Fort Worth’s Kallison receives posthumous honor Thursday
By James Russell
Special to the TJP
The late Frances Rosenthal Kallison made her mark on Texas Jewish life.
A Fort Worth native, her family was among the earliest members of Beth-El Congregation. She was educated at Vassar College, University of Chicago and Trinity University. She was a co-founder of the Texas Jewish Historical Society and regional president of the National Council of Jewish Women. She was published in Cattleman magazine and American Jewish Historical Quarterly. She curated a show about the history of Jews’ historical roots and contributions to the state at what is now known as the Institute of Texan Cultures at University of Texas at San Antonio.
But Kallison, who died in 2004, was also a cowgirl.
On Oct. 27, the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame recognized Kallison in her hometown of Fort Worth. She is the museum’s first Jewish honoree, which recognizes “women who have distinguished themselves while exemplifying the pioneer spirit of the American West.”
But Kallison’s name recognition wasn’t enough to earn her a place in cowgirl history. Kallison had help from Beth-El archivist Hollace Weiner.
In 2008, Weiner submitted a 26-page application for consideration into the hall of fame. The Hall of Fame had already inducted African-American, Hispanic, Native American and other inductees. But they had yet to honor anyone Jewish.
Kallison was already well-known both for her service to Jewish organizations as well as public service. But Weiner’s tireless advocacy, as well as her writings in journals, Beth-El’s and the Texas Jewish Historical Society newsletters detail her qualifications and provide a glimpse into Kallison’s life. As Weiner emphasizes, what made Kallison a cowgirl was not just her rugged independence but work on the ranch, known as the Diamond K. After marrying Perry Kallison of San Antonio, in 1931, she became a public face for the ranch, established by her father-in-law Nathan. The 2,700-acre ranch was not solely an investment or a way of life. The family raised goats, horses and cows. They set up a general store in downtown San Antonio to sell their crops.
But the ranch had a civic purpose too. During the Second World War, Kallison worked as much as she volunteered. The ranch hosted barbecues for soldiers in San Antonio training for combat through United Service Organizations.
During that time Kallison was a civic force as well, successfully establishing a maternity ward in the county hospital. After learning toddlers were going blind because of faulty incubators, she established a nursery. She lobbied the Legislature to repeal the poll tax as well. This pioneering work through the National Council of Jewish Women’s San Antonio chapter propelled her to regional leadership positions, including as regional officer from 1941-46 then later as president of the Council’s Texas-Oklahoma-Colorado region from 1946-49.
But ranch and civic life were still intricately linked to one another. In 1947 she formed a “ladies’ posse.” This group was a clever play on what role a woman played in civic life. The Ladies’ Auxiliary to the Bexar County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse was at once a professional group of women on horseback dedicated to hunting outlaws and a social club.
She didn’t stop her tireless advocacy for the public good after the 1940s. She didn’t shun controversy either. In 1966 she was appointed to the American Jewish Historical Society’s board. She was also asked to curate an exhibition at the Texas Pavilion of HemisFair, a world’s fair held in San Antonio in 1968, what is now known as the Institute for Texan Cultures at UTSA.
Two prominent rabbis pushed back, arguing she was unfairly framing Jews as an ethnic, and not religious, group. But Kallison fought back, arguing “Judaism embodies an ancient culture with distinctive holidays, rituals, foods, literature, and ongoing traditions that positively impacted the development of the larger Jewish community,” Weiner wrote.
Kallison was the quintessential cowgirl who embodied the spirit of the west who is now finally getting her due.