Edwards Hall, Frances Leta Exum (1908–2007)


By: Rebecca Matthews

Type: Biography

Published: May 1, 2021

Updated: May 1, 2021


Frances Leta Exum Edwards Hall was the owner and manager of the Dr Pepper bottling plant in Amarillo, Texas, from 1952 to 1965, a time when few women held either position in this male-dominated industry. The second youngest of eight children, Frances Leta Exum was born to James Lafayette and Mabelle (Williams) Exum in Jones County, Texas, on February 3, 1908. The Exums were farmers. They moved from Jones County to the Panhandle in 1911 and eventually settled in Wheeler County in 1916. Frances grew up on a farm near Kelton, Texas. In 1922 her family moved to nearby Shamrock, Texas, where she joined the Baptist Church and attended Shamrock High School.

In 1923 she married James Peter Jackson “Jack” Edwards and moved to Amarillo, Texas, where Jack Edwards was in the bottling business with his father, William Sandy Edwards, and his brother, Martin Van Buren Edwards. The Edwards family had previously had a bottling business in Salida, Colorado, in the 1890s, then opened the Whistle Bottling Company across the street from the Amarillo train depot in 1918. By 1926 they had changed locations and the company name to the Edwards Bottling Company. Already distributors of various types of soda water, the company began bottling Dr Pepper in 1927. According to Frances Edwards Hall, the Dr Pepper Company did not sell franchises until 1925, and the Amarillo plant was one of the first ten plants to bottle Dr Pepper in the nation (see SOFT-DRINK INDUSTRY).

Frances took over the Edwards Bottling Company when her husband died of cancer on September 17, 1952. At the time of his death, he was the sole owner and operator of the bottling plant, and she took care of the couple’s three children: a daughter, Frances Joyce Edwards, and two sons, James Ronald and Robert Sandy Edwards. She knew nothing about the business. She did not even know how to use a multi-line business phone. Six months before Jack Edwards’s death, he turned over plant operations to Frances’s nephew, who then trained her during a three-week period following Jack’s funeral. She was one of the first and remains one of the few women to work in the male-dominated world of the bottling industry.

Though Frances Edwards had no prior business experience, she managed not only to successfully run the plant, but she also improved the business in a short time. The first documented mention of her success was when the Amarillo plant received a 100 percent production efficiency rating from the Dr Pepper Company in 1955. In 1956 the plant underwent extensive remodeling because sales consistently outstripped production. Frances oversaw the cosmetic renovations, both inside and out, and the installation of new bottling equipment, which more than doubled production. She also supervised eight plant employees, seven salesmen, and three area supervisors. That year the Amarillo plant also earned the Per Capita Award from the Dr Pepper Company, an award that recognized the Amarillo plant as one of the top plants in the nation in sales per potential customers in an area.

In 1958 Frances’s son, Robert “Bob” Edwards, joined her in the business full-time. Both her sons had worked at the plant during their time off from school. Ronald Edwards eventually moved on to other endeavors, but Bob Edwards made a life-long career in the soft drink industry.

Under Frances’s leadership, the plant continued to prosper. Amarillo won a 100% Production Award from the Dr Pepper Company in 1959 for effective quality control. In January 1962 the Amarillo plant earned the President’s Award in recognition of their sales increases. Dr Pepper president Wesby R. Parker praised the business for “a well-rounded advertising schedule” and for “having soundly applied the basics of the soft drink industry for a period of time and for taking advantage of every opportunity to further develop its operational and marketing procedures.” On several occasions the industry journal praised the Amarillo plant for successful and innovative ways of attracting new vendors and new consumers to the product.

Frances Edwards married Robert Lee Hall in 1961, after which she professionally went by Frances Edwards Hall. In 1962 the plant underwent its second renovation under her management. This time Edwards Hall added a 6,000-square-foot addition of warehouse space to the plant. According to Frances, she was a generous but somewhat uncompromising manager who allowed no cursing on the premises. She once sent home someone who was installing equipment because he cussed; then she called the company and demanded they send someone else to finish the job. A staunch Baptist, Edwards Hall credited her success to God and once claimed that “you can’t take a woman out of the kitchen and put her in a business, and it run and increase in volume and financially if God didn’t help her.”

Edwards Hall sold the Dr Pepper plant in 1965 for an amount that she estimates was three times what the plant was worth when she took it over. Eight years later the plant was sold to Coca Cola, which closed the plant in 1995 to become a distribution center.

Frances Edwards Hall’s second husband died on September 14, 1988. At the age of ninety-nine, Frances Edwards Hall died in Hallettsville, Texas, on May 5, 2007. Her body was interred at Hallettsville City Cemetery.

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Amarillo Globe News, May 6, 2007. Dr Pepper Clock Dial (Dallas, Texas), July/August 1956; September/October 1956; March/April 1962. J. Ron Edwards, Interview by Rebecca Matthews, October 16, 2014. Robert Edwards, Interview by Rebecca Matthews, February 26, 2015. Frances Edwards Hall, Interview by Rebecca Carnes, November 24, 1980, Panhandle-Plains Museum Archive, Canyon, Texas. Karen Wright, The Road to Dr Pepper, Texas: The Story of Dublin Dr Pepper (Abilene: State House Press, 2006).

Categories:
  • Business
  • Food Related
  • Women
Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II
Places:
  • Panhandle Region
  • Amarillo

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

Rebecca Matthews, “Edwards Hall, Frances Leta Exum,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/edwards-hall-frances-leta-exum.

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May 1, 2021
May 1, 2021

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