Crowe to Author Book About Local Figure

PLAINVIEW - When it comes to general political knowledge in West Texas, the name Emma Grigsby Meharg may not ring any bells, but perhaps it should. Meharg was the first woman to serve as Secretary of State for the State of Texas, doing so in the mid-1920s under governor Miriam "Ma" Ferguson who was the first woman governor of Texas. What may be of more interest is that Meharg lived in Plainview.

It was a fact that came as a surprise to Dr. Rebekah Crowe, a professor of history at Wayland Baptist University. Meharg was born in Lynnville, Tenn, Aug. 14, 1873, eventually making her way to Plainview. She died in 1937 and is buried in the Plainview cemetery. Crowe's interest in researching the political trailblazer led to a book deal with Texas Tech University Press.

Crowe has been working on identifying local suffragists -- those advocating for the right to vote for women. It is a project she shared with members of the Hale County Genealogical Society, sparking a conversation with Carolyn Courtney about Meharg. While Meharg wasn't initially her primary focus, Dr. Crowe kept her in mind as she continued to work on her research. Despite being hampered by COVID-19 restrictions at libraries and archival institutions, Dr. Crowe presented a paper on local suffragists at the Western History Conference last October where an editor from Texas Tech Press showed an interest in her project.

"When I told him I hadn't been able to make any progress on it because of the pandemic but I did have some other ideas," she said, "he expressed interest in [Meharg.]"

It turns out, Meharg was an early trustee at Texas Tech University following her years as Secretary of State. The editor signed Crowe to a book deal for a biography of Meharg with a deadline of August 2022. Crowe said they agreed to the deal thinking there would be enough accessible research that she could move forward at this time in spite of COVID restrictions.

"She is well-known enough that there will be sources I can get to without having to actually do as much in-person research," Crowe said.

Meharg moved to Plainview from East Texas when her husband accepted a job as a local principal. She served as a school teacher prior to her time in politics. Meharg had grown kids by the time she was named Secretary of State, and was able to balance being a wife and mother while serving in a state government office - a feat that was unprecedented at the time. Crowe said she found an article from the Corsicana paper that talks about how Meharg came home to Plainview for a couple of weeks when her daughter gave birth.

"They were just going on and on and waxing eloquent about the fact that she was a such a good mom and good grandma, but she also had an office in Austin and was powerful," she said.

Crowe has not yet begun her in-depth research of Meharg, and said she isn't sure what she will find. She points to the fact that Governor Ferguson did not have a good relationship with suffragists, contrary to what one might initially believe. Crowe said it will be interesting to see how Meharg was accepted by suffragists.

"You would think that women who wanted women to hold office and have the right to vote would be excited about this, but I don't know that that's what I'm going to find when I get into everything," Crowe said. "I think it will be this situation that we still see today with women's rights … Do you vote for someone just because she's a woman, even though you disagree with her politics?

"I think we're going to find that it's been that way from the very beginning."