Hermine Dalkowitz Tobolowsky, activist attorney and "mother of the Texas E.R.A.," daughter of Maurice and Nora (Brown) Dalkowitz, was born in San Antonio, Texas, on January 13, 1921. She began her business experience as a teenager working in the family's dry-goods store, where her mother also worked. Her father, a Lithuanian immigrant, had observed some of the problems women had in their dealings with businessmen and urged his daughter-who had demonstrated a gift for argument and persuasion-to become a lawyer. Tobolowsky attended Incarnate Word College in 1938–39 and Trinity University in 1939–40 in San Antonio, completing her bachelor's degree requirements in only two years. She entered the University of Texas School of Law in 1943, one of only eleven women among the entering class of 350 and one of only two women in the class to graduate. When one law professor, she said, gave her a list of eligible bachelors so she would not have to take up space in the law school, she assured him she would be there on graduation day. She received her LL.B. degree with honors in 1943, graduating in the top ten of her class, and she was admitted to the Texas bar the same year. Tobolowsky refused a job offer from a large Houston law firm, whose recruiter informed her that clients would never see her and would be told her work had been done by a male attorney. She interviewed with the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court for a law clerk position, and he told her he did not believe any woman had sense enough to clerk in the Supreme Court. Instead, Tobolowsky went to work for the law firm Lang, Cross, Beard, and Ladon in San Antonio, but only on the condition that she be hired on the same terms as their male attorneys. She was with the firm for four years, then established her own practice. On August 19, 1951, she married Hyman Morris Tobolowsky, credit manager of E. M. Kahn Company department store in Dallas, where she moved her law practice and residence. They had no children, and he preceded her in death in 1968.
Beginning in the 1940s Tobolowsky became active in organizations fighting Texas laws that discriminated against women. The first cause she pursued was working to allow women to sit on juries, which was not legal in Texas until 1953. By 1959 she was president of the Texas Federation of Business and Professional Women and was legal counsel for the federation's national organization. She began to lobby the Texas legislature to change forty-four laws she had researched and identified as discriminatory. The first bill she caused to be introduced for the first time would have allowed women in Texas to control separate property owned by them at marriage or acquired by inheritance (seeSEPARATE PROPERTY LAW). The second would have eliminated separate acknowledgement of property deals by women, whose husbands were required to leave the room during closings while the sale was explained to them. Tobolowsky faced stiff opposition-including ridicule by several legislators-so she, as part of a coalition of women's groups, decided instead to champion a blanket equal rights amendment to the Texas constitution. The amendment was introduced in 1959 and was presented at every subsequent legislative session until it finally passed and was ratified by the voters on November 7, 1972. Tobolowsky became known as the mother of the Texas Equal Rights Amendment and traveled around the country lecturing, lobbying, and helping several other states ratify similar amendments. In addition to her work in getting the Texas E.R.A. passed, Tobolowsky was responsible for the repeal or amendment of approximately thirty-three discriminatory Texas laws and the passage of several other civil-rights laws, including laws extending the homestead exemption to singles and equal custodial rights to fathers. She was chosen Texas Women's Political Caucus woman of the year in 1975 and was inducted into the Texas Women's Hall of Fame in 1986. Tobolowsky died in Dallas on July 25, 1995.
The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.
Dallas Morning News, October 19, 1986. Dallas Times Herald, August 31, 1986. Natalie Ornish, Pioneer Jewish Texans (Dallas: Texas Heritage, 1989).
Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
Civil Rights, Civil, and Constitutional Law
Activism and Social Reform
Politics and Government
Texas Post World War II
Dallas/Fort Worth Region
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