ABILENE, Texas (BigCountryHomepage.com) – As Women’s History Month wraps up, there are still a few women who made history right here in Abilene to be celebrated. From women’s suffrage and reproductive rights, all the way to breaking boundaries as first of their kinds to hold a certain coveted position… Abilene women have paved the way for those who may come next.

Here are some of our most influential history-makers:

This list is in alphabetical order

Dorothy Drones

With more than 50 years of community involvement, the name “Dorothy Drones” has become a household name across the Big Country.

Drones made Abilene history in October 2021, when she officially became the first woman of color to hold the title President at the Abilene Woman’s Club (AWC).

The Abilene Woman’s Club is celebrating their first Black president – Dorothy Drones.

This Abilene philanthropist told Big Country Homepage she looks at her presidency for the AWC as progress.

“I believe my presidency is really a demonstration of the progress that the Abilene Woman’s Club has made, in many ways… This is an opportunity for other women to see how the Abilene Woman’s Club embraces diversity.”

Dorothy Drones, President of the Abilene Woman’s Club

Drones said her theme for the 2021-2022 year as president for the AWC: Continuing to move forward together.

“We’ve come a long way, but the journey isn’t over,” Drones said about diversity in the AWC.

Drones’ resume is a long and honorable one. She began working at West Texas Medical Center in 1969, which eventually became Abilene Regional Medical Center, and was later merged and renamed “Hendrick Medical Center South.” Drones retired in 2019, after more than 49 years of service to the hospital.

She continues to serve on multiple boards and committees across the City of Abilene, and even developed a scholarship program in 2006, for students entering college. She was also recently presented with the Odis Dolton Good Neighbor Award, by Mayor Anthony Williams in his State of the City address.

Originally from Sedalia, Missouri, Drones was instilled with pride in her work at a very early age. She said her grandparents, who raised her, made sure of this and continue to inspire her to today.

“[My grandparents] inspired me to believe in myself, to work hard, be committed, be dedicated to whatever… They told me, ‘whatever job you have, do the very best that you can.'”

The Abilene Woman’s Club hosts luncheons every first and third Friday of the month. Click here to learn more.

“The Abilene Woman’s Club is open and ready to embrace,” Drones exclaimed.

Patsy Powell Duncan

A true pioneer for women in education, Patsy Powell Duncan was the first woman to ever hold the title of Vice President at Abilene Christian University (ACU).

Duncan was born in Archer City, Texas, about two hours north of Abilene. Her obituary detailed her graduating with honors from Childress High School in 1942, where she would later teach. From there, Duncan made her way to Abilene and ACU, earning a degree in Dramatic Arts in 1946. Then, a Master’s degree in Education from West Texas State University in 1955.

(Abilene Christian University) Patsy Powell Duncan, class of ’46

According to an ACU Remembers article, which lovingly referred to the dedicated educator as ‘effervescent,’ Duncan joined the university after an impressive teaching career within Amarillo ISD in 1985, as an estate planning counselor. In 1988, she became Vice President of Development. Duncan retired in 1995.

Along with serving ACU, Duncan held offices in numerous organizations, including the Abilene Woman’s Club and Women for ACU.

After retiring, Duncan eventually made her way back to Amarillo. She passed away days before her 85th birthday in 2010.

Duncan’s legacy in Abilene will continue to live on, and even inspired many other women who followed in her footsteps.

Dr. Sandra Harper

Much like the legacy of Vice President Duncan, Dr. Sandra Harper was the first woman to serve full time as President of an Abilene university. That university being McMurry.

According to her McMurry University profile, President Dr. Harper made Abilene history in 2013. Before that, she was president at a Louisiana college, Vice President at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi between 1998 and 2006, and other great academic offices.

Dr. Harper was familiar with the Big Country before beginning her presidency. Between 1985 and 1995, she worked in the communication and theatre department at McMurry University.

(McMurry University) President Dr. Sandra S. Harper

“It feels great to be coming back to McMurry and the Abilene community!”

