Anna Hardwicke Pennybacker

Jan 4, 2021 - 11:27 am

Anna Hardwicke Pennybacker (1861-1938) was an accomplished suffragette, educator, author, and advocate for progressive causes. Born in Virginia, she attended Sam Houston Normal Institute and graduated in 1880 as part of its first class. She married a classmate, Percy V. Pennybacker, in 1884, but he died in 1899. Before he passed, they worked together as educators and she wrote and published ‘A New History of Texas’ in 1888. This textbook, known as “the Pennybacker text” was the standard for teaching Texas history for forty years.

"Photograph of Anna Pennybacker seated at desk, signed by her"

Photo provided by SHSU University Archives

Pennybacker started her career in advocacy with the Texas club movement, founding the Tyler Woman’s Club in 1894 (one of the first Texas women’s clubs). From 1901 to 1903 she led the Texas Federation of Women and raised $3,500 for women’s scholarships at the University of Texas while also lobbying successfully for the funding of a women’s dormitory. Under her leadership, the federation also started a traveling library and art collection that became permanent libraries in Texas.

From 1919 to 1920, she was an associate member of the Democratic National Committee and began a close friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt. They worked together on a number of issues including the advancement of women, world peace, and the furthering of the progressive reforms of the Democratic party. President Roosevelt even helped to fundraise at the Chautauqua Institutes’ Women’s Club in 1936, and Eleanor Roosevelt became the first and only First Lady to speak at Sam Houston State University in 1937.

"Photograph of Pennybacker with Eleanor Roosevelt"

Photo provided by SHSU University Archives

Anna Hardwicke Pennybacker spent her life working for causes she felt passionate about. She lectured all over the country on topics like the status of women and immigrants, near East relief, the World Court, and League of Nations. She also became the first woman in history to give the commencement address to the city of Houston’s combined high schools. She had such a varied record of contributions, from Food Administration of Texas in World War I to acting as a special correspondent to the League of Nations, that when she died in her home in Austin on February 4, 1938, she was known and regarded throughout the country for her work in social reforms. She is now buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Austin.

"Headstone of Anna JH Pennybacker"