BACK IN THE DAY: MORE DENTON WOMEN TRAILBLAZERS

BY SHAUN TREAT

 Miss Beulah Harriss was blazing trails in Denton when basketball, bicycles, and britches were considered a subversive Feminist conspiracy.

Miss Beulah Harriss was blazing trails in Denton when basketball, bicycles, and britches were considered a subversive Feminist conspiracy.

We sure do love Women’s History Month ‘cuz it’s the perfect opportunity to celebrate some of the amazing Denton ladies in our storied past! Last year we profiled several notable Denton Damsels and City Foremothers, as well as the amazing moms who desegregated Denton schools, with the promise of even more trailblazing tales of glory from back in the day. Let's get to some of those newer tales right now...


 Annie Webb Blanton didn’t just fight the sexist Patriarchy, she kicked-in its door and clubbed it over the head with her grammar textbook and this ice-cold glare of defiance.

Annie Webb Blanton didn’t just fight the sexist Patriarchy, she kicked-in its door and clubbed it over the head with her grammar textbook and this ice-cold glare of defiance.

It began with a pretty straight-forward question from then-sixth-grader Elise Clements: Who started the first Girl Scout troop in Denton? The answer would turn into a two-year project that resulted in a prestigious Girl Scout Silver Award and a 2015 Texas Historic Marker here in Denton. Beulah Ann Harriss came to Denton in 1914, when there were only four buildings, 17 faculty and less than 600 students at North Texas State Normal College. She later recalled that at the time of her arrival, all she had to work with was a piano with missing keys, a set of dumbells, and three strikes against her: She was born a Yankee, she was a young woman, and she made the resentful girls wear 10-lbs bloomers while playing sports (seriously). Harriss became the first Girl Scout in Texas when she moved from Nebraska to become NTSNC’s first women’s physical education instructor, a position she held for 46 years before retiring in 1960. An incredible athlete who coached an undefeated TX State Champions basketball team for 3 years from 1918-1920, she helped start and organize several women’s athletic organizations and clubs while teaching every sport except football.

When the DudeBros-against-uppitty-wimminfolk on the Texas Board of Regents banned women’s intercollegiate athletics in 1925, Miss Beulah defiantly formed a Women’s Athletic Association for intramural sports on campus then also became the charter member and President of the Texas State Physical Education Association in 1933. Harriss was inducted into the University of North Texas Athletic Hall of Fame in 1987, ten years after her death at the age of 88. In the midst of the Progressive Era, and as the nation was expanding by adding the states of New Mexico and Arizona—but before women had the right to vote—the Girl Scouts were founded in 1912 with an emphasis on inclusiveness, the outdoors, self-reliance, and civic service. Beulah Harriss and her college companion Della Marie Clark were among those pioneer Scouts who then established the first North Texas Girl Scout Troop in 1917, a lifelong association that has earned her infamy, thanks to young Elise Clements’ curiosity and perseverance! Go Girl Scout Power!

 Kathy Arendsen struck-out NY Yankees legend Reggie Jackson THREE TIMES with a 95MPH underhanded softball pitch… Yep, she throws like a girl.  Photo from TWU's digital archives. 

Kathy Arendsen struck-out NY Yankees legend Reggie Jackson THREE TIMES with a 95MPH underhanded softball pitch… Yep, she throws like a girl. Photo from TWU's digital archives. 

Another female firebrand of that era was Annie Webb Blanton, who served on the NTSNC English faculty from 1901-1918 as she made her reputation as a butt-kicking Suffragette. She was an author who taught Grammar and Composition as well as the Debate Team while in Denton, but it was her fiery speech at the 1916 Texas State Teacher’s Association meeting in Fort Worth that made her infamous. Demanding more leadership opportunities for women, Blanton angrily denounced: “How long are the functions of the women of the State Teachers’ Association to be limited to paying a dollar to support its activities and to that of acting as audience and applause?” She left the meeting a surprise President-Elect of the organization, the first woman voted into that position who soon democratized TSTA bylaws despite sexist backlash. When women were finally granted the right to vote in Texas primaries in 1918, Blanton ran for State Superintendent of Public Instruction in a bitter campaign that saw her accused of being an Atheist proxy for sinister forces. Yet Blanton prevailed, becoming the first woman in Texas to be elected to a statewide office, and used her two terms to establish a system of free textbooks, revise teacher certification laws, raise teacher salaries, and rewrite tax rates supporting public education. She ran for the U.S. Congressional seat from Denton County in 1922, unsuccessfully, but went on to earn her MA and PhD as she continued to be an educational leader by founding the national Delta Kappa Gamma Society for Women Teachers in 1929. Good grief, y’all think you stay busy?!?

One of our loyal readers here at WDDI, Nancy G, shared a remembered story over brunch at Loco Cafe so outlandish that it blew my mind when I looked into the history. Some Dentonites may still remember the exploits of TWU’s Sports Hall of Fame softball pitcher Kathy Arendsen, an athletic phenom who received two of her three Broderick Awards as the nation's top collegiate softball player while here in Denton leading the Pioneer team that won the 1979 AIAW/ASA Women's College World Series. A thirteen-time AIAW All-American between 1978-1992 and a two-time Olympian with a Silver Medal from the 1983 Pan Am Games, the lanky 6’2” Arendsen holds sports records that are nothing short of jaw-dropping! In that legendary 1979 championship season, she was 6-1 with a 0.00 ERA, 77 strikeouts, five complete games and five shutouts during the tournament. Arendsen once struck out 19 batters in seven innings, a feat not to be overshadowed by her three consecutive perfect games and a 15-year career with the Raybestos Brakettes that included three world and nine national titles with a total career ERA of a mere 60 points lifetime. Arendsen struck out 4,038 pitchers, including MLB Hall-of-Famer Reggie Jackson in an exhibition contest… and THIS story is the stuff of legend that vividly illustrates her nigh-untouchable pitching!!

It was a 1981 exhibition contest after the championship game of the U.S. Olympic Festival in Syracuse NY, when legendary NY Yankee slugger Reggie Jackson agreed to an impromptu softball pitch challenge for ABC’s Wide World of Sports after a rain cancellation in the 4th inning. “He was Mr. October. He was about as broad as he was tall,” Arendsen recalled; “I am sitting 40 feet away, thinking if he hits it back at me, it could kill me!” Instead, the ace pitcher struck out ‘Mr. October’ not once, not twice, but three times with 15 underhand pitches clocked as fast as 95MPH! Jackson was a good sport, shrugging that that the softball pitchers mound was 20ft closer, but keep in mind he’s also swinging at a gorged grapefruit that Arendsen could masterfully snap into a ‘riser’ that’d jump 14-inches at the last second over the plate! "I am grateful he took that on, because I am sure it was not easy for him to go back and say a woman struck him out,” she says. “My generation, it wasn't the coolest thing to be a female athlete," Arendsen reflects; "I am so glad today, it is encouraged. So many lifetime skills are taught in these sports.”

Denton luckily has more than a few living legends still walking among us. We never tire of revisiting Denton’s Quakertown stories since the lasting legacy has been one of courage and resilience, as our African-American Dentonites have dealt with the enduring challenge of racial segregation. Make no mistake, Southeast Denton has had their fair share of mighty matriarchs! You can learn more about their incredible stories by touring the Quakertown House at our Denton County Museum’s Historic Park, and of course take a day to check out the neat exhibits at TWU’s Blagg-Huey Library like the WASP collection! Be sure to hit us up in the comments if you have a Denton damsel of distinction that you think deserves special praise.


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.