Dr. Sandra Harper, President, McMurry University

“It feels great to be coming back to McMurry and the Abilene community,” said Dr. Harper in her 2013 McMurry News welcome newsletter. “It is exhilarating to see faculty colleagues, former students who have become successful alumni, and staff members loyal to this institution. All of these things make for an extremely exciting opportunity.”

Since returning to Abilene almost nine years ago, Dr. Harper has served on multiple boards and organizations- including Abilene’s Chamber of Commerce, Historic Paramount Theater Board of Directors and more.

Rev. Felicia Hopkins

In connection to Abilene’s historic St. Paul United Methodist Church, Reverend Felicia Hopkins made history within the church twice over in 2013.

Not only was Rev. Hopkins the first woman to be named a senior pastor, but she was also the first woman of color to lead the church, according to a Spirit of Abilene article.

(NWTX Conference Abilene District Office United Methodist Church) Reverend Felicia Hopkins

For six years, this reverend’s preaching style was one to be seen at St. Paul’s.

Originally from Buffalo, New York, Rev. Hopkins made her way to Abilene in 2013, after several other stops around the south, and left in 2019 to pursue her station as Superintendent of the Amarillo District of the Northwest Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church (NWTX of UMC Amarillo). When George Price, Superintendent of the Abilene District, retired in 2021, the post was offered to Rev. Hopkins.

Rev. Hopkins also had impressive careers in the military as well as the corporate world.

As a soldier, Hopkins worked as a trauma chaplain and ministered to thousands in Germany, during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

As Superintendent of the Abilene District of the Northwest Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, Hopkins oversees churches across Abilene belonging to the United Methodist Church.

The Northwest Texas Annual Conference 2022 will be held June 16 in Lubbock at the Overton Hotel. Click here to learn more and register.

Laura Jewel Davis Scarborough

It’s easy to get swept away by all the pioneer work of our trail-blazing women of today, but one true Abilene pioneer could not be left out. Laura Jewel Davis Scarborough is known as an Abilene civic leader, as well as Abilene’s Mother of Recreation. For reference, Abilene was established in March of 1881.

Born in Pittsburg, Texas in 1887, just 75 miles east of Texarkana, Scarborough (née Davis) put education above all else. She achieved her first Bachelor’s degrees from Wesleyan College at 17, and her second from the University of Texas at 20 years old- the youngest in her class.

This photograph of Laura Jewel Davis Scarborough is part of the collection entitled: Abilene Library Consortium and was provided by the McMurry University Library to The Portal to Texas History, a digital repository hosted by the UNT Libraries. Photographed by: Thurman’s Studio (1950-1968)

After her time at UT Austin, the young woman moved to Abilene in 1907. A year later, she married local attorney, 26-year-old Dallas Scarborough. He would later be called “Mayor Scarborough,” between 1919 and 1923. Alongside her husband, she raised two sons who also went on to practice law in the Big Country, according to the Texas State Historical Association.

Educated and headstrong, Scarborough was called a prime mover in forming the Taylor County chapter of the Equal Suffrage Association, the Abilene Young Women’s Christian Association and several more.

At the age of 33, Scarborough was allowed to vote for the first time ever. Two years later in 1922, she got to be a delegate to the National Democratic Convention.

In addition to her accomplishments for Abilene, Scarborough was also the first woman to be elected as County Party Chairman.

Come 1935, Scarborough created a supervised play program for children.

Scarborough wrote a four-volume family history in 1951, called Southern Kith and Kin: A Record of My Children’s Ancestors. What was then known as McMurry College gave Scarborough an honorary doctor of humane letters degree, and housed the Scarborough Genealogical Library in 1964.

Abilene’s first park was established in 1956, through the help of the Scarboroughs. It was originally named the Hartford Park, but was renamed for Dallas later on, according to History of Abilene, Texas Parks. Now, Scarborough Park is a family favorite, complete with a splash pad.

Abilene’s Mother of Recreation was dubbed as such in 1961, by the National Recreation Association.

Laura Jewel Davis Scarborough passed away in the Fall of 1968, at the age of 81. Her work and memory lives on in the heart of Abilene, as many other women take from her example.

Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs) of West Texas

Even though this is actually a collection of women from outside of Abilene, they are all highly important to the history of women in the Big Country, as well as the United States of America.

Sweetwater was home to the first all-female military flight-training base in American history, beginning its program in the Summer of 1942. Two programs, Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron and Women’s Flying Training Detachment, were founded by Nancy Love and Jacqueline Cochran.

According to the National Women Air Force Service Pilots World War II Museum, the program began after Pearl Harbor was attacked and trained male pilots were difficult to come by.

Between the Winters of 1942 and 1944, more than 1,100 women, between the ages of 18 and 35, were trained in Houston, then moved to Avenger Field in Sweetwater. There, these WASPs flew every aircraft the Army had, towed gunnery targets, transported equipment and people, and even tested the recently repaired aircrafts before men flew them.

WASPs never formally entered the United States Army Air Force, according to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, due to political pressure. The organization was disbanded December 1944 after only two years of operation. The women were denied benefits.

Under President Jimmy Carter, WASPs were granted veterans’ status in 1977. That’s when the women who flew, alongside the men, were seen to be just as important to the war effort.

The National WASP WWII Museum in Sweetwater was created in 2002 by WASP Deanie Bishop Parrish and her daughter, Nancy.

Through ups and downs, the museum continued to grow. In 2020, the museum closed to make modifications and reopened in May 2021.

For Veteran’s Day 2021, Sweetwater’s WASP museum marked the day by honoring Florence “Shutsy” Reynolds, one of the pilots in the program.

According to a Texas Hill Country article, 33 WASPs were still alive in 2019- three of whom attended the museum’s homecoming celebration for Memorial Day.

Sweetwater’s WASP museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., located at 210 Avenger Field Road in Sweetwater. Click here to learn more.

Sarah Weddington

The name Sarah Weddington is one known by most law students. Weddington, at 26 years old, argued and won the landmark Roe v. Wade case, fighting for a woman’s right to legal abortion.

Weddington was born and raised in Abilene by well-respected minister, Herbert Ragle. She graduated from McMurry University at the young age of 19 in 1964, before attending University of Texas Law School in Austin.

(From Susan Hays) Sarah Weddington in the 1970s

Big Country Homepage spoke with Weddington’s friend and mentee, Susan Hays, about Weddington’s legacy.

“She was so much a proper, Methodist preacher’s daughter. Y’know, she was very formal in how she carried herself.”

Just a couple of years after graduation, Weddington and her classmate Linda Coffee filed Roe v. Wade in 1970 to defend 22-year-old Norma McCorvey, better known as Jane Roe, who wanted to legally and safely terminate her pregnancy. Her late ex-husband, James “Ron” Weddington, also a Big Country native, helped write their case.

The case was argued before the high court in December 1971 and October 1972. Abortion was then legalized nationwide with a 7-2 ruling. By 27 years old, this Abilene woman made U.S. history.

“I finished law school at the same age she was when she argued Roe,” Hays laughed. “My joke is always how she made me feel like a big loser- she was 27 when she did that!”

While arguing for Roe v. Wade, Weddington also became the first woman elected to the Texas House of Representatives, according to her Britannica biography. She served three terms as state legislator.

Breaking even more records for Women’s History, Weddington was also the first woman on general counsel for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1977 and ’78. After, she was made Special Assistant to President Jimmy Carter, where she chaired the Interdepartmental Task Force on Women between 1978 and 1981.

Then, she made history for women again 1983 as the first woman to direct the Texas Office of State-Federal Relations.

Beginning in 1981, Weddington lectured at Texas Woman’s University (which became a co-ed university in 1994) in Denton, until 1990. She was also an adjunct professor at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) from 1986 to 2012.

Weddington passed in December 2021, after being in poor health for some time.

“Sarah was such a great mentor and connector of people.”

Susan Hays, longtime friend and mentee of Weddington

A Brownwood native, Hays met Weddington in the late 1980’s, when she attended a class on Gender-based Discrimination Law, which Weddington taught at UT Austin. The two bonded over their strong ethics and ties to the Big Country.

(Hays4AG.com): Susan Hays

“Sarah was such a great mentor and connector of people,” Hays fondly said as she looked back on her friendship with Weddington.

The example Weddington set for Hays was a great one.

“That example of such classy professionalism, which I will never achieve- it’s just not my personality,” Hays laughed. “And also, how encouraging she was. She set a tone of, ‘you’re going to help each other…’ It was not unusual to have Sarah call me up and say, ‘I have a student who’s applying to law school, getting out of law school, looking for a job… And you’re going to help them. Here’s their number.’ That’s how she rolled, and there’s this whole network of ex-Sarah students.”

Hays told Big Country Homepage she was unaware of how lucky she was to grow up at the time she did in the Big Country.

Not only did she have ties with Weddington, but she also grew up with next-door neighbor, Mary Scott Nabers. Nabers would eventually go on to become Commissioner for Railroad Commission of Texas. Hays said she was also honored to have known Ann Richards, former Governor of Texas, and Molly Ivins, political columnist.

“They all were just, y’know, ‘what good are you going to do in the world, kiddo?’ My expression for them is The Great Austin Matriarchy, because that’s what they were like!”

Hays looked back on her longtime friend’s passing. She said she could have used her advice.

“I so deeply hate that she died when she did. I had been in Austin… and tried to make time and go check on her… In part, because I had made this decision to run for office and was scrambling to set up a campaign. And, y’know, Sarah had worked in agriculture policy in the late ’70s, and was a U.S. D.A. So, I hate that I never had a chance to have that conversation with her about running. I never really asked her what did she work on as U.S. D.A., what did she think about that experience.”

This friend lovingly referred to Weddington as an aggressive, positive, uplifter of people.

Susan Hays is running for Texas Commissioner of Agriculture, after working on campaigns and helping others run for office for the last 30 years. She said frustration with current administration, and inspiration from her friend is what motivated her to run.

Having grown up in the Big Country, you grow up around agriculture. You see how government programs help people or hurt people,” Hays explained. “Having grown up when I did, it’s very clear to me that they can and should be helping people.”

Hays advanced from the Democratic Primary at the beginning of March and has another election coming up in November, against current Commissioner, Sid Miller (R).

Click here to learn more about her campaign.

Hays left her conversation with Big Country Homepage with a strong message:

“Women raised in West Texas are a lot tougher than others.”

Alongside the seven women listed above, Abilene and the Big Country churned out other incredible women. Here some brief looks at just a few of many:

Carolyn Beckham

Carolyn Beckham was granted the 2022 Volunteer Service Award by United Way of Abilene in February, according to an article from the Abilene Reporter News.

Beckham is a known community volunteer with the Abilene Education Foundation and serves on other boards in the community. In 2021, she helped the United Way raise more than $2 million.

Carole Cook

The legendary Carole Cook was born in Abilene in 1924 as Mildred Cook.

According to her biography on Turner Classic Movies, Cook was given her stage name, Carole, by Lucille Ball when they worked closely together in the 1960s and ’70s.

Cook was an active entertainer for many years. She is best known for her roles in Knight Rider and 16 Candles. She also guest starred in popular TV series like Grey’s Anatomy. Her last acting credit was Waiting in the Wings in 2018.

Jessica Simpson

Another Abilene-born star, Jessica Simpson released her first album at 19 years old.

Some years later, Simpson branched out from music and into movies and TV, as well as fashion designing. The business woman even designed some shoes she calls Abilene boots.

As well as her fashion line is doing, Simpson is best known for playing Daisy in The Dukes of Hazzard movie in 2005.

Dian Graves Stai

A woman of many firsts, Dian Graves Stai was the first woman to chair the Abilene Chamber of Commerce, first chairperson of the Texas Department of Commerce, among a few other firsts according to Texas Woman’s University.

This McMurry University graduate did many important things for the Abilene community and she was named Outstanding Citizen of the Year in 1997 by the Abilene Chamber of Commerce.

Most notably, Stai was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame in 1996.

There are many more incredible women from across the Big Country. Be sure and check out KTAB’s 2022 Remarkable Women nominees. Happy Women’s History Month!