day) sickness. During court hearings, I had to take deep breaths so that I could hold myself together until a break was called, when I would run down the hall to the bathroom to throw up. And I had to do that while never letting the judge or the men lawyers know what I was dealing with, or they would have said, “We knew they [girls] didn’t have what it took to work in this [man’s] world,” and in my case that would have meant that I would have lost my livelihood because I was dependent on their referring business to me. Nowadays, maybe it’s just a little easier for everyone without so much pressure. Men can have someone share the burden of making a living for the family; sometimes the men can even be the primary at-home parent or the couple can both share the parenting duties with more flexible career options. In fact, there is one female district court judge in North Texas whose husband stays home with the children–now that’s progress!
Thanks to wonderful trailblazers like Ebby Halliday and Louise Raggio, we do have choices that we didn’t have even thirty years ago because they broke those barriers for us. And while there is still some dust-flying as we settle into this new, unconventional way of life, we are getting there. Eventually, I think our families, even divorcing families, will be better for the efforts of our Ebby Hallidays and Louise Raggios. Having lots of choices is good for children and families. And the bottom line is, despite what you hear from negative voices, THESE are the good old days. Let’s just try to recognize that these are the good old days while we are in the midst of them and not have to wait until years in the future to look back fondly on them as we do with other “olden days.” Ebby, thanks for all that you were and all that you left us as your legacy. We are all the better for having known you.