From ingenious dreamers to creative problem solvers, some of Houston’s best and brightest are women who have helped not only give birth to this city, but who have also been essential in making Houston and the world better. In honor of the centennial anniversary of women's right to vote, Houston First is highlighting the contributions of some of our city's extraordinary women--past and present--who are pioneers, community leaders, and culinary and cultural moguls. Also see our VisitHouston site.
By Houston First
HON. JUDGE RUBY KLESS SONDOCK
Hon. Judge Ruby Kless Sondock, did not begin her professional life in the pursuit of a big dream. The practical, early 60’s housewife and mother enrolled in the University of Houston law school located in Houston’s Third Ward with the modest goal to become “the best legal secretary in town.” Instead, she was valedictorian of her class and admitted to the State Bar of Texas, even before graduation.
Judge Ruby Sondock became the first female state district judge appointed in Harris County, and in 1982, she was appointed as the first female justice to serve on the Texas Supreme Court. As a Democrat, appointed by a Republican governor, she expressed high hopes that her appointment would end the partisan election of judges in Texas.
While she may not have set out to become a trailblazer, the Hon. Judge Ruby Kless Sondock managed to excel in a male-dominated profession with grace, dignity, intelligence and courage. An annual lecture series on legal ethics at the University of Houston Law Center was named in her honor, and in 2015 she was inducted as a “Texas Legal Legend” by the Litigation Section of the Texas State Bar.
Find out more about the neighborhood where Judge Ruby studied law, Houston’s Third Ward.
HON. BARBARA JORDAN
U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Charline Jordan was a woman of powerful voice and exceptional character, born into a segreagated Houston in the Fifth Ward community in 1936. During her childhood in this all-black neighborhood, a career day speech at Phillis Wheatley High School by African American lawyer, Edith Sampson, inspired Barbara to pursue law herself.
After graduating magna cum laude from Texas Southern and earning her law degree from Boston University (as one of only two African American women in her class), Barbara passed the Massachusetts and Texas bars and opened a law practice in Houston. Her work on the John F. Kennedy presidential campaign led her toward politics, and in 1966, she became the first African American elected to the post-Reconstruction Texas Senate, and the first Southern African American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Barbara sponsored legislation that expanded the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to include Latino, Asian, and Native Americans and gave the opening remarks during the impeachment process of President Richard Nixon in 1974. Although her health prevented her from accepting a U.S. Supreme Court appointment by President Bill Clinton, she was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom
Check out the video to find out more about Fifth Ward, the neighborhood that helped shape and mold Barbara Jordan.