By Rena Pederson
Why does Dallas need to broadcast Margo’s story? Because she was a bad girl for her time. She dared to be different, think different. And Dallas is the better for it. The truth is we need more people who dare to be different in Dallas, don’t we? We often talk in Dallas about how to make Dallas an international city, a world class city, at least a more than slightly above average city. But I am here today to propose that what we REALLY need in Dallas is fewer women who never risk anything – and more women like Margo – who do the thing that society says has never been done or musn’t be done. They do it anyway because the honest voice inside of them says oh yes, I can.
I’ve become convinced it’s non-conformist Bad Girls who don’t bow to the status quo who make cities better by challenging our assumptions. Dallas is much more interesting because of the contributions of bad girls – like Sarah Cockrell, who dared to run the barge across the Trinity River to Dallas when nice girls didn’t hang out around boats. Sarah made so much money that she eventually owned many sweet chunks of downtown Dallas and – donated a chunk for the site of First United Methodist Church. There were other Bad Girls like Pauline Periwinkel, the first woman editor at The Dallas Morning News, a suffragette who said the women should get the vote. And Judge Sarah T. Hughes, who dared to tell the good ole boys in Dallas County that their crummy jail was unconstitutional, that you shouldn’t stack prisoners on the floor, without beds or toilets. Or Mary Kay Ash, who started her own cosmetics company, after she got tired of training men who were paid more than she was. Such bad girls.
I can think of other bad girls in Dallas, but not enough. Like Anita Martinez, who started the Ballet Folklorico to preserve Mexican culture for young Hispanics, at a time when it was not chic to be Hispanic. Or bad girls like Lucy Patterson who ran for city council to speak up for the poorest segment of the population. She was not content to stay in her place.
Neither was Annette Strauss, who wanted to run for school board in the 1970s – but couldn’t get the endorsement of the establishment Citizen’s Charter Association. Sorry, they said, but you’re Jewish. It isn’t done. So she ran for mayor. And helped create shelters for the homeless…and an arts district…and more ambitious international programs. When she passed away, an entire symphony hall was full of people who loved her. Thank goodness she didn’t just sit down and be quiet.
We are fortunate to have more women in public office today in Dallas. But we still could use more free spirits like Margo Jones. Because what we need in Dallas is a civic culture that challenges our souls more, not less.
Texas was built by bad women – like Jane Long, the Mother of Texas, who left her life as a southern belle in finishing school, to travel by mule to Texas with her husband, even though she was pregnant and it wasn’t advisable. She gave birth to the first Anglo child in Texas and later helped give birth to the young nation because everyone from Davy Crockett to Sam Houston made plans in her Brazoria tavern.
And the truth is, history has been propelled and enriched by bad girls – Eleanor of Aquitane, who dared to go with her husband on Crusades, riding bare-breasted in battle, some say…But she and her brood united France …for a while. Or how about that Alpha Bad girl, Elizabeth I, who said girls can too defeat an armada…and wouldn’t literature have been dull without George Sand and Virginia Wolff and Edna St. Vincent Millary…and Mary McCarthy…and …Dorothy Parker…and Lillian Hellman…or fashion without Coco Chanel…or philosophy without Simone de Beauvoir…or politics without Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton? When you come to think of it, it’s the bad girls who made us dress and think and march differently…
The stylist who cuts my hair has a sign in her salon that says, “At least I didn’t have no hum-drum life.” I think Margo would agree. And I think she would like the quote from Apple’s Think Different! Campaign that seems deliciously apropos here:
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them, disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire and they push the human race forward. Maybe they have to be crazy. How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written? Or gaze at the red planet and see a laboratory on wheels? While some see them as the Crazy Ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the Ones who do.”
I can almost hear Margo cheering, “I am bad girl. Hear me roar.” And I hope you’ll leave here today – and do something bad for Dallas.
Copyright 2003 by Rena Pederson
Rena Pederson is a journalist and author of What’s Next? Women Redefining Their Dreams in the Prime of Life(Penguin Putnam, 2001) and What’s Missing? Inspiration for Women Seeking Faith and Joy in Their Lives (Penguin Putnam, 2003). She first presented “Bad Girls” as a speech at a private event in Dallas in 2003.