Armstrong, Eltea Bulah Eppright (1907–1996)


By: Mylynka Kilgore Cardona

Type: Biography

Published: May 30, 2022

Updated: May 30, 2022


Eltea Bulah Eppright Armstrong, notable draftswoman, was born to Ivan and Helen (Lackey) Eppright in Dale, Texas, on October 23, 1907. The second of seven children, she and her family lived on a farm near extended family, and her father was an apiarist (see BEE INDUSTRY). With few schools in rural Caldwell County, the family moved to East Austin in 1918 and South Austin in 1920 (see URBANIZATION). She graduated from Austin High School at the mid-winter commencement on January 29, 1926, and received honors and a university scholarship for having the highest grades of the female students. On August 8, 1931, she married John Bennett “Ben” Armstrong, an apiarist, in Austin.

In the 1930s Armstrong began a thirty-seven-year career as a draftswoman for the state of Texas and became known for her beautifully lettered, drawn, and inked state documents, including more than sixty-five county maps that remain in use decades after her retirement in 1972. First introduced to drawing maps while taking a drafting class in high school, Armstrong was motivated to take the class after she overheard male students saying female students could not draft. She excelled in the class, and as a result, her teacher recommended her for a position at Miller Blueprint Company in downtown Austin, where she worked until the Great Depression changed the nature of their business. Her employer, John D. Miller, recommended her for a job at the State Reclamation Department when they asked if he knew someone who could draft maps.

In 1935 the State Reclamation Department hired Armstrong and trained her to draft and letter topographical maps (see TEXAS WATER COMMISSION). Her attention to detail and artistic talents quickly gained the attention of her supervisors, who requested her for special projects. She hand-lettered certificates of appointment and, at the request of Governor James V Allred, certificates for the Texas Centennial. Four years later, when the Texas legislature consolidated the Reclamation Department with the General Land Office (GLO), Armstrong’s work shifted.

For the GLO, Armstrong compiled and drew county cadastral maps, which show property lines, ownership, and plat numbers. These county maps required focus and great attention to detail as the creation of each map involved reviewing the original field notes for every survey within a county, every related sketch and connecting line, and any court judgments relating to original survey boundaries. After Armstrong compiled this information for a county, she then meticulously drew, inked, and lettered each survey to scale to create a complete, usable, and official map. This process was long and arduous, with a single hand-drawn county map taking approximately five months on average to complete. When asked about the work, Armstrong said, “Drafting requires more patience than talent. Many very artistic people do not have the patience to do the detail work necessary for drafting. The scroll parchment is very hard to work on and certainly doesn’t lend itself to correcting mistakes.

According to the GLO, Armstrong drafted at least seventy county maps during her career, each of which remain in use as the official working county map for the state. She illustrated many with elaborate calligraphy titles and decorative borders, as well as vivid scenes related to nature or historical events of the county. For her illustrations, she derived inspiration from library books about county history and geography. Throughout the 1940s Texas governors and land commissioners called upon Armstrong to illustrate annual reports, certificates, land deeds, proclamations, and commemorative scrolls for celebrities, foreign dignitaries, and heads of state. She completed one for President Manuel Ávila Camacho of Mexico, sent from Governor W. Lee O’Daniel, through his daughter, in 1940; King Paul and Queen Frederica of Greece, sent from Governor Allan Shivers in 1953; and world-famous pianist Van Cliburn, on behalf of the East Texas Treatment Center for physically disabled children in 1963. She lettered and decorated a 1967 mineral rights deed for Guadalupe Mountains National Park that was signed by the Texas School Land Board and housed at the Texas State Library. According to her family, she also created an eagle design for special dinnerware used for a VIP event during HemisFair '68.

In 1955 Armstrong was one of several GLO employees summoned by Travis County District Attorney Leslie Procter, Jr., to testify in front of the grand jury that was investigating the Veterans' Land Board Scandal involving former land commissioner Bascom Giles. In 1972, after thirty-seven years of mapmaking, Armstrong retired from the GLO, though she continued to make scrolls for the special state commemorations.

Eltea Armstrong died at the age of eighty-eight on September 2, 1996, in Austin, Texas.  She is buried at Lytton Springs Cemetery in Lytton Springs, Texas.

Visit the Texas Women Project's standalone website

The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.

Visit Website

Eltea Armstrong, Interview by Brian Hopper, July 5, 1986, transcript, Current Miscellaneous File 113-A, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, Texas. Austin American, December 8, 1940; February 10, 1955. Austin American-Statesman, June 11, 1990; September 5, 1996. Austin Statesman, January 29, 1926; February 18, 1955; October 16, 1972. Brownsville Herald, December 18, 1940. Brownwood Bulletin, November 18, 1953. El Paso Herald-Post, August 1, 1967. Kilgore News Herald, December 4, 1963.

Categories:
  • Visual Arts
  • Women
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II
Places:
  • Central Texas
  • Austin

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

Mylynka Kilgore Cardona, “Armstrong, Eltea Bulah Eppright,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/armstrong-eltea-bulah-eppright.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

May 30, 2022
May 30, 2022

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: