Willie Lee Dorothy Campbell Glass, home economist, educator, civic leader, college administrator, and philanthropist, was born to Mary Gertrude (Kennedy) Campbell and Edward John Campbell in Nacogdoches, Texas, on August 24, 1910. Her father was a school principal, and her mother was a history teacher. She attended Nacogdoches’s segregated high school for African Americans (later named for her father after his death in 1937), then completed a bachelor’s degree at Prairie View College (now Prairie View A&M University) in 1931.
Two years later, Glass completed a master’s degree in home economics education and became the one of seventh African American woman to earn a graduate degree in home economics at Iowa State College. As a Black student, she was not allowed to live on campus. Following graduation, she taught at Virginia State College for Negroes (later Virginia State University) in Petersburg, Virginia, and worked in the same department as fellow Prairie View A&M alumna Mary Evelyn Victoria Hunter, who is recognized as the first African American female student at Iowa State College and graduated in 1931 with the same degree as Glass. Due to a pulmonary health problem, Willie returned to Nacogdoches by 1935 and taught home economics at the local Black high school (seeEDUCATION AND AFRICAN AMERICANS). She later studied at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York.
Willie Campbell married Dominion Robert Glass, university president of Texas College, in Tyler, Texas, on August 10, 1936. She then moved to Tyler and established the home economics program at Texas College. As the wife of a college president, she frequently organized and hosted receptions and dinners for visiting representatives from other historically Black colleges and universities and the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (later Christian Methodist Episcopal Church). She also served as a sponsor for student events and organizations including the Texas College YWCA and Girl Scouts of America. In 1939, when undergraduate students established the Alpha Tau Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., she served as the chapter’s first assistant dean. She was also a founding member of the Gamma Omicron Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., established in March 1942. She remained active in the service organization throughout her life.
Glass was the director of the home economics department from 1936 to 1950. In an era of segregation, her teaching philosophy centered on building self-esteem with lessons of family and consumer sciences. Outside the classroom she often bought books and clothes for students and paid for travel when students could not afford expenses. As director she worked with rural education and victory-garden programs during World War II and established a day nursery on campus for local children of Black working families. Before she left, she raised funds for Texas College’s first home economics building, which opened in 1956 and was later named the Willie Lee Glass Building. In the summers of 1949 and 1950 she taught at Prairie View A&M College. During an era of civil rights strife, she encouraged students to vote by distributing poll tax applications to Tyler’s Black high schools and to students at Texas College on behalf of the Tyler League of Women Voters (seeELECTION LAWS). She also served on the Tyler Biracial Committee during the 1960s.
In 1950 Glass became the first Black area supervisor of the Home and Family Life Education Service of the Texas Education Agency. She consulted for the agency, even after the segregated agencies merged in 1967, until her retirement in 1974. During her tenure, she helped develop and monitored programs to assist African American teachers through school integration changes. Her efforts helped convince the TEA to hire more Black consultants. She also served as a state advisor of New Homemakers of America and eventually the Future Homemakers of America after the two national organizations integrated in 1965. That year the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs gave her the Sojourner Truth Award for her work.
In 1964 Glass and First Lady Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson were instrumental in the founding of Top Ladies of Distinction, Inc. (TLOD), a national humanitarian and mentor organization founded by Ozell Dean in Tyler, Texas. The group grew out of a White House luncheon hosted by Johnson to promote youth mentorship. Invited to attend, Glass asked Dean, a U. S. Air Force major and Texas College graduate, to attend as her representative and helped Dean establish the organization in Tyler after the luncheon.
After the death of her husband in 1968, Glass remained active on numerous boards and committees, including the Texas College Board of Trustees, Smith County’s Bicentennial Committee, the University of Texas at Tyler Health Center board of directors, the advisory board of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, and the state executive council of the Texas Home Economics Association. She contributed to HemisFair ‘68 fashion during Governor John Connally’s administration and was appointed to the Prairie View A&M Centennial Committee by Governor Preston Smith and the Texas State Board on Aging by governors Connally, Smith, Dolph Briscoe, and Mark White. Governor Briscoe also awarded her the honorary Commission of the Yellow Rose of Texas for exceptional community service, and under Governor White, she was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame with Ann Richards and Liz Carpenter in 1985. Glass also received a Distinguished Alumna Award from every college and university she attended and was awarded Woman of the Year by the Zonta Club of Tyler in 1985.
Willie Lee Glass died in Tyler, Texas, on May 2, 1999. Her funeral services were held in the Texas College gymnasium in Tyler and at St. Paul C. M. E. Church in Nacogdoches. Her services were conducted by Bishop Marshall Gilmore and Reverend Robert Gipson. She was buried at Cleaver Cemetery in Nacogdoches. Soon after her death, the Texas legislature and the U. S. House of Representatives passed honorary resolutions in recognition of her service and leadership. In 2000 Texas College dedicated the Willie Lee Glass Development Services Center in her honor. Her life was also the subject of a biography, A Psalm of Life: The Story of a Woman Whose Life Made a Difference, Willie Lee Campbell Glass (1998) by Patsy Spurrier Hallman, and her papers were donated to the East Texas Research Center at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches.
The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.
“Black History Month at Iowa State: Some Lesser-Known Pioneers,” Cardinal Tales: Blog of Special Collections and University Archives at Iowa State University, 2014 (https://isuspecialcollections.wordpress.com/tag/isu-african-american-students/), accessed July 16, 2021. Chicago Defender, March 11, 1933; November 15, 1941; December 27, 1941; January 16, 1943. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, October 2, 1985. “Glass, Willie Lee,” Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. Pioneering Sorors Open Doors Exhibit, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. (http://akapioneers.aka1908.com/index.php/component/mtree/vocations/education-1/public-private-school-administrator-k-12/333-glass-willie-lee), accessed July 14, 2021. Willie Lee Glass Collection, East Texas Research Center, Stephen F. Austin University, Nacogdoches, Texas. Rebecca W. Greer and Janie O. Kenner, “Willie Lee Glass: A Lady of Remarkable Influence,” Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal 37 (December 2008). Marshall News Messenger, August 12, 1993. Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel, February 3, 2018. Pittsburgh Courier (Pennsylvania), April 29, 1939; August 15, 1942; March 24, 1945; December 1, 1951; May 8, 1965. Tyler Courier-Times, September 29, 1963. Tyler Morning Telegraph, January 15, 1952; September 21, 1956; June 19, 1957; July 26, 1972; May 4, 5, 6, 1999; February 7, 2016; January 1, 2000; November 11, 2000.
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