Ruthe Winegarten

Austin author, historian dies at 74

Ruthe Winegarten saved stories of Texas women.

By Stephen Scheibal

AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Wednesday, June 16, 2004



Ruthe Winegarten's legacy will probably be the stories she saved about the women who made Texas. But for her friend Virginia Raymond, Winegarten's own impact was no less important.

Raymond remembers the Austin author sitting one day among a group of women, listening to each introduce herself politely, "careful not to hog the floor." Winegarten soon chastised them for their daintiness.

"We needed to know what work each other did, and not hang back or be modest out of some misguided politeness or anti-elitism," wrote Raymond, a doctoral student in the University of Texas English department. "At such moments, Ruthe wasn't the feminist ideal of my generation (concerned about process, solicitous, concerned about everyone's feelings . . .), but the older, ferocious, take-no-prisoners kind of feminist warrior who knew what we were up against."

Winegarten, an activist author who wrote 18 books focused mainly on Texas women's history, died Tuesday in Austin. She was 74.

Winegarten's influence and history ranged well beyond her writing. Among other projects, she worked as a research historian for the Texas Women's History Project, which former Gov. Ann Richards helped organize.

"Ruthe Winegarten was a scholar and an enormous influence on the history of Texas women," Richards said Tuesday. "Her commitment to having the stories of women's lives be a part of our history was a driving passion in her life. We owe her a debt for her work and her friendship."

Winegarten, born in Dallas in 1929, began her public life as an activist. She worked on the 1946 gubernatorial campaign of Homer Price Rainey, a former University of Texas president who was fired when he refused to censor liberal professors and texts.

Winegarten even briefly served as a poll tax collector, before the U.S. Supreme Court declared the poll tax unconstitutional. She went on to fight segregation and improve services in a neglected part of Dallas.

Having received a bachelor's degree in anthropology from UT, she helped lead Dallas' Jewish Welfare Federation and served as director of the Dallas Regional Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith office, pausing in between to earn a master's in social work from UT-Arlington.

She became a writer in the early 1970s, taking doctorate-level classes at UT-Dallas. She began collecting oral histories and then wrote books about black and Hispanic women in the state, as well as other groups that helped shape Texas' history without getting much attention from its historians.

"She was tireless in terms of trying to bring to light the histories of people and the lives of people who had been forgotten," said Theresa May, assistant director and editor-in-chief of the UT Press, Winegarten's publisher.

"I think she was the best kind of role model because she was never pushy or abrasive. She was just persistent . . . A very gentle woman but not one to be trifled with, either."

Winegarten's daughter, Debra Winegarten, said her mother had suffered from depression for several years before she died. The Travis County medical examiner's office said Tuesday that the cause of death appeared to be suicide.

She is survived by her children — Martha Wilson, Marc Sanders and Debra Winegarten — as well as her daughter-in-law Cynthia Huyser, brother Larry Lewin and numerous extended family members.

A memorial service will be at 10 a.m. Thursday at Mayfield Park, off 35th Street near Laguna Gloria.

Funeral Home

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Published in Austin American-Statesman on June 16, 2004