Durden, Mattie Ella Holman (1881–1972)

By: Olive D. Brown

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1994

Mattie Durden, black teacher and community leader, daughter of Silas and Eliza (Richardson) Holman, was born in Refugio, Texas, on July 18, 1881, the elder of two children. Her brother, Sidney, died in United States military service in 1906. Her education began in Refugio in a one-room, ungraded, one-teacher school, where the curriculum consisted of reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, and a little history, with no provision for further training. At age fifteen she applied for admission to Tillotson Collegiate and Normal Institute in Austin and was accepted. Examinations for grade placement put her in the fifth grade, but through diligent study and reexamination she placed in the eighth grade. Financial difficulties necessitated her leaving Tillotson after two years. At age eighteen she took a county teachers' examination, passed, acquired a teaching certificate, and began teaching in Refugio County. After several years' teaching she returned to Tillotson to continue her education. There she met George Franklin Durden, a student from East Texas. They were married in 1902 in Corpus Christi, where her family had moved. They had two children. Both Durdens reentered Tillotson, and Mattie completed the normal course in 1909. By this time Tillotson had been chartered as a college. Mrs. Durden applied to the collegiate department and, because of her excellent record, became the first married woman to be admitted. She was also the first female graduate of the department. She pursued further education at Tillotson and Samuel Huston colleges (1926–27 and 1928–29), Tuskegee Institute (summer, 1930), and the University of California at Los Angeles (summer, 1946), as well as in short courses at other institutions.

Tillotson College employed her as matron and teacher of high school subjects and sewing from 1911 to 1917. She was subsequently employed by the Austin public schools as the first head of the home economics department at Anderson High School, on Pennsylvania Avenue. She was the first lunchroom supervisor for Anderson and later for Kealing Junior High. She organized the first New Homemakers of America chapter at the school. Mrs. Durden was an active figure in the organization of the Howson Nursery School and the operation of the first well-child clinic for black children at Rosewood Housing Project, which had begun at the Howson Community Center on Angelina Street and was called the Angelina Conference. Subsequently, it was named the M. E. Durden Well-Baby Conference by the Well-Baby Conferences of Austin, under the auspices of the Austin-Travis County Public Health Department. Mattie Durden was president of the board of trustees of the Community Welfare Association (1929–47), a committee member of the East Austin Young Women's Christian Association, a board member of the Central YWCA, and chairman of drives for the Red Cross and United Fund. She was also a member of the Austin Community Council and the Adult Services Council and director of summer vocational programs at various centers where black women could learn sewing, food preservation, and infant care. Her other affiliations included membership on the board of trustees of Tillotson College (1940–52), which she served as secretary for ten years. She signed the charter for the merger of Tillotson and Samuel Huston colleges into Huston-Tillotson College in 1952. She served also as a member of the Nursery School Board of Ebenezer Baptist Church. She was the "token" first representative of black involvement in many community affairs.

She retired as counselor and dean of girls from the Austin public schools on July 18, 1951, after which she became a member of the executive board of the Austin Retired Teachers Association. She died on October 18, 1972, in Austin. Her husband preceded her in death in 1951. Their daughter, Olive, became a teacher and a professional librarian and was employed by the St. Louis (Missouri) public schools (1930–41) as the first black professional librarian in the system. She served as head librarian at Huston-Tillotson College from 1941 to 1975. The Union Building at Huston-Tillotson is named for Matthew S. Davage and Mattie Durden.

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

Olive D. Brown, “Durden, Mattie Ella Holman,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 20, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/durden-mattie-ella-holman.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: