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HARPER, MARGARET PEASE

HARPER, MARGARET PEASE (1911–1991). Margaret Pease Harper, founder of the outdoor musical drama Texas was born at St. Paul, Minnesota, on July 22, 1911. She was the daughter of Rollin and Lena Alma (Mason) Pease. Margaret’s father was a famed oratorio singer who performed in numerous historical pageants. She grew up in Evanston, Illinois, and received her bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona and her master's degree from the University of Chicago. Her professional experience included teaching, traveling as her father's accompanist, direction of activities at International House at the University of Chicago, and administration of the Colegio América in Callao, Peru.

She married Ples Harper in Tucson, Arizona, on June 1, 1939, and accompanied him to his post as cultural-exchange director for the United States government in Peru. Upon their return to the United States, Ples Harper accepted the position of chairman of the modern language department at West Texas State Teachers College (now West Texas A&M University) in Canyon in 1946, and Mrs. Harper resumed her occupation as a piano teacher. She wrote Meet Some Musical Terms: A First Dictionary, published by the Fischer Company in 1959.

She also grew to love the Panhandle and recognized Palo Duro Canyon's potential as a site for an outdoor musical production. After discussing the idea with her husband and William and Margaret Moore, and partly influenced by Allen Rankin's "His Theater is as Big as All Outdoors," which appeared in the July 1960 issue of the Reader's Digest, she wrote to the Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Paul Green and suggested that the geography and history of the Panhandle of Texas provided the ideal setting for a symphonic drama. Green immediately indicated his willingness to meet and discuss the project. Margaret Harper captured enough people's imagination with her enthusiasm to make the theater and production a reality. She was elected the first president of the Texas Panhandle Heritage Foundation, which sustains the production Texas, and served as the public-relations director for the show from 1961 until 1985. Between its opening performance in July 1966 and its twenty-fifth season in 1991, Texas was attended by more than two million people.

In addition to her work with Texas, Mrs. Harper was a member of the team that founded the Lone Star Ballet, and served as its first president. She lectured across the country on a variety of arts-management topics and was the vice president of the Texas Tourist Council. Her many honors include induction into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame, and the Texas Hall of Fame for Women. She was Citizen of the Year in both Canyon and Amarillo, and she received the Distinguished Service Award from the Texas Division of the American Association of University Women. She was a member of Alpha Phi, Phi Kappa Phi, Phi Beta Kappa, and the Fine Arts Club of Canyon. She was also a member of the Presbyterian church in Canyon. The Harpers had two children. Margaret Harper died in an Amarillo hospital on November 16, 1991, and was buried in Dreamland Cemetery in Canyon.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Amarillo Sunday News–Globe, November 17, 1991. Canyon News, November 21, 1991. Duane F. Guy, "An Amphitheater for the Panhandle," Panhandle–Plains Historical Review 51 (1978). Paul Green's "Texas": A Musical Romance of Panhandle History (25th Anniversary Souvenir Program, Palo Duro Canyon State Park, 1990). Carroll Wilson, "`Texas' and the Woman Behind It," Accent West, June 1980.

Claire R. Kuehn

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Claire R. Kuehn, "HARPER, MARGARET PEASE," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fharm), accessed September 18, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on October 10, 2011. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.