The new series I’m working on centers around a fictional women’s colony in Texas. My banker heroine, Emma Shaw, was raised by suffragette aunts to believe that women could accomplish anything men could as long as they worked together. She believed this truth in theory, but grew discouraged when few people saw fit to let the equality play out in real life. So created her own haven of independence. Using her inheritance and that of her aunts, she bought up property in an abandoned Texas stage coach town and created a women’s colony. Not only was this a place to offer women a chance to operate businesses and trades usually only operated by men, but it was also a sanctuary for women with nowhere else to turn. Widows with no means to support their children. Women escaping abuse. Any female was welcome in Harper’s Station as long as they agreed to four simple rules – they must earn their keep through honest labor; they must attend church services every Sunday; they must never speak disparagingly about any lady in the community; and if ever they saw a sister in need, they must lend a hand.
The idea of highlighting such strong, capable women making their own way in Texas got me wondering about other real females who accomplished similar feats. I was amazed to discover one rebel who literally shaped the faces of Texas history with her own hands.
Elisabet Ney was a German-born sculptor who worked in Europe the first half of her life, perfecting her craft and becoming so accomplished, she was commissioned to create busts of such influential world leaders as Otto von Bismarck and King George V of Hanover (pictured with her in the portrait to the left). She was the first female sculptor admitted to the all-male Munich Academy of Art.
A stringent feminist, Elisabet wore trousers and rode astride like her male counterparts. She also despised the marital state, believing it to be a form of bondage for women. However, a young (and exceedingly patient) Scottish medical student named Edward Montgomery eventually wore her down. After 10 years, he finally convinced her to marry him in 1863. That same year, he contracted tuberculosis. After struggling with the disease for many years, Montgomery took a friend’s advice and moved to the United States in 1871, to a resort for consumptives in Georgia. In 1873, after the birth of two sons, the couple moved to Waller County, Texas.
In the 1880’s, Elisabet was invited to Austin by the governor of Texas, and her artistic career gained new life. In 1892 she built a studio in north Austin and began to seek commissions. Right away, she was commissioned by the Board of Lady Managers of the Chicago World’s Fair Association to create marble figures of Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston to be on display at the World’s Fair. They can now be seen in the Texas State Capitol building.
Upon her death in 1907, her husband sold her studio to Ella Dibrell, and per his wife’s wishes, bequeathed the contents to the University of Texas at Austin. Four years later, Dibrell and other investors established the Texas Fine Arts Association in Elisabet’s honor. Today, the studio is the site of the Elisabet Ney Museum.
This passionate, strong-willed woman left a mark on Texas that still exists more than 100 years after her death. What a lasting legacy!
I can barely draw a stick figure, so art like this always leaves me amazed.
What amazing women have left their marks on your life?