Minnie Mae Adickes: An Uncommon Woman

 

 

When the heritage society here in town recently offered a tour of the Riverside Cemetery and some of our historic homes, I decided that would be interesting. I didn’t know the half of it. I learned so much about the local area and the people who founded it.

One piece of information that came to light was about a settler named Minnie Mae Adickes. She came to Wichita Falls in 1905 with her husband, Thomas Adickes. They were barely here a year when her husband suddenly died. It left Minnie Mae with five daughters, the youngest only three months old, to raise.

It would’ve been easy for Minnie Mae to accept the help of both her brother and brother-in-law who were the town’s founding fathers and quite well-to-do. But, she turned them down and decided to make her own way. She valued independence over everything. And I’m sure she didn’t want to be a burden on family. The picture here is the Frank Kell family – her brother-in-law, his wife, mother, and seven children. They’re a story of their own.

So spurning family help, in 1906 Minnie Mae entered into the real estate profession and embarked on a career of building houses. Now as a woman, she could not at that time sign a legal document herself. But she built over 300 homes and never lost a dime. Her only contract was a simple handshake that she never regretted. She built homes for the influential and also for the poor that she let pay out in installments. Her buyers always paid her on time. She taught all five of her daughters to record cash payments at their home weekly.

And so, a woman who didn’t seem to have any ability to provide for herself when her husband died ended up building over 300 homes. Her extraordinary efforts helped the city to grow and proper until her death in 1931 at the age of 57.

The image of this late Victorian house is one that she designed and built for her brother-in-law Frank Kell and his family. It’s called the Kell House and is now a museum. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and bears both the Texas State and local landmark designation. The house is 5,500 square feet and it still has a working elevator as well as many original furnishings.

Minnie Mae never married again. She raised her daughters and taught them everything about independence and of the rights of women. During WWI she was chairwoman of the Red Cross canteen division and held parties for officers and men at the local air base. In 1920, Mrs. Adickes was the first woman elected to serve as a member of the school board. I’m sorry I can’t find a photo of her. I hear she was as beautiful as she was intelligent. She’s exactly the kind of woman I want to model the heroines in my books after.

Minnie Mae Adickes was an uncommon woman and way ahead of her time.

Are there any interesting people or history in your area? Do you know of any stories of extraordinary women? Want to share?

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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!
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21 thoughts on “Minnie Mae Adickes: An Uncommon Woman”

  1. What a wonderful story.

    I live in Mt. Pleasant TN and was raised in Columbia, TN home of James K. Polk. The Polk family has a lot of history here. The history in this area is amazing. There is a st

  2. Linda I loved reading your information about Minnie Mae Adickes she sounds like she was a facinating woman, very strong and independent woman and definatley ahead of her time. I love the facinating things you ladies bring us that we would not have known if we hadn’t read it here.

  3. Hi Linda,

    Minnie Mae is a great role model for women, even today. I don’t know how she pulled it off back then, but she must have had incredible business talent as well as skill. She found her life passion in building and designing. Who wouldn’t want to live in the house you posted. It’s stunning!

    Great info!! Have a fun day.

  4. There are so many stories that have been lost about courage in the settling of this country. Thanks for this one Linda.

    I think of my mom’s mother as an unusually interesting woman.

    She was born about 1880. She went to college and earned two masters degrees. She traveled and studied in Europe and was a masterful pianist and worked as a librarian until she married at age 30.

    And she married a farmer with an 8th grade education. An arranged marriage.

    I try and picture that union, that uneven background and life experience. I suppose for those times a successful farmer was a highly respected person, while a librarian spinster, no matter how talented and educated, was a failure.

    How sad.

    But they were both lovely people and my mom said, even though they only knew each other through letters, they were always polite and respectful of each other, although not a lot of romance to her eyes.
    Anyway, from the college and concert halls of Europe to Rural Nebraska. And my grandma always did it was a sweet, gentle heart.

  5. What an amazing woman she was. I’m really impressed by her building and designing houses. My husband’s in that business.

    She wasn’t allowed to sign a legal document in 1906? Was that just a Texas law? It’s hard to find out these little details. I know Wyoming Territory was way ahead of its time as far as women getting the right to vote, so maybe each state had a different set of laws for women. (Some of the other states didn’t want to let Wyoming into the union because they didn’t want to have to let their own women get the right to vote. Guess they all finally had to. 🙂

  6. Linda, what a fabulous post! And I just love the name Minnie Mae. It truly fits the time period. And what a wonderful independent woman. Yowza.

    My gramma has always been my hero for the goodness and purity of her heart. Raised on a Kansas farm, she gave up an art scholarship to marry my grampa and eventually raise six kids during the Depression. I always remember the little sketches she drew for us grandkids and I didn’t save a one of them! I recall a story of her taking an old suit of my grampa’s (he was a minister) and re-designing it into a lady’s version with a skirt so my mom had something nice to wear for a job interview when she was a teen.

    After thinking of past generations of women and all they had to do, I kinda feel lazy sometimes. 🙂

  7. Hi Sherry,

    Mt. Pleasant sounds like an excellent place to come and do research. And also Columbia. Wow, the home of a president! Now that would be fun to dig around in. 🙂

  8. Morning Lori,

    Isn’t this fun? Yes, all the Fillies love to bring little known fascinating facts to our visitors. And sometimes we just plain run out of personal things to blog about. That’s when we pull out our research notes. I’m so glad you enjoy what we bring to you! Thank you very much. It’s nice to be appreciated. 🙂

  9. Hi Charlene,

    Yes, I’m wondering how much of the actual building she did. I couldn’t find that information. I assume she had workers to help with that heavy stuff. I know for certain she did the design and plans and also did the business part. That in itself is pretty amazing in that day and time. The woman simply fascinated me. She was a great role model for our heroines.

  10. Hi Mary,

    Your grandmother was really special. It was difficult for women to get a college education back then unless they were wealthy. And the fact that she got two masters degrees just blows my mind. An amazing woman! And the path her life took – from Europe to a farm in Nebraska. Very unusual. Makes you want to delve deeper and find out the reasons. I’d like to have met her. She sounds like an interesting woman.

    Wonder if she taught your grandfather more afer they married? My dad only had a fourth grade education and could barely read. My mother taught him to sign his name. This was during the Depression.

  11. Hi Kate,

    To answer your question – yes, this was Texas law. It astounded me to learn that in 1906 women had few rights. A widow couldn’t even assume her husband’s business when he died. And a married woman couldn’t get a job without her husband’s approval.

    You’re right that men sure tried to keep their women under their thumbs for as long as they did. Bet it killed their souls when women got the right to vote. 🙂

    Glad you enjoyed my blog!

  12. Hi Tanya,

    I liked the name Minnie Mae too. It seems to go with her independent spirit.

    Thanks for sharing the story of your grandma. It’s sad that she had to give up her art scholarship to marry your grandpa. Women were also having to give up something in that era. Makes you wonder what might’ve been if she’d gotten to follow her dream. I bet she’d tell you that she didn’t regret it though.

    And raising six kids in the Depression? Oh my gosh! That’s a feat in itself. I can’t imagine having that many mouths to feed. She was something.

    Glad you enjoyed the blog. Have a great day!

  13. Linda, I LOVED this post and the story about Minnie Mae! I wonder if she had some romance in her life as well? I’ll just imagine that she did. *G*

    When I read about women like this I wonder if I’d have had the gumption to do something equally as amitious.

    The house is beautiful. Did you see this house/museum?

  14. Hi Cheryl,

    Beyond the house-building, there’s not a lot of information on her and it drives me crazy. I have a lot of questions. For instance, I wonder how she arrived at the decision to build houses. I can’t find anything to suggest that it was her husband’s field before he died. But there had to be someone close who was involved in that. I can’t see her just doing it out of the blue, although it’s certainly possible. I hate these bits of history that have holes in ’em!

    Yes, I toured the Kell House Museum and it was fantastic. Very well built and had a lot of innovations that weren’t the norm back then. I felt like I was stepping back in time when I walked in the front door. Just beautiful. Makes me sad that it’s the only one of houses left standing. All the others have been torn down.

    And, no I don’t think I’d have had the gumption to embark on a career like this. But, boy, is it great material for a book!! 🙂

  15. What an amazing woman, Linda. A true heroine. You can’t help wondering about the holes in the story, how she knew enough to build houses and how it was done. The house in the photo is beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

    Mary I love the story of your grandparents. There’s a book in each of these stories!

  16. oh Linda! that was a fabulous post! I really enjoyed reading it! I sure would love to see a photo of her!

    That house is really amazing too!

  17. Linda, I really enjoyed this information. Go, Minnie Mae! Yeah!

    I’m surprised, tho, that construction crews took orders from her. Or maybe she had a manager that she worked through?

    Great stuff!

  18. Hi Elizabeth, glad you enjoyed my post. Minnie Mae was such a unique person and I loved finding out about her.

    Hi Melissa D! It’s as wonderful as ever to see you make it over. Yes, I regret that I couldn’t find a picture of Minnie Mae. I’d like to know what she looked like. Reports are that she was very beautiful.

    Hi Pam, thanks for weighing in. If I understand right, she was the boss lady. If any of the men refused to take orders from her, I’m sure he was let go. And, it’s not at all clear whether or not she actually did any of the building herself. Seeing her independent spirit, I wouldn’t put it past her to do whatever she wanted.

    Thanks, Estella! Glad you enjoyed my subject.

    Hi Kay, I’m thrilled that you found my post a delight. I think Minnie Mae represented the pioneer spirit to a “t.”

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