Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Volume 16, Number 01, Spring, 2004 Page: 5
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ItO fi le
HELEN MARION VIGLINI
BY ELIZABETH YORK ENSTAM
X elenViglini's marriage collapsed in 1915,
leaving her with five children and no
employment skills. She took in sewing for
awhile, but soon realized that even with her
children's earnings from after-school jobs, the
family could not survive.When the women of
the Denison Episcopal Church paid her $15
for sewing an altar cloth, she purchased a
second-hand typewriter and a
textbook. Helen taught herself
touch typing by using a
blindfold and practiced shorthand
by having her children read to
Then she took her new skills
into the marketplace-and found
herself in a perfect Catch-22:
HelenViglini had to find a job to
support her children; no one would
hire her because she had children.
And so she lied. Presenting herself as unmarried
and childless, she found work. Two months
later, her conscience made her confess-and her
boss confessed, too. If he had known she was a
mother, he would never have hired her. But now
he had to have her work, and he gave her a raise.
When World War I drew men into military
service, Helen found a position as an executive
secretary. Her new salary, $21 a week, seemed
like a fortune. The money enabled her children
to stop working after classes and concentrate on
It also enabled Helen to satisfy a lifelong
ambition and study law, though not formally in
a classroom. Like Andrew Jackson and John
Neely Bryan, she read law and observed working
attorneys argue their cases. A friend opened
his law library to her after predicting that she
would never pass the bar examination, much less
earn a living. "Many men lawyers are starving,"
he warned. He meant well, but he was mistaken.
In 1919, when Dallas had few, if any other
women attorneys, Helen passed the bar examination
with the second highest
score in Texas. She opened her
practice after a businessman gave
her office space in return for
answering his phone. Her first
case was collection of a debt for a
woman client, a modest beginning
for a legal pioneer.
In the early 1920s, Helen
became Dallas County's first
female assistant district attorney
and in 1944, the first
woman to argue-and win-a case before
the Texas Supreme Court. Helen Viglini
practiced law in Dallas for forty-four
years, until her retirement in 1963. She
died in September 1965, survived by four
children, four grandchildren, and nine
Information about Helen MarionViglini has come from
her obituary, The Dallas Morning News, September 9, 1965;
and from Kenneth Foree's column, "Fighters' Blood Is In
HerVeins," The Dallas Morning News, April 25, 1948.
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Dallas Historical Society. Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Volume 16, Number 01, Spring, 2004, periodical, 2004; (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth35092/m1/7/: accessed July 25, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Dallas Historical Society.