Margaret Parx Hays, U.S. Foreign Service officer and first woman mayor of Gainesville, Texas, daughter of Parx Orr Hays and Ianna Bertha (Jones) Hays, was born on November 3, 1912, in Gainesville, Texas. The youngest of three children, Hays graduated from Newsome Dougherty Memorial High School of Gainesville in 1929. She graduated from Gainesville Junior College in 1930, and in 1931 received her bachelor of arts degree in business administration from North Texas State College (now the University of North Texas). At North Texas State, Hays was a member of the Junior Stewards, the Green Jackets, and a literary organization known as the Mary Arden Club. She also served as president of the academic honor society Pi Omega Pi. After graduating, she remained at the college as staff in the registrar’s office. She eventually became secretary to the dean of NTSTC. She took a leave of absence in 1938 to pursue her master’s degree in education at the University of Michigan.
In a May 25, 1942, letter to the Foreign Service Section of the U. S. State Department, Hays wrote that she was “interested in securing a position with the war effort,” and inquired whether there might be a need for someone with her professional skills in the Foreign Service. She was approved for employment as a code clerk and in September of 1942 arrived in Washington, D.C., for training and to await her first assignment. On November 19, 1942, she received official word that she would be assigned to the American embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, authorized by Assistant Secretary of State G. Howland Shaw. Hays was one of 800 women employed in the clerical staff of the Foreign Service Office at the time. From 1942 to January 1945 she served as a cryptographic clerk in Buenos Aires. She left the service briefly to teach shorthand at North Texas State College during the Spring 1945 semester. In December 1945 Hays re-entered the service as a part of the Foreign Service Auxiliary and served as Vice Consul in Bogota, Colombia, until December 1947 and in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, from March 1948 through September 1950. She was assigned to the State Department in Washington, D.C., from January 1951 through May 1954. She was assigned to the American embassy in Manila, Philippines, in July 1954, and during this assignment she passed her oral examinations and became a commissioned officer in the Foreign Service. At the time, in 1955, she was one of only 125 women officers in the Foreign Service.
After becoming an officer, Hays served as Consul in Manila, where she was chief of the passport unit, until August 1956 and, from December 1956 through December 1958, as Consul in Mexico City, Mexico, where she was assistant chief of the visa unit and chief of the passport unit. In June 1959 she was assigned to Washington, D.C., where she held multiple positions, including Assistant Chief of the Latin American Branch of the Passport Office, until June 1962. In August 1962 she was assigned as Consul and chief of the citizenship and passport unit in Hong Kong, at that time still under British colonial control. She remained at that post until her retirement in July 1964.
In 1966 Hays returned to her hometown of Gainesville, Texas, and became heavily involved in the fight to preserve the 1884 building that formerly housed the Gainesville city hall, jail, and fire department. In 1966 she founded the Cooke County Heritage Society and from 1966 to 1971 served as president and, in her own words, she was “instrumental in attracting the interest of philanthropist Granville C. Morton, who donated funds for renovation of the ‘old fire station’ for use as Morton Museum of Cooke County, which was opened on December 7, 1968.” The building became a recorded Texas Historical Landmark the same year. From 1973 to 1978 she made additional contributions to her community by working as a counselor at the Cooke County Mental Health Clinic.
In 1981 Margaret Parx Hays made Gainesville history of her own when she was the first woman elected as mayor. During her time as mayor, aside from managing the day-to-day business of the town, she celebrated the transfer of the Gainesville’s Santa Fe Depot from the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway Company to the city of Gainesville. Hays had worked tirelessly with her predecessor, Mayor Glenn Loch, to orchestrate the transfer of the then-vacant historical building to the city. Hays also was integral in Gainesville’s acceptance to Texas’s Main Street Program. Begun in 1980 and overseen by the Texas Historical Commission, the Main Street Program aims to help towns revitalize their downtown districts with a focus on historical preservation.
In 1983 Hays ran for re-election but lost by a large margin. Although she left the political arena, she continued to contribute to the community by serving in various positions with the Morton Museum she helped found, including as board member, vice president, a second term as president, and museum director. In her role as director of the museum, she organized educational classes to engage both children and adults from the community. In a newspaper interview circa 1984 she was quoted as saying, “when young people become interested with the history of their family and community they become another ‘spark’ which keeps history alive.”
Margaret Parx Hays eventually moved from Gainesville to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, by 2002 to be closer to family, and she died there on May 8, 2008. By that time Hays had left her own mark on history and was recognized in the record of the 107th U.S. Congress by Texas Representative Ralph M. Hall, who noted that Hays’s efforts with regard to the Santa Fe Depot “not only saved an historically significant building but helped make the community aware of an important part of their history.” Shortly before her death, a residence hall at North Central Texas College was named after her, and it remains Hays Hall today. As her obituary noted, “Her passing marks the end of an era in Gainesville, but her legacy lives on in the buildings she helped to preserve, the history she saved from being lost, and the people she mentored to follow in her footsteps.” Hays attempted to ensure that her passion for history and education would continue beyond her, as she left a $90,000 bequest to the Cooke County Heritage Society for the maintenance of the Morton Museum and a $50,000.00 bequest to North Central Texas College to be used for scholarships. She was buried in Fairview Cemetery in Gainesville.