Wilcox, Laura Sophia (1844–1929)


By: Lorie Campese

Type: Biography

Published: July 11, 2017


Laura Sophia Wilcox (known to many as “Miss Laura”), public school teacher for more than sixty years, daughter of Henry and Almira (also spelled Elmira and Elmina) Wilson Bowles Bowen Wilcox, was born at Shoal Point (later Texas City), Galveston County, Texas, on November 29, 1844. Her mother was a grandniece of Henry Smith, who was active in early Texas politics. Almira’s first husband was Rhode Island native Sylvester Bowen, who fought and was wounded at the battle of Velasco. He died in 1837. Almira inherited land in Galveston County that was given to Bowen as payment for service in the Texas Revolution. This land was homesteaded by Almira and her second husband, Henry Wilcox (originally of Rockbridge County, Virginia) until his death by yellow fever in 1853. Wilcox had other property in Brazoria/Galveston County and in Gonzales County. After the loss of her husband and the death of their child Emma (also from yellow fever), Almira Wilcox took her four youngest children to Brenham to be near her brother, Henry Bowles, who owned a ranch in the area.

Laura Wilcox attended Baylor Female College at Independence, Texas, from 1859 to 1861, when she earned her diploma. Upon her graduation, she lived in the home of her college sponsor family, John and Elizabeth Lauderdale of Brenham. Elizabeth Lauderdale was the younger sister of Almira Wilcox. Laura Wilcox’s mother Almira died from yellow fever in 1862, and Laura’s sisters, Julia and Mary, joined her in the Lauderdale home. The 1870 census listed Laura and Julia as being “without” occupations.

At some point during the 1870s Laura Wilcox secured a teaching position in San Antonio. She moved to San Marcos in 1875. For the school year 1879 (possibly before that), she was employed at the privately-owned Coronal Institute of San Marcos and was listed as a member of the literary department. After a few years, she taught at the public “graded” school and high school in San Marcos. By 1880 her widowed sister-in-law, Fannie Wilcox, was in San Marcos with her young son, Walter Jr, and keeping a house where Laura had a room.

Wilcox took a leading role in teacher training and administration of standards and was part of the San Marcos school board of trustees and assistant to its superintendent. At the public school, she was principal of “building No. 2.” Hays County required ongoing teacher training in the form of Hays County Teachers Institute. Wilcox presented “methods” lectures and worked on arranging programs for that institute.

Never married, “Miss Laura” was active in cultural events and San Marcos social life. For example, with the advent of the nationwide Chautauqua cultural and spiritual movement in the 1880s, she served in various capacities when San Marcos hosted sessions held at Chautauqua Hill (now part of Texas State University). She earned commendation for the beautified grounds. Wilcox was among the citizens that formed the “Hays County Exposition Society to make arrangements to have the county and town represented at the New Orleans Exposition in December” in 1884. Wilcox also helped with the activities of the annual Confederate reunion of the Thirty-sixth (also referred to as the Thirty-second) Texas Cavalry, Woods Regiment, which was held in San Marcos in July 1886.

About 1900 Wilcox relocated to Marfa, Texas, in Presidio County, where she taught school. Her nephew, Walter Jr. (Marfa’s first fire chief) brought his young family to Marfa as well. General Land Office records show that beginning in 1905, Laura Wilcox purchased tracts of 320 acres and 640 acres of Dedicated School Fund lands in Presidio County. She made improvements such as the construction of a fourteen-foot-by-sixteen-foot adobe house and several miles of wire fencing. She also grazed a few head of cattle on this land. Wilcox made the fifteen-mile round trip by horse and buggy to Marfa as often as necessary to teach school to earn the money to pay the interest on her property. The land became hers on April 24, 1908. In 1913 she sold her property and moved back “home” to newly-incorporated Texas City where she taught public school until she retired due to illness at age eighty-two.

Laura Sophia Wilcox succumbed to complications from a fall and died on June 7, 1929. A funeral service was held at Central Methodist Church in Galveston, and she was laid to rest at Galveston Memorial Park Cemetery in Hitchcock, Texas.

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Big Bend Sentinel, June 27, 1929. San Marcos Free Press, August 23, 1879; August 21, 1884; June 27, 1889; April 10, 1890.

Categories:
  • Education
  • Educators
  • General Education
  • Women
Time Periods:
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
  • Progressive Era

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Lorie Campese, “Wilcox, Laura Sophia,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 01, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/wilcox-laura-sophia.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

July 11, 2017

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: