Two weeks ago Annise Parker was re-elected to a third two-year term as Mayor of Houston marking a final endorsement from her fellow Houstonians. While her initial mayoral victory in 2009 may have focused on the firsts it represented for a major city like Houston, the 2013 election saw issues unrelated to the greater public good pushed to the sidelines of our discourse and debate.
However, Parker’s re-election reminds us that there are other “firsts” as well that the City of Houston has embraced as part of its recent mayoral history.
A glance at the stewards of the city dating back to the Allen Brothers and racing through the twentieth century reveals a great deal of how far we have come in such a short period of time. Mayor Lee Brown served as the first African-American mayor of Houston from 1998-2004, owing part of his own political success and legacy to another first. In 1982 Lee Brown was appointed as the first African-American police chief for the City of Houston by a recently elected Mayor Kathryn “Kathy” Whitmire–the first female mayor of Houston.
Kathy Whitmire graduated with a BBA and Masters in Accounting from the University of Houston and married Jim Whitmire, himself a business and accounting student. Following Jim Whitmire’s death in 1976, she devoted much of her energies to public service, initially as City Controller and then Mayor of Houston from 1982 to 1992. As the first female mayor of Houston, her 1982 election serves as a landmark for a groundswell of change that dramatically altered the landscape of the mayoral office in Houston.
The University of Houston Libraries make available for study a number of materials of interest for those researching this recent mayoral history. In addition to the Annise Parker Papers, the Kathryn J. Whitmire Papers contain documents from her husband Jim Whitmire’s work on the City Council as well as materials from Kathy Whitmire’s time as City Controller and Mayor of Houston. The University of Houston Women’s Studies Living Archives Recordings contain a 1996 interview with Kathy Whitmire on an array of topics. Finally, a reminder that the exhibition of the Carey C. Shuart Women’s Archives continues to showcase artifacts from both the Annise Parker and Kathy Whitmire Papers.
The nature of “firsts” is that they are notable and noted. The hope being that, in time, they become less notable, and less noted, due to these diminishing old differences we have insisted on celebrating for so long. We invite you to explore some of the above online resources or visit Special Collections and celebrate not only our differences, but our similarities found in this newly shared history.