How a group of women in Van Alstyne became the first to break county & statewide barriers

Published: Mar. 29, 2023 at 6:26 PM CDT
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VAN ALSTYNE, Texas (KXII) - During the last week of women’s history month, News 12 is taking a trip back in time to talk about a group of women that created history and broke barriers for the next generation.

“First, I’d like to tell you a little bit about Van Alstyne that makes it outstanding this month because we’re the only town in Grayson County that’s named after a woman,” said Teddie Ann Salmon, the director of Van Alstyne Historical Museum “Mamie Van Alstyne.”

Van Alstyne was a shareholder in the Houston and Pacific Railroad.

Founded in 1873, the town of Van Alstyne would become home to many more women claiming the title of “first.”

“Julia Fielder Jeffress,” said Salmon. “She made headlines when she started college at SMU. Youngest child to ever enter at the age of 14.”

Jeffress began her teaching career at 18.

In 1949, some of her students at Hillcrest High School were older than her.

Salmon said she was the first female to be named distinguished alumni at a major university and the first to have a room named in her honor at a large Dallas church, First Baptist Church.

Another resident, Robbie Inez Fanning Fox, was the first female licensed mortician in the state.

Texas Women’s University in Denton, Texas, has a display case in her honor.

In 1955, Billie Benton Whitaker became the first to serve on a regular jury in Grayson County.

“They called her name thinking she was a man, and she stood up, and all the men laughed at her, but the last laugh was on her,” said Salmon.

Since her name was called, the county had no choice but to let her serve on the Roscoe Dixon murder case.

The jury sequestered through the night.

“Sheriff Woody Blanton had to really hustle, and he hired a female deputy because there wasn’t any and made her the bailiff,” said Salmon.

Whitaker and the bailiff spent the night on cots at the County Welfare Office.

Teddie Ann Salmon knows a lot about women’s history because it is personal.

“In Van Alstyne, we had our first woman mayor in 93,” said Salmon. “And that was me.”

Salmon served four terms.

She’s now the director of the Van Alstyne Historical Museum, keeping the history of the women before her alive.

“We could talk all day about the women in Van Alstyne who were the first to break that barrier, and it’s really important that we realize in history that we have women that were bold enough to do this,” said Salmon.

She believes her story and all of those who came before her isn’t just a history lesson, but a model for the future generation of change makers.

“If you don’t stand up, you’re only responsible for yourself,” said Salmon. “If you don’t like it, change it. If there’s something you want to do, do it.”

The list of notable women from Van Alstyne only continues.

In 1979, Betty Jo McTee Childress was the first woman to serve on the Van Alstyne School Board.

Van Alstyne’s Kathryn Massie, Denison’s Buford Middleton, and Sherman’s Roscoe Russell became the first to serve on a Grayson County grand jury.

The Van Alstyne Museum is open May thru October from 1 pm to 3 pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

News 12 celebrates the accomplishments of women year-round.

We want every woman to be inspired by stories like these.

It’s a segment we call, “Her Story”.

If you know a woman doing remarkable work, we want to tell “Her Story.”

Submit your nomination online at