The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 99, July 1995 - April, 1996 Page: 28
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
when reading the official minutes of the churches, it is difficult to real-
ize that women played any part at all. Apart from inscribing new female
members on the rolls and noting the dismissions or discipline of
women, the male church record keepers rarely included women or
women's actions. A mere reading of these records would reveal a society
of men, doing the work, delineating the rules, and making the deci-
sions, for the men and the women of the church.
Closer examination of the records and the rare references to women,
however, reveals much about white women's lives in antebellum Hous-
ton, the significant part they played in the church, and the attitudes to-
ward women's place in society.4 Southern religion promoted women's
efforts to live up to the ideals of true womanhood. At least in Houston,
churches also presented opportunities for women to step out of these
narrow roles and to assert themselves in a variety of ways.
This study examines the records from three of the first five churches
in Houston, from their founding and growth through the beginning of
the Civil War. In 1836, two brothers decided to make a city out of the
wilderness and thus the "city" of Houston was founded. However, travel-
ers who had read embellished advertisements were disappointed to find
that year Houston only "consisted of one dugout canoe, a bottle gourd
of whiskey and a surveyor's chain and compass, and was inhabited by
four men with an ordinary camping outfit."5 By 1839, the brothers'
"clever promotional scheme" turned Houston into the capital of Texas
and, more importantly, a center for cotton commerce. As in other
southern towns, cotton and its accouterments, including slavery, domi-
nated antebellum Houston's society and growth. Immigration from oth-
er southern states fed Houston's growth; by 1850, 80 percent of the
white residents had been born in other southern states.6
Although Houston had become a small urban area by 1839 with two
theaters, a court house, a jail, a school, the capitol, as well as numerous
public and private buildings, there were still no churches, much to the
margin (three-to-one at Christ Church). See Session Minutes (Mar. 31, 1839, and May 1, 1842)
of the First Presbyterian Church of Houston, 1839-1932, microfilm collection located at the
First Presbyterian Church, Houston (cited hereafter as First Presbyterian Records).
" Unfortunately, even a close reading reveals very little about black or slave women's lives. Al-
though both the Baptist and Presbyterian churches had black members, often even their names
were not recorded in the minutes, much less any contribution they may have made. For exam-
ple, see First Baptist Minutes (Feb. 15, 1852), p. 92.
5 Dilue Rose Harris, "The Reminiscences of Mrs. Dilue Rose Harris," in Jo Ella Powell Exley
(ed.), Texas Tears and Texas Sunshine: Voices of Frontier Women (College Station: Texas A&M Uni-
versity Press, 1985), 66.
6 Harold L. Platt, City Building in the New South: The Growth of Public Services in Houston, Texas,
183o-Iz9o (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982), 5 (quotation), 7.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 99, July 1995 - April, 1996, periodical, 1996; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101217/m1/56/: accessed June 29, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.