May Dickson Exall, civic leader, was born on August 14, 1859, in McKinney, Texas, to Joseph J. and Sarah (Epperson) Dickson. She attended Vassar College and lived in various places in Texas, including Clarksville and Galveston, before moving to Dallas in 1883. She married Henry Exall on November 9, 1887; they had one son. Mrs. Exall was president of the Dallas Shakespeare Club, one of the state's first women's clubs, from its organization in 1886 until her death. In 1869 she organized the Dallas Federation of Women's Clubs to unite and direct the efforts of Dallas women towards the establishment of a public library. She was the first president (1898–99) of the federation, and she also served as president of the Dallas Library Association and of its board of trustees. Upon her entreaty Andrew Carnegie donated $50,000 to the fund-raising effort. In 1897 she helped form the Texas Federation of Women's Literary Clubs, which later became the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs. She was instrumental in the formation of the Dallas Woman's Club in 1922 and served as its third president. She also helped organize and establish the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts (now the Dallas Museum of Art). She served on the committee for the Robert E. Lee memorial statue, unveiled in 1936 with President Franklin Roosevelt in attendance. She was a Presbyterian and a charter member of the YWCA. Upon the fiftieth anniversary of her presidency, the Dallas Shakespeare Club commissioned her portrait by Douglas G. Chandor. After a long illness, Mary Exall died at her home in Dallas on September 28, 1936.
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The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.
Biographical Files, Dallas Public Library. John William Leonard, Women's Who's Who of America (New York: American Commonwealth, 1914).
Museums, Libraries, and Archives
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Dallas/Fort Worth Region
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Joan J. Perez,
“Exall, May Dickson,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 16, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
September 16, 2019
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: