Trailblazing Teachers

HerStory: Women's History Month 2023
Mother Teresa Solis.jpg

Mother Terra (Rosa) Solis. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Mother Teresa Solis

Mother Teresa Solis (1840–1920) was born Rosa Solis in Matamoros, Mexico. Shortly after emigrating to Texas in the 1850s, her family settled in Port Isabel, where young Rosa met the newly arrived Sisters of the Incarnate Word at a Sunday mass in early 1853. 

The Sisters went on to establish the Incarnate Word Academy and set to building a convent in Brownsville within weeks of their arrival. Rosa became an avid student at the school and upon turning 18, she became the first twice as: 1) the first New World vocation in the Order and 2) the first Hispanic Sister of the Incarnate Word. At her profession, she took the name Teresa for Saint Teresa of Avila.

A choir Sister (or cloistered), Teresa served many roles and assisted with the bilingual education of students. She protected her students during the hurricane of 1867, which destroyed the convent save for one wall on which hung a statue of Mary Immaculate.  Five years later Sister Teresa became Mother Teresa when she was elected Superior of the monastery and served until 1875.

In 1893, she assisted in the first English translation of the Rule and Constitution of the Order of the Incarnate Word. Mother Teresa would go on to establish the first Incarnate Word in Mexico at Villa Hermosa, Tabasco in 1897, was called upon to establish an orphanage (1899), and was later called to serve as Mother at Chilapa (1910).

The Mexican Revolution expelled the French Sisters of the Incarnate Word of Puebla in 1917 and the Mexican sisters took refuge in private homes. In 1919 Mother Teresa traveled to Puebla to aid her Sisters in exile where she fell week upon arrival and died from illness in 1920.

Amilda Thomas

Dr. Amilda Thomas (1921–2006), Professor in the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation received the Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts Degree from Texas State College for Women and the Doctor of Philosophy Degree from Texas Woman's University.

Her professional service of 44 years included assignments in Dallas for five years with the YWCA, Girl Scouts and the Dallas Athletic Club; the Donna Independent School District for 13 years and at Pan American University, 26 years.

Dr. Thomas joined the faculty at PAU in 1960. She served as the founding director of the PAU Folkloric Dancers in 1970 and was appointed Chair of the Dance Department in 1981.She served as Director of 26 Annual NCA Cheerleader Clinics and Project Administrator for six national Youth Sports Programs.

Dr. Thomas was active in both state and national professional organizations, having held several offices at the state level. She retired in 1986 and in 1992 was inducted into the RGV Sports Hall of Fame.

Newspaper clipping of Miss Archer in 1967.

Newspaper clipping from The Mercedes Enterprise (Mercedes, Tex.), Vol. 52, No. 11, Ed. 1 Thursday, March 16, 1967. via University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, crediting Dr. Hector P. Garcia Memorial Library.

Parthenia Archer

Parthenia Archer (1920–2003) was born in Cuero, Texas and was a lifelong educator and resident of South Texas. She taught elementary school and special education for nearly 40 years and was herself a lifelong learner.

As a child, Miss Archer attended Booker T. Washington School (Harlingen) until 8th grade and then returned to Cuero for high school. After attending St. Philip's College (San Antonio), Miss Archer continued her education, earning a BA in education from Huston-Tillotson (Austin) and her first MEd from Texas Southern University (Houston) followed by a second from Texas A & I University (Kingsville).

She taught for four years in Mission before moving to Weslaco in 1947. Miss Archer became the school teacher and principal at the segregated school on Pino Street, which she successfully lobbied to name Beatrice Allen Elementary School.

As two of only a few Black educators in Hidalgo County, Miss Archer and Mrs. Betts regularly worked together to provide joint activities for their students. After school integration, Miss Archer taught classes at Roosevelt, Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin before retiring in 1982 from Weslaco ISD and later All Faith Christian Academy in Harlingen.

Mittie Pullam

Undated photo of Mrs. Pullam. Image courtesy of Pullam Elementary, Brownsville Independent School District

Mittie Pullam

Mittie Anita (Williams) Pullam (1913–2009) was not only a beloved educator, but she was also the first Black teacher and principal for Brownsville ISD. Mrs. Pullam's devotion to students touched many generations and inspired a grassroots campaign to name a school in her honor. Mittie Pullam Elementary School in Brownsville honors her three decades of service to her community.

Mrs. Pullam earned a BA in Literary Arts from Samuel Houston College in Austin and a MA in Education from Texas Southern University. In 1947, she began teaching at the segregated school for Black and African American children Frederick Douglass Elementary School (located on E. Fronton St. in Brownsville). As was common during segregation, Mrs. Pullam served as teacher and principal for grades 1–6.

Later in the 1960s as schools were desegregated and owing to Mrs. Pullam's high standards for curriculum, the Douglas school was incorporated into Skinner Elementary. There she continued teaching until her retirement in 1975—the same year she was recognized as BISD's Elementary Teacher of the Year.

Mrs. Pullam and her students in 1975.

Class photo of Mrs. Pullam's 1974-1975 class at Skinner Elementary School, Brownsville, Texas. Image found on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Mrs. Betts and her students at George Washington Carver Elementary School

Photo of Mrs. Betts and her students at George Washington Carver Elementary School. Courtesy of Museum of South Texas History Formidable Females Collection.

Melissa Betts

Melissa Dotson Betts (1902–1988) was a devoted and trailblazing Rio Grande Valley educator. She attended Wiley College (Marshall, TX) and earned her BA from Texas Southern University (Houston).

Mrs. Betts began her teaching career in San Benito (1929–1934), but in 1935, she began teaching in Edinburg first at E. W. Norman School and later at George Washington Carver Elementary School (1014 E. Lovett). Mrs. Betts split her time between teaching during the week in Edinburg and spending time with her husband, Everett, in San Benito on the weekends.

Like most teachers at segregated and one-room schools, Mrs. Betts was the sole teacher for multiple grade levels at Carver, and she was also expected to fulfill the roles of principal, counselor, cook, custodian, and even groundskeeper. She later taught at Austin Elementary and was one of a handful of Black teachers, who experienced both segregated and integrated education in the Valley.

She retired in 1969, and 30 years later Edinburg CISD opened Melissa Dotson Betts Elementary School in honor of her service.

Emilia Schunior Ramirez

Portrait of Emilia Schunior Ramirez (date unknown). Courtesy of Museum of South Texas History Formidable Females Collection.

Emilia Schunior Ramírez

Emilia Schunior Ramírez (1902-1960) was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley. Ramírez graduated from Edinburg High School (1919) and attended Southwest Texas State Teachers College (San Marcos), Edinburg Junior College and University of Texas at Austin. She earned her BA from the College of Arts & Industries (Kingsville).

She devoted her life to education and to documenting the lives of the people of deep South Texas. During the 1930s and 1940s, Ramírez was a school teacher and principal in Edinburg, La Joya, Roma, Rio Grande City, and Pharr. During the summer breaks, Ramírez worked on her MEd at UT-Austin. Her groundbreaking masters thesis reported on the daily lives of 1,200+ children of undocumented workers in area schools. Ramírez also taught Spanish at Pan American College in the 1950s.

Ramírez's book Ranch Life in Hidalgo County after 1850 was based on oral history interviews she conducted to document the lives of Mexican women in the late 1800s. It was published posthumously (1971) by her son Alfonso Ramirez, Edinburg's first Hispanic mayor.

UTRGV's Emilia Schunior Ramírez Hall is named for her and a Texas Historical Marker was erected on campus in 2007 to honor her achievements.

Izora Skinner, 1968.

Image of Izora Skinner as an English instructor at Texas Wesleyan College in 1968. Source: Texas Wesleyan College. TXWECO, Yearbook of Texas Wesleyan College, 1968, p. 31; Fort Worth, Texas. University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, crediting Texas Wesleyan University.

Izora Skinner

Izora Tinkler Skinner (1925-2001) led a life of service first as an educator in public schools and higher education and later as a community leader in libraries, local history, and historic pereservation. She served on the RGV Council of Teachers, Edinburg Public Library Board, South Texas Library System, and Edinburg General Hospital Auxiliary. Her honors included Edinburg Daily Review's "Woman of the Year" (1984) and ZONTA's "Woman ofthe Year" (1992).

Born and raised in Edinburg, Skinner was salutatorian of her Edinburg HS class. She obtained her BA and MA in English and returned to teach her first class in Edinburg schools. Many years later Skinner taught English literature for 20 years at UTPA.

As a local historian, Skinner contributed to the publication of Edinburg: Story of a Town, which commemorated Edinburg's 75th anniversary in 1983. She is featured in One Hundred Women of the Rio Grande Valley.