Carroll, Mary Joe Durning (1914–1995)

By: Tracé Etienne-Gray

Type: Biography

Published: August 1, 1995

Updated: October 7, 2017

Mary Joe Carroll, lawyer, was born in Wichita Falls, Texas, on June 25, 1914, to Joseph H. and Mary (Douglas) Durning. When she was two years old her father, as an employee of Texas Power and Light, moved the family to Sherman, where Mary Joe attended public school and graduated second in her class. She attended the University of Texas on a scholarship won in the University Interscholastic League state debate championship. She graduated from UT with honors in 1934 and received her M.A. on June 3 of the next year, the day she married H. Bailey Carroll, a history instructor and graduate student at the university. Except for brief periods-the longest being two years when Bailey Carroll accepted a teaching assignment at another university-the couple made Austin their home. They had two sons. During and after college Mary Joe Carroll did research and editing for Texas historian Walter Prescott Webb. In the late 1930s she worked as an associate editor of the Handbook of Texas, of which her husband was managing editor.

Since her days in high school when she read Clarence Darrow's The Life of Clarence Darrow, Mrs. Carroll had wanted to be a lawyer. Not until 1944, however, did she begin her studies. Despite her responsibilities at the Handbook and with her family, she persevered and, after taking only one or two classes a semester, graduated with honors in 1955. She also made the Law Review during her senior year. She ranked first among those who took the bar exam with her; it is believed that she was the first woman to do so. She subsequently went to work at an Austin firm, Looney, Clark and Moorehead. Her first assignment was as assistant to one of the senior partners, Judge Everett L. Looney, who was the chief litigator for the firm in both appellate and trial matters. One of her first cases involved the Veterans' Land Board Scandal of the 1950s, in which Looney's firm represented several of the land dealers accused of fraud, including B. R. Sheffield. When Sheffield was convicted, Mary Joe Carroll was given the task of writing up the appeal brief, which was so long in documentation of the original trial's faults that it had to be bound in two thick volumes. Sheffield 's conviction was overturned on appeal. In 1961, Mrs. Carroll's law practice was briefly interrupted when she agreed to be parliamentarian to the Texas Senate under the directorship of Lieutenant Governor Ben Ramsey. She found this experience valuable in subsequent years when she was called on to draft potential legislation for clients. Throughout her career, she represented a variety of clients, including the Licensed Beverage Distributors Association, the Texas Restaurant Association, the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, and the Texas Brewers Institute. She was also advisory counsel to the Texas National Armory Board, the Texas Farm Bureau, the Texas Press Association, and the Texas Daily Newspaper Association. For these last two clients she drafted legislation that eventually became the Open Meetings Act (1967) and the Open Records Act (1973). She was also instrumental in drafting an early version of the Texas Education Code. She was made a partner of her firm, renamed Clark, Thomas and Winters, in 1968, after which she spent most of her time working on appellate cases. Her first appearance as a litigator was in the Texas Supreme Court. Her last appearances were in the same court just before and after her eightieth birthday in 1994.

Significant decisions in which Mary Joe Carroll participated included Myers v. Martinez, which ended county dominance by holding that there could be a wet city in a dry county; Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission v. Major Brands of Texas, Incorporated, which gave the state the right to control the source of supply of alcoholic beverages; Oak Cliff Savings and Loan Association v. Gersh, the so-called county-line case, which gave savings and loan associations the right to ignore county lines in establishing branches; and Amex Warehouse Company v. Archer, in which the court held that the state's notice of appeal operates as a supersedeas. Carroll disliked being called a "woman lawyer," and frequently said that she was a woman, who happened to be a lawyer. She often said that she did not consider the practice of law to be a sexual activity. She observed about her life that she "was born before women could vote; held a license to practice law before women could sit on a state jury in Texas, and was a partner in a major law firm before women had any civil rights." She died at her home on March 17, 1995, after a long illness.

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Mary Joe Carroll and Robert W. Stayton, "Proposed Reorganization of the Supreme Court of Texas-Number of Judges," Texas Law Review 33 (October 1955). Robert Etnyre, The Texas Open Records Act: A History and an Assessment (M.A. thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 1975). Thomas L. Miller, The Public Lands of Texas, 1519–1970 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1972). Texas Legal Directory, 1994.

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Lawyers
  • General Law
  • Women
Time Periods:
  • World War II
  • Central Texas
  • Austin
  • North Texas
  • Wichita Falls

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

Tracé Etienne-Gray, “Carroll, Mary Joe Durning,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022,

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August 1, 1995
October 7, 2017

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