Margaret Louise Swett Henson, Texas historian and author, daughter of William Claude and Clara (Kaufman) Swett, was born in Chicago, Illinois, on January 3, 1924. She grew up in suburban Glen Ellyn, graduated from Glenbard High School, and came to Texas to enter the University of Texas at Austin in September 1941. She interrupted her undergraduate work to marry a fellow student, W. A. “Bill” Nowotny, in 1943, and they had two daughters. Her first marriage ended in less than a decade, and on September 14, 1951, she married J. Scott Henson, with whom she had three sons.
Margaret and Scott Henson lived in McGehee, Arkansas, for nine years and in 1960 moved to Houston where she completed her bachelor’s degree two years later at the University of Houston. She taught history in the Houston Independent School District during the 1960s and earned her M.A. at the University of Houston in 1969. Continuing her graduate work at the same institution, she became one of the first women to earn a Ph.D. in history there in 1974. From 1975 to 1978, Henson worked as archivist for the Houston Metropolitan Archives Project and taught at several area community colleges. She joined the faculty at the University of Houston at Clear Lake in 1977 and held a position there until 1985.
Soon after completing her doctorate, Henson began publishing notable historical studies, most of which focused on southeastern Texas in the era of the Texas Revolution and Republic. The first, Samuel May Williams: Early Texas Entrepreneur (1976), won the Summerfield G. Roberts Award from the Sons of the Republic of Texas. She followed that study with another biography entitled Juan Davis Bradburn: A Reappraisal of the Mexican Commander at Anahuac (1982) and a family history, The Cartwrights of San Augustine: Three Generations of Agrarian Entrepreneurs in Nineteenth-Century Texas (co-written with Deolece Parmalee, 1993). Her last major publication was Lorenzo de Zavala: The Pragmatic Idealist (1996). Also, during the years of major publications, she wrote several local histories and journal articles and was very active with regional historical groups. She was a member of the Harris County Historical Commission from 1976 to 1992 and chaired its Historical Marker Committee from 1987 to 1990. Henson was president of the Harris County Historical Society in 1978. She served as an advisory editor for The New Handbook of Texas (1996) and wrote more than forty entries for that encyclopedia of Texas.
Henson received numerous honors in recognition of her work in Texas history. The city of Houston declared July 30, 1997, to be “Margaret S. Henson Day.” The Texas State Historical Association named her a “Fellow” in 1987 and elected her president of the association for 1997–98. The Tejano Association for Historical Preservation (a group that she helped found) hosted a special tribute to her in 1997. Margaret Swett Henson died in Houston on January 22, 2001, and is buried at the Memorial Oaks Cemetery in Houston.