Women’s History Month is the perfect time to revisit some of the amazing Denton ladies who have been town saviors, trailblazers, hellraisers, social activists, and pioneers. Heck, over at TWU is the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame and the archives for the WWII WASP Archives, so you know there are stories a’plenty to tell. Here are a few more of our local favorites, including a 1920’s newspaper publisher, a tiny songstress with a big voice, and a political crusader.
MARY BAILY WALLACE
Beginning in 1900, the Denton County town of Krum spawned several weekly newspapers, but The Krum Banner was the longest-running publication. The Baily Publishing Company, headed by Mary Baily Wallace, oversaw the weekly from 1922 until 1929. The Denton County Museum tweeted out her photo for a #ThrowbackThursday and we are fascinated to know more, especially after reading about Denton’s first female reporter, Irene Davidson Minton.
Another amazing Denton County dame is Louise Tobin, a living legend who just recently turned 100 according to the DRC’s Lucinda Breeding. The DCOHC profiled the amazing life and career of this Aubrey TX native, a singer and jazz music luminary who attended Denton High School. A young Louise profoundly impressed North Texas State University’s Professor Floyd Graham with her vocal talent, so ‘Fessor Graham invited her to sing with his internationally renowned One O’Clock Lab Band. At just 14 years old, Tobin’s career launched in 1932 when she won a CBS Radio Talent Contest in Dallas, still so tiny that she sang perched a’top a wooden box to serenade the microphone. Her big voice, however, attracted the attention of big band leader Art Hicks just in time to join his entourage on a tour of the southwest. It was there that Louise met then later married a young trumpet player, Harry James, as their careers blossomed. Louise Tobin would tour with Benny Goodman, Bobby Hackett, Will Bradley, and Jack Jenney. She was the featured singer for “The King of Swing” Benny Goodman’s orchestra during their 1939 appearance at Carnegie Hall, and her 1941 hit “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” spent 15 weeks at #2 atop the Hit Parade.
Tobin went on to become not only a celebrated international hit-maker, but also a star-maker. After hearing a singer on the radio in New York City, Louise urged her husband Harry to go give the young crooner a listen. Harry obliged, signing the blue-eyed young lad to sing with his band in 1939 and thus launching another legendary music career. That’s right, Louise Tobin is credited with discovering “The Chairman of the Board” Frank Sinatra and got him his first big break in showbiz!
Denton women get things done, but it ain’t never been easy. This is especially true for African-American women in politics, which is still all-too rare, and makes Linnie McAdams all the more remarkable for trailblazing on multiple fronts. She had attended both the University of North Texas and Texas Woman’s University but, by the early 1960s, Mrs. McAdams worked as a housekeeper and ironer before getting a job with the Office of Civil Defense in 1965. Linnie was one of the original Denton Mavens of Desegregation, a co-founder of the 1960s Denton Christian Women’s Interracial Fellowship that began in living rooms but eventually took their shared mission to the schools and into the streets. While protests and racial violence loomed, this determined group of mothers spearheaded grassroots community initiatives including interracial picnics, an integrated preschool, after-school tutoring programs, and even sit-ins to pressure Denton businesses to desegregate using their “Good Neighbor Pledge.” The quiet but public successes of the DCWIF inspired many members to take more active political roles, becoming leaders in groups like the local NAACP or championing road improvements for Southeast Denton. As one of Denton’s first African-American officeholders, McAdams became the second Black councilperson in 1984, elected to three consecutive terms and serving as Mayor Pro Tem before stepping down in 1990. During her time on city council, McAdams told the DRC, she was particularly proud of opening the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreational Center in Southeast Denton as well as helping lay groundwork for the Denton Affordable Housing Corporation. Linnie McAdams remains very active in the community, championing charities and serving on the Board of Directors for The League of Women Voters of Denton.
But not all sheroes wear capes, and some triumphs are quietly ahead of their time. Marguerita Avila Villaneuva was a young widow when she emigrated from Mexico to Denton in the early 1920s, where she fell in love and soon married widowed restauranteur Antonio “Tony” Villaneuva. Along with Tony’s daughter Ramona, they had eight more children added to their growing Catholic family, four of whom would valiantly serve in the U.S. Armed Forces during WWII. But Marguerita also became an important contributor to Tony’s restaurant, a café which he co-operated with Juan Menchacha on the south side of the Denton Square. Besides offering sewing alterations and taking in wash from their home, according to her family’s oral history, the entrepreneurial Marguerita also sold the café tortillas and beans from a lunchtime tamale cart to the nearby railroad and railstation workers. Near as I can figure, that maybe makes Marguerita’s tamale cart the first mobile “food truck” in Denton, and a nifty part of Denton’s Hispanic Heritage during a troubling time in history!
That this month’s tales, but you can sure find out more about the amazing women of Denton – both past and present – by keeping up with events at the Denton County Office of History & Culture. Also be sure to tag Instagram pics of your travels with #WDDI so we can follow your exploits!
Shaun Treat is a former professor at the University of North Texas and founder of the Denton Haunts historical ghost tour. Doc has written about numerous local places and personalities at his Denton Haunts blog, and is forever indebted to the great work of our local keepers of history like Mike Cochran and Laura Douglas at the Emily Fowler Library for their tireless work in helping preserve Denton’s intriguing past. Be sure to check out our local museums curated by the fine folks at the Denton County Office of History & Culture, and follow @Dentonaut on Twitter for local happenings.