The Hattie Mae White Women
They Loomed Large in Our History
Hattie Mae White
Hattie Mae White holds the distinction of being the first African American elected to public office in Texas in the 20th century. A former schoolteacher, she won a place on the Houston school board in 1958, at a time when the city’s schools remained segregated. The wife of an optometrist and a mother of five, she reportedly decided to stand for election after hearing another parent declare the time had not yet come for a black school board member. With widespread support from African American voters and moderate support from whites, she later recalled that it was the first time black and white Houstonians worked together on a political campaign. Nevertheless, a week after her election someone shot out her car’s windshield, and her family suffered the trauma of having a gasoline-soaked cross set ablaze in their front yard.
Maintaining that dual school systems were expensive and in fact “not equal, though now they are separate,” White led the effort to desegregate Houston’s schools. She weathered years of acrimony as other members of the board resisted the inevitability of integration. Defeated by conservatives in her bid for a third term, she redirected her talents to serving a number of interracial organizations and continued to fight for equality in Houston. She returned to teaching, retired at age 70, and died seven years later, in 1993. The school district’s Hattie Mae White Administration Building honors her legacy.
Nellye Joyce Punch
Nellye Joyce Punch was born in Wharton,Texas on July 13, 1921. She attended and graduated from Phillis Wheatley High School in 1937. Known as the “unofficial congresswoman” of Houston’s Fifth Ward, Nellye Joyce Punch has been a community activist since retiring as a consultant to the Houston Independent School District in the 1980s. Through her work she has championed programs that provide housing for the poor, improve academic skills for inner city kids, improve health and human services to inner city residents, feed lower income citizens, and organizing groups to educate the public on pertinent issues that affect them and their community.
Mrs. Punch has a Bachelor of Science from Prairie View and a Master of Education from Texas Southern University. She is one of the founding members of the Fifth ward Community Redevelopment Corporation, a group that has built affordable housing for local residents. The longtime junior high science teacher mentored students who became transformational achievers. They include both of Houston's first black members of Congress, Barbara Jordan and Mickey Leland. Her pupils Harold Dutton and Al Edwards became state legislators. Ruth J. Simmons, the first black president of an Ivy League institution who now leads Prairie View A&M University, also was among Punch's students.
Dr. Catherine Roett was born in 1923 in Houston, Texas. Her father was Dr. Rupert Roett and he was one of the founders of a full service hospital that served Houston's black community in 1927 (currently known as Riverside General Hospital).
She studied pediatrics at Howard University's College of Medicine and gradated in 1946. Her residency was at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. Upon her return to Houston, she became the first black pediatrician in the city. She was admitted and served on both the staffs of Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital. This was noteworthy at the time because this was several years before integration and desegregation took effect in the American landscape. Her contributions were numerous. She administered care to hundreds of children, especially underserved African American children of the Third Ward. She served as chief of pediatrics at both Riverside General and St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. She established and ran the well-baby clinic at Riverside General, was a charter board member of the Harris County Children’s Protective Services, belonged to the American Academy of Pediatrics, Harris County Medical Society, Texas Medical Association, American Medical Association, and Lone Star State Medical Association.
Apart from her contributions and professional affiliations she was known to go to hospitals and visit the sick in her spare time. For her contributions and spirit of service to the community she received many accolades. In 1985 the Radcliffe Club of Houston named her a “Woman of Courage” and the following year she was inducted into the Texas Black Women’s Hall of Fame at the Museum of African American Life and Culture in Dallas. In 1987, Houston’s March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation named its first service award in her honor. The award, which is given to recipients whose contributions lower infant mortality and birth defects, still bears her name.
Besides being active within her profession and community, she was an active member of her church, St James Episcopal Church, located in Houston’s Third Ward. She participated in many roles and was director of the Altar Guild. Dr. Roett died on August 29, 1997.
Ethel Mosely Young
Ethel Mosley Young spent her entire four decade career at Sunny Side Elementary, starting as a classroom teacher and eventually becoming principal. The original Sunny Side Elementary at Scott and Holmes was a 20-by-30-foot building that housed two classrooms. The school had no indoor toilet, running water or electricity. Muddy conditions around the school made boots a necessity. Young taught reading and writing. She also taught manners and grooming. She made home visits and spent her own money on supplies.
Young fervently believed what scholars have always known; lives are shaped and formed through early education. Her commitment to academic excellence and providing children with the best education possible resonated with her teachers. She held the teachers to high standards and required a lot of work from them. That work they knew was required to provide uplift to individuals and to a community.
Her stalwart dedication to the school led a vigilant band of supporters to lobby the Houston Independent School District board to rename the school in Young's honor. In 1999, the HISD Board voted unanimously to rename the school in her honor, ending a district policy restricting the naming of schools to deceased people. She loved the community and the community loved her. The children grew up and sent their children to Mrs. Young because they believed in her.
Ruby Mosley is a community activist of great importance to the Acres Homes community and the City of Houston. She worked as a health coordinator for 18 years at Gulf Coast Community Services, advocating to provide water, sewer and other city services to residents in the rural areas of Houston. Afterward, she joined the City of Houston Cuney Homes Housing Development as a community service supervisor for 13 years, providing essential services for senior citizens and children.
Through the years, she played an integral role in creating the Acres Homes Multi-Service Center and has been a member of multiple local organizations, including the Acres Home Advisory Committee, Acres Home Super Neighborhood, Houston Police Department Advisory Committee and Gulf Coast Community Services Association.