Clarke, Mary Emma Whatley Dunbar (1899–1990)

By: Cissy Stewart Lale

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1994

Updated: October 14, 2020

Mary Whatley Clarke, western historian, country newspaper editor, and reporter, was born at Palo Pinto, Texas, on June 11, 1899, to Cephas Vachel and Narcissa Isabella (Abernathy) Whatley, Palo Pinto County pioneers. After her graduation from Mineral Wells High School, she taught in a private plantation school near Fort Gaines, Georgia. She later taught public school near Hobbs, New Mexico. She attended New Mexico State Normal in the summer of 1921. That year she married James Coleman Dunbar, publisher of the Norwood Press in Winnipeg, Canada. When Dunbar died in 1923, his widow became publisher of the paper. Although she had no previous newspaper experience, she learned the business well enough to publish the paper successfully for four years. In 1927 she sold the Press and purchased the Palo Pinto County Star in Palo Pinto, Texas.

The Palo Pinto weekly was a one-woman operation. Mary Dunbar wrote all the stories and editorials, sold advertising, managed the business operation, and supervised the press. During that time she was elected president of the West Texas Press Association, the first female so honored.

In 1943 she married Albany (Texas) banker Joe Clarke; they had one daughter. They moved to Fort Worth in 1946, when Clarke became executive vice president of the Fort Worth National Bank. Mary Clarke's first book was Palo Pinto Story (1956),a history of her native Palo Pinto County. It was followed by Texas Sunbonnets, a collection of her columns for the Palo Pinto Star published by the author in 1956. Her other books include David G. Burnet (1969); Chief Bowles and the Texas Cherokees (1971); A Century of Cow Business, a history of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association published in 1977 to commemorate the organization's hundredth anniversary; The Slaughter Ranches and Their Makers (1979); and John Chisum, Jingle Bob King of the Pecos (1984), her final book. In addition, she edited Life in the Saddle by Frank Collinson (1963).

She also wrote 166 feature-length articles for the Cattleman magazine, published by the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. The articles, published between 1943 and 1982, established her unique position as a woman writer on ranching and ranchers. For many years, she also wrote a monthly column for the magazine published by Fort Worth Children's Hospital, where she spent thousands of hours as a volunteer.

Mary and Joe Clarke were among the organizers of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth and the Jewel Charity Ball, which has raised more than $9 million for Cook-Fort Worth Children's Medical Center. The Clarkes traveled extensively, and Mary usually managed to include some type of cattle-raising operations in their itinerary. The Clarkes were on the maiden voyage of the Andrea Doria, the Italian luxury liner that later collided with a Swedish ship and sank in the Atlantic. Mary Clarke prized a commemorative cup and saucer marking the ship's maiden voyage. Regardless of their many trips, Mary and Joe Clarke always managed to be in Texas for the annual convention of the Cattle Raisers Association. Don C. King, secretary-general of the association for many years, recalled: "Mary Clarke was an institution at our convention with her pad and pencil, ready smile and quiet grace." She died on July 8, 1990, in Fort Worth. Joe Clarke died in 1971.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 9, 1990. Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Southwestern Collection, April 1991.

  • Journalism
  • Newspapers
  • Editors and Reporters
  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Women
  • Historians
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Fort Worth
  • North Texas

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

Cissy Stewart Lale, “Clarke, Mary Emma Whatley Dunbar,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 17, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994
October 14, 2020

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: