Vivian Lou Anderson Castleberry, pioneering journalist on women’s issues and known as the “godmother of the women’s movement in Dallas,” was born on April 8, 1922, in Lindale, Texas, to William Clarence Anderson and Jessie Lee (Henderson) Anderson. She spent much of her childhood in Henderson County, Texas. She expressed an interest in journalism from a young age and later recalled about her early entry into the newspaper business in the small East Texas town of Larue: “When I was a kid, I used to run around the neighborhood and interview people and hand-write a little newspaper.” Castleberry’s father was a disabled World War I veteran who never fully recovered from exposure to toxic gas. Her father’s contention that “there are always better ways of solving human problem than killing each other,” led young Vivian to embrace pacifism and nurtured in her an interest in the lives of the disabled seen later in her journalism career.
In 1932 the family moved to Athens, Texas, where her father owned a dairy farm. In 1940 Vivian Anderson graduated as class valedictorian from Athens High School where she had been editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, a member of the debate team, and president of the student council. She received a scholarship to Southern Methodist University (SMU) and worked to pay for her books, lodging, and food. She began writing for the semiweekly Campus newspaper and worked her way up to features editor and then assistant editor. As a junior, she ran for editor and won the election but later surmised that she won because there was a shortage of male students due to World War II. She earned her bachelor’s degree from SMU.
Although Vivian Anderson met her future husband, Curtis Wales Castleberry, when they were in seventh grade, they did not date while in school. Instead, the pair became pen pals while he served in the United States Marines during World War II. On May 5, 1946, five months after their first date, Curtis and Vivian married. She later called her husband “the most liberated man in America,” because of his support of her journalism career and participation in raising their children. They had one son, who died in infancy, and five daughters.
Vivian Castleberry followed her husband to College Station, Texas, where the couple lived for three years as he finished his degree at what is now Texas A&M University. Lonely on the then all-male campus, she volunteered at the student newspaper, The Battalion. Initially, she answered the telephone, and later the newspaper supervisors let her edit some copy. Castleberry said that The Battalion was unique at the time because it was “also the official voice of the city of College Station.” She pushed to do a story on the student wives; the story led to a weekly column, and Castleberry was put on payroll and given a title. Her beat came to include coverage of city hall, visiting speakers, and the chancellor’s office. She was named the first editor of the women’s section in 1950–51, making her the second female editor at The Battalion. When her husband graduated, the paper gave her a certificate declaring her “Editor in Chief for Life of the Texas A&M Battalion. Curtis then took a job teaching agriculture in Burkeville, near the Texas-Louisiana border, for one year before the couple moved to Dallas.
In Dallas, Vivian Castleberry worked briefly as a writer for Petroleum Engineering Publishing Co. until she was approached about a job at the Dallas Times Herald. Castleberry believed that the Herald’s society editor, Doris Allen Dowell, who had been on her staff at the Campus at SMU, had initially recommended her for the position. Castleberry received a call from Bert Holmes, an editor of the Dallas Times Herald. Holmes had attended church with the Castleberry family. He told her, “There is a job down here that has your name on it; come down and apply for it.”
In 1956 Castleberry became the Herald’s women’s home furnishings editor. This marked the beginning of a twenty-eight-year career with the newspaper. She quickly concluded, “I didn’t want to write about things. I wanted to write about people. I knew women were interested in more than just fashion or cooking or what was happening at the country club. And I was right.”
Castleberry expanded the range of topics the Herald covered and broke new ground in the process. According to her own statement, she was the first journalist in the South to publish on breast cancer and the first in Dallas to write about child abuse, which she called “one of the best stories I ever covered.” She remembered being chastised for writing the abuse story as her male editors did not know about it before the story ran. She later admitted that they would not have allowed her story to run if they had known. She tackled a wide range of taboo topics, including domestic violence and marriage counseling. Her series documenting how physically-disabled people manage homemaking won her one of her first journalism awards. During the course of her career, she pioneered coverage of more than fifty topics.
She also insisted on highlighting events in the African American community. She pressured the Herald to publish the bridal announcements of black women but was initially rejected. In the early 1960s Castleberry continued asking to publish African American bridal announcements. After being confronted by a black bride’s mother, Castleberry wrote a five-page letter to Jim Chambers, the newspaper’s owner. The first grievance she cited was the issue of omitting announcements on black brides. She then listed multiple other problems that she felt needed addressing. In response to Castleberry’s long list of requests, Chambers acquiesced to her first demand and gave his approval to publish African American bridal announcements.
Castleberry considered herself and her staff as part of the second wave of the women’s movement in the United States. She was friends with Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Bella Abzug and commented, “We were all in that together.” When her choice of controversial topics concerned her bosses, they assigned a midlevel manager to screen all of her ideas. Castleberry recalled, “One day, he became so frustrated that he came to me and said, ‘I was put in this job to handle you.’ And I said, ‘Well, good luck. Better men than you have tried and failed.’” In the early 1970s, before the honorific “Ms.” was used at major American newspapers, Castleberry began offering female subjects their choice of being identified as “Miss,” “Ms.” or “Mrs.” After about a year, her editor informed her the Herald would no longer use “Ms.,” but eventually a new publisher agreed that journalists could use whatever term their female subjects preferred.
Castleberry balanced her family life and professional life, and during her final pregnancy, she took an unpaid maternity leave; she was the first woman on the newspaper granted to do so. Several years into her tenure at the Herald, she became the first female member of the newspaper’s editorial board and one of the first female editorial board members in the nation.
During her career, she won seventeen major journalism awards, including three United Press International awards, a State Headliners Award, two University of Missouri awards for overall excellence of women’s pages, a Southwestern Journalism Forum award, and from the Press Club of Dallas three Katie awards and the Buck Marryat Award for “outstanding contributions to communications.” She also interviewed seven First Ladies of the United States. Her research and writing fed her civic involvement, and she helped establish both the Dallas Rape Crisis Center and Recovery Inc., a support group for incest victims.
Castleberry retired from the Herald in 1984. Ten days later, she participated in a peace initiative to Russia which prompted her to found Peacemakers Incorporated, “an organization dedicated to empowering peacemakers, locally and globally, through education, communication and action.” She interviewed Russian entrepreneurs who trained in the United States and then returned to try to create a more democratic Russia. In August 1988 she chaired the Peacemakers Incorporated Global Peace international women’s conference which included 2,000 attendees from thirty-seven states and sixty-two countries. In 2006 she co-hosted Russian small business owners and female lawyers in Dallas for training on association-building and comparative law. She co-chaired the first Women’s Peace Initiative in Dallas.
Her other civic engagements included assisting in founding the Women’s Center of Dallas; the Women’s Issues Network; the Dallas Women’s Foundation; and the Family Place, Dallas’s shelter for victims of domestic violence and their children. She served on the second Texas Commission on the Status of Women (see GOVERNOR’S COMMISSION FOR WOMEN) and the first Dallas Commission on the Status of Women. She authored four books: Daughters of Dallas: A History of Greater Dallas Through the Voices and Deeds of Its Women (1994), Texas Tornado: The Autobiography of a Crusader for Women’s Rights and Family Justice (2003, with Louise Ballerstedt Raggio), Sarah—The Bridge Builder: Dowager of a Dallas Dynasty (2004), and Seeds of Success: How a Few Women Changed the Landscape of American Business (2006).
She is the namesake of the University of North Texas Castleberry Peace Institute and was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame in 1984, the year it was established. She received the Laurel Award from the American Association of University Women, a Women Helping Women Award from the Women’s Center of Dallas, and the Extra Mile Award from the Business and Professional Women’s Club. The Oak Cliff Lions Club honored her with the Bill Melton Humanitarian Award. The Association of Women Journalists established a scholarship in her honor in 1992. Southern Methodist University awarded her an honorary degree in 1999, and in 2000 the Association for Women Journalists in Dallas/Fort Worth established the Vivian Castleberry Awards in her honor.
An oral history interviewer once asked Castleberry what she was most proud of from her tenure at the Herald. She answered, “the Dallas Times Herald Women’s Panel”—a panel that she created to bring together a diverse group of twelve Dallas women who spoke about various issues and tried to solve problems. The annual July event continued for seventeen years. Castleberry summarized the panel’s significance: “right underneath the surface, women speak the same language… you put us together and we’re going to solve each other’s problems.”
Vivian Lou Anderson Castleberry was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012. On October 4, 2017, she died, at age ninety-five, of complications from the illness. Her husband of sixty-seven years had predeceased her. She was survived by her five daughters and numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren.