HMRC Newsletter | January 2019

Women's History Month

The Houston Metropolitan Research Center (HMRC)’s newest quarterly newsletter will offer updates on exciting happenings at HMRC. Our spotlight articles will give you a closer look at our materials, tips and research help from our expert staff, and much more.

Showcasing Architect Betty Jo Jones
Research Spotlight: Archival Collections - Dr. Esther Marion Nelson
Texas School Yearbooks at HMRC
Volunteer or Intern at HMRC!

Showcasing Architect Betty Jo Jones
By Samantha Bruer, Architectural Archivist

In recognition of Women’s History Month, HMRC will highlight the work of Architect Betty Jo Jones overviewing her life and designs on Thursday, March 7, 2018  at 6:30-7:30pm.  This remarkable woman is currently the only female architect whose work is housed in the Stephen Fox Architectural Archives. 

Betty Jo Jones, born Betty Jo Lackey, was a native Texan who lived most of her life in Houston.  While attending the Rice Institute, she assisted professor and architect William Ward Watkin with working drawings of Houston’s Kinkaid School.  She worked on flagpole and mailbox details for the Esso (later Standard Oil) Building in Rockefeller Plaza during an internship in New York City. 

After graduating from Rice in 1947, Betty Jo worked for several Houston architectural firms until she passed the state exam for registered architects in 1953 and started her own firm.  She became a member of the Houston Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1964.  The only other female member at the time was 1934 Rice graduate Lavone Dickensheets Andrews.

As a female architect in a time when other professional architects were male, Betty Jo Jones seemed satisfied that most of her work was for houses.  She liked helping bring together a couple’s differing views of their home’s must-have features.  Betty Jo once said an architect’s job was “part psychiatrist, part referee.”  She also said that her female clients were happy to have a female architect, as it made them less frightened of having ideas forced on them.  Understanding the wants of the modern family and adapting them into useable spaces was a great selling point for Betty Jo’s drawings.

Around 1971, there were about 500 houses a year being built using her designs from Corpus Christi to Pine Bluff, Arkansas.  While she designed many homes in Houston, most of Betty Jo’s work was in areas such as Pasadena, Freeport and Friendswood.  While her proudest work, the Brazosport Bank of Commerce, was never constructed, its striking design can still be seen in the Betty Jo Jones Architectural Drawings (MSS 0351) at HMRC.  This collection features about 1,000 architectural projects designed during her career.  Betty Jo Jones passed away on March 3, 1983.

The legacy of Betty Jo Jones lives on through her drawings at the HMRC, and most importantly, in the many homes she designed, which are still being lived in across the Houston-area.






Photo credits:
Pictured: "Mrs. Betty Jo Jones," RG D 0006N-1957-1033-2, Houston Public Library, HMRC
"Residence at 839 Shawnee St.", Betty Jo Jones Collection, MSS 0351, Key 10157, HMRC-HPL

"Rendering of Brazosport Bank of Commerce," Betty Jo Jones Collection, MSS 0351, Key 10024, HMRC-HPL​

Research Spotlight: Archival Collections - Dr. Esther Marion Nelson
By Abra Schnur, Processing Archivist, Assistant Oral History Archivist

Dr. Esther Marion Nelson (1900-1981) was an academic professor in education and served in World War II as part of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) from 1943-1946.  She attended the University of Oregon for her Bachelors, and Columbia University for her Masters, Doctorate, and post-doctorate research. 

Her doctoral work, An Analysis of the Content of Student-Teaching Courses for Education of Elementary School Teachers in State Teachers Colleges, was published in 1939 and was widely used in educating teachers.

While in the military, Nelson performed public relations work and military intelligence as part of the Asiatic-Pacific Theater of Operations.  During that time, she interviewed more than 500 WACs and presented her findings on caste discrimination on WACs in 1946. 

This research more than likely spawned her interest in her post-doctorate research at Columbia University on human relationships among African American WACs overseas.  The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion was the first and only all African American female unit to be deployed overseas during WWII. The unit was active from 1945 to 1946 and consisted of 855 women under the command of Major Charity Adams. Their nickname was “Six-Triple Eight" and their motto was “No Mail, Low Morale.”

Nelson interviewed more than 50 women who served in the battalion.  Her papers indicate that she was preparing to write a historical text on the 6888th Battalion, but this publication never came to light.  During the time of her research, she was suffering from relapses of malaria and was instructed by her physician to reside in a warmer climate.  She accepted a teaching position at the U.S. Naval Operating Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  She then subsequently took a teaching position in the education department at the University of Houston.

The bulk of the collection relates to research Dr. Nelson conducted about the experiences of the 6888th Battalion stationed in Birmingham, England, and Rouen, France. Additional research information in the collection is about the military caste system.  There are early drafts of chapters and narratives that allude to the book she intended to publish.  Photographs and personal records complete this collection.






Photo Credits:
"6888th in England after V-E Day," MSS 0206-027, Houston Public Library, HMRC
"6888th Color Guard," MSS 0206-030, Houston Public Library, HMRC​
"6888th and Servicemen," MSS 0206-031, Houston Public Library, HMRC

Texas School Yearbooks at HMRC
By Jennifer Unruh, Editor-in-Chief

Did you know that HMRC collects school yearbooks? We actually have over 1,000 yearbooks from schools across Texas, and 60% of those are from schools right here in Houston. The majority of our yearbooks are from high schools and universities, but we also have over 100 from middle and elementary schools. We even have a couple of summer camp yearbooks.

School yearbooks aren’t just a nice way to reminisce about the past. At HMRC, they’re also a useful research tool.

Yearbooks can be helpful in genealogical research when you want to learn more about a family member than just their vital statistics. Yearbooks can tell you about what kind of school your relative attended, or what kind of activities they were involved in.

Yearbooks can also help local history research. Schools are an important part of every community and yearbooks sometimes contain historic information about the school or town it’s located in. Sometimes, that information isn’t recorded anywhere else.

Yearbooks also show how students reacted to national and world events, as well as popular culture. Comparing different yearbooks from the same school can show how that school changed over time, or how it stayed the same. Have you ever wondered how far back some of your school’s traditions go? Or maybe you want to check out what prom was like in the 1940s compared to the 1990s.

The oldest high school yearbook in HMRC’s collection is from Central High School in 1916. The name Central High might not ring a bell, but you probably know it by its current name: Sam Houston High School. Sam Houston High is the great-great-grandchild of one of Houston’s first schools, the Houston Academy, first opened in the 1870s.

Any of the yearbooks in HMRC’s collection can be viewed in the Texas Room. Many of our Houston high school yearbooks are available to browse at your leisure. If you’re looking for a specific yearbook and don’t see it on the shelf, ask our staff at the reference desk for assistance. It might be stored in closed stacks, but we’re happy to fetch it for you to look at.

Interested in helping HMRC’s yearbook collection grow? We welcome donations of Texas school yearbooks, especially from Houston-area schools. You can call us at 832-393-1662 or email with a list of yearbooks you are interested in donating. We can keep up to two copies of each yearbook for our collection.

Photo Credits:
Pictures courtesy of HMRC

Volunteer or Intern at HMRC!
By Abra Schnur, Processing Archivist, Assistant Oral History Archivist

HMRC has a variety of hands-on opportunities for those who have an interest in the history of Houston and for those seeking to gain experience with archival materials or special collections. Please contact us at 832-393-1662 so we can set you up with our Volunteer Coordinator.

Archival Collections – Gain practical experience in the processing of archival collections.  Interns and volunteers will have the opportunity to house, arrange, and describe archival material. 

Special Collections – Our Special Collections unit works with books, periodicals, government documents, maps, and other unique collections.  Interns and volunteers will have the opportunity to assist with various inventorying and cataloging work to help make these collections discoverable and available to customers.

Digitization – A major effort within archival institutions is to digitize material for accessibility and preservation purposes. Interns and volunteers can work on this effort by creating metadata and capturing digital images of material. 

Preservation – Interns and volunteers interested in preservation and conservation work are encouraged to intern with the Preservation Librarian to gain hands-on training in book repair and preventative measures taken to stall degradation of materials. 

Oral History – Interns and volunteers with a special interest in oral history, storytelling, and memory projects are needed to help abstract and index interviews to make them discoverable, accessible, and ultimately usable by the public. 

Academic Resource Curation – We are seeking interns focused on youth and school librarianship to help us create research guides.  These guides can be used as a supportive resource to curriculum.  Depending on the topic, guides can include books, documents, audio and video, photographs, maps, and periodicals.

Photo Credits:
Pictures courtsy of HMRC

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