Mary Elizabeth Hudspeth, professor and college administrator, was born to Henry Street and Ann Elizabeth (Royal) Hudspeth at Monticello, Arkansas, in 1874. Moving to Texas failed to improve Ann Hudspeth's frail health, and after her death Mary assumed maternal responsibilities for the six other children. Over the next several years the Hudspeths lived on the frontier of West Texas and in Sonora, Mexico. Later they moved to San Antonio, where Mary's father worked as a policeman. From these early experiences Mary developed an understanding of young people and an interest in Hispanic culture. She attended Baylor University and received her B.A. degree from the University of Nashville and her M.A. degree from George Peabody College for Teachers. Further studies took her to the University of California, the University of Chicago, and Columbia University. Coursework at the University of Mexico enhanced her appreciation for that country's culture. She became fluent in Spanish and an expert in Spanish literature and the history and geography of Latin America. She also taught German and Latin. From 1905 to 1907 she taught at Colorado City, from 1907 to 1909 at Rusk College, and for a year at El Paso High School.
In 1910 she was invited to join the faculty at the newly founded West Texas State Normal College (now West Texas A&M University) at Canyon. There she taught mathematics with Dean L. G. Allen, who chaired that department. Her concern for young people soon made her a favorite among the students, and in 1917 President Robert Bartow Cousins selected her to be the college's first dean of women. In the days before campus dormitories, Mary Hudspeth housed students at her spacious ten-bedroom residence, which was often the scene of college social functions. Always a gracious hostess, she was sometimes referred to as "Queen Mary" by President Cousins. In 1925 she retired from her administrative duties to devote more time to teaching and spent that summer studying in Mexico. She was made chairman of the modern language department, and in that capacity she spent a year at the University of Madrid, where she completed work equivalent to the Ph.D. requirements; however, that degree could not be granted without further residence in Spain. In 1940 she was one of a select group of teachers of Spanish invited to study at the University of San Marcos in Lima, Peru, as a guest of the Peruvian government.
She was known throughout the state for her commitment to teaching and scholarship. She was a member of the First Baptist Church in Canyon and was involved in the campus YWCA program. She died in an Amarillo hospital on August 17, 1943, and was buried in Ozona. In her honor a group of her former students gave the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum its first art gallery, the Mary E. Hudspeth Art Room. Mary E. Hudspeth Hall, a women's dormitory on the West Texas State University campus, was named in her honor.
The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.