Aired on KERA (NPR), Dallas, TX, 2014

Hockaday and Dallas

A Vital Connection

“She was not a conservative,” it was said of Ela Hockaday. “Columbus was not a conservative. Marconi was not a conservartive. Westinghouse was not a conservative. These men were radicals. Furthermore, these men accomplished things with the whole world against them. The majority …does not see a great project.”

That was M. H. Thomas speaking, in 1919. He neglected to notice that the radical at issue that day in May, whom he, after all, had cited first, was a woman, and the great project in question was a school for girls. He was dead right, however, and far-sighted, in recognizing that to educate, really educate, one’s daughters, with the same standards as one’s sons, was not conservative at all. Indeed, it was a straight line, with only a few zigs and zags, from the founding of Hockaday in 1913 , with the support of men like M.H. Thomas, to the first appearance there of Gloria Steinem in 1973, and again, right at the end of the Twentieth Century.

Steinem made no effort to disguise her true intentions. At the core of her work was revolution, almost from the beginning. The same could be said of Miss Hockaday, though she was masterful at putting on her lipstick and pearls, assuming an aura of amazing grace, reassuring men of her essential reliability—a method recommended by Dallas journalist Vivian Castleberry forty years later. Castleberry didn’t go to Hockaday, but she might as well have. She knew the Hockaday drill, instinctively, because Hockaday had helped lead the way in Dallas to feminine leadership through civilizing influence.

Miss Hockaday insisted on a sound, well-stocked mind. Not for her was the notion that facts did not matter since everything could be looked up. How could anybody wade through a newspaper or conduct a conversation with no ready points of reference or clarifying context?

Miss Hockaday believed also in the discipline of competitive sports. She would have seen the need for Title XIV long before it ever occurred to anyone else, and when that law finally was passed by Congress and signed by Richard Nixon, she might have smiled, knowing that few had any idea of the impact implicit in those phrases that sounded so sweetly reasonable. Miss Hockaday, M.H. Thomas’s radical in pearls, would have understood the play perfectly and called it herself if she had been around.

Above all, Miss Hockaday embraced the arts, not as an affectation, but at the center of life. There was no better way, she felt, to compose the soul and irradiate the spirit.

As a result of the Hockaday philosophy, her graduates, taught to walk briskly, never to dawdle, brought to Dallas not just taste and cultivation, but also the intellectual poise and confidence necessary to impose a germinal order on a pioneer city. Hortense Sanger epitomized the intelligent, patient, sure-footed civic engagement that Schatzie Lee, the sisters Strauss and Horchow, plus many others have practiced ever since. The same cultural passion has animated Nancy Nasher in her continuing pursuit of impossible dreams that do come true at NorthPark.

“Artists are not ahead of their time. They are their time.” So wrote the architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable. She might have been talking about Ela Hockaday, daughter of Thomas Hart Benton Hockaday and an expert in the art of education, and, especially, the education of girls.

Indeed, Miss Hockaday, the artist, was her time, starting her school the same year five thousand suffragettes marched on Washington, demanding the right to vote, just as Woodrow Wilson, that starchy Presbyterian (like her father), was moving into the White House. Later widowed, Wilson would marry Edith Bolling Galt, a formidable woman who fought alongside her husband for the League of Nations. Congress would not go along, but Edith, far from defeated, all but ran the country during the last eighteen months of Wilson’s tenure after he was felled by a stroke.

Women won the right to vote in 1920. By then Miss Hockaday had moved her school from Haskell to new facilities on Greenville, with the help, as usual, of gentlemen friends. Another of those, forty years later, would be instrumental in the move to Welch Road and strikingly architectural buildings. His name was Erik Jonsson, the future mayor. Jonsson once said that “a great building is a superb tool for working.” Strong work is exactly what Miss Hockaday would have expected from so elegant a campus.

She would have expected, also, that the school maintain the open approach that came so naturally, so obviously, to her, as it did to many heads who followed, such as Liza Lee. It meant luring to Hockaday the visionary voices of the world, just as she and those who came after her had done. They brought Eleanor Roosevelt in 1937, on the eve of war, and again in 1952, when Joe McCarthy was wrecking civil discourse all over the country, calling many of Mrs. Roosevelt’s friends “fellow travelers”; Gertrude Stein in 1935, hardly a literary favorite with the Book-Of-the-Month Club set; to Dr. Norman Borlaug, Nobel Prize winning agronomist, in 1978, whose Green Revolution foretold the green energies of today.

All this helped to forge Hockaday’s vital connection to Dallas, a connection strengthened and extended, over many years and the spans of many lives, by its students.

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