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Remembering Martha Prentiss, the Mayor of Lesbian San Antonio

January 13, 2020
An exuberant Martha Prentiss at the 1991 March on Austin

On January 4, 2020, family and friends of Martha Prentiss said their final farewells to this beloved activist, artist, and actor. Prentiss passed away on December 1, 2019 after battling Lewy Body Dementia for several years.

For decades, Prentiss served as an advocate for the rights of lesbians. In 1981, she opened Las Mujeres, a book store dedicated to women. Prentiss, along with other local women, created WomanSpace, the longest running women’s publication in San Antonio (1986-2007). Prentiss also created the Lesbian Information San Antonio (LISA) telephone helpline as an additional way to connect lesbians in the community.

Perhaps her most well-known undertaking was the Cancer Party, an annual fundraiser that attracted hundreds and supported women’s causes and organizations in San Antonio. Prentiss’ close friends Jan Olsen and Frances Timmins rounded out the trio of Cancers responsible for the planning and execution of the yearly party held in Prentiss’ back yard. Prentiss’ memorial service was named “The Last Cancer Party” signaling the end of an era.

Frances Timmins, Martha Prentiss, and Jane Olsen

For each Cancer party, Prentiss-a talented jewelry designer and artist-created medals and medallions (Cancers only) for guests attending the party.

I had the privilege of attending the Last Cancer Party on January 4th. I brought items that Martha had donated to the UTSA Special Collections over several years. The centerpiece of the display was a large trifold covered with invitations to all the Cancer parties and photographs of many who attended the annual event. Attendees of the memorial service recounted many fond memories of the iconic parties.

Although Martha Prentiss is no longer with us physically, her legacy and memory live on through the many materials she donated to UTSA Special Collections over the years. WomanSpace, the Texas Lesbian Conference Records, and the Martha Prentiss Papers document her remarkable accomplishments and the history of San Antonio’s lesbian community. WomanSpace and the Texas Lesbian Conference records have been digitized and are available online.

Christmas Tamal Ideas From The Mexican Cookbook Collection

December 16, 2019

For many Chicanx and Latinx families, Christmas dinner is synonymous with tamales. The preparation of tamales is labor-intensive, so when making tamales for a large family, it makes sense for most of the family to get involved. Over the next week, many families will be hosting tamaladas (tamal-making parties), where young ones learn how to make the family’s recipe and all participants partake in plenty of chisme (gossip).

Ellen Riojas-Clark and Carmen Tafolla, Tamales, Comadres, and the Meaning of Civilization: Secrets, Recipes, History, Anecdotes, and a Lot of Fun (San Antonio, Tex: Wings Press), 11. [TX836 .T36 2011]

Some folks think that a tamal must be wrapped in a corn husk and filled with masa (corn dough), but the origin of the word “tamal” comes from the Nahuatl word tamalli, which means “wrapped food”. By definition, any wrapped food would be considered a tamal. Thus, tamales are a flexible food, capable of being adapted to include whatever ingredients are available. This adaptability is why some tamales are wrapped in corn husks and others are wrapped in banana leaves; some are filled with masa and others are filled with ground rice. Many families’ recipes are derived from generations living in the same region, so even if a family has moved, they bring a little bit of their hometown with them in their tamal recipe.

Maria Moreno with armloads of corn shucks, San Antonio Light Photograph Collection, MS 359, University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries Special Collections.

Tamales haven’t always been associated with Christmas, but have been made at this time of year for thousands of years. Pre-Columbian celebrations throughout the year featured the tamal. The Aztecs celebrated the winter solstice with the Panquetzaliztli festival (named for the fifteenth month of the Aztec calendar), and the making and eating of tamales was part of this festival that celebrated the advent of Huitzilopochtli (god of war). Modern practices incorporate Christian traditions, but keep the tamales.

Bernardino de Sahagún, Historia universal de las cosas de Nueva España: codice laurenziano mediceo palatino, (Italy: Giunti), book 2, folio 102. [F1219 .S1384 1996]

Within the Mexican Cookbook Collection, we have a diverse range of tamal recipes from throughout Mexico, the U.S., and elsewhere. Some feature familiar ingredients like corn, pork, and chicken, while others feature unexpected ingredients like rice, cheese curds, and coconut. The earliest tamal recipe in our collection is from the 1831 El cocinero mexicano, published in Mexico City, which shares the title of “first cookbook published in Mexico”. Our oldest recipe in a manuscript cookbook comes from the 1884 writings of Guadalupe Perez in Acatzingo, Puebla, Mexico. In addition to the entries from these books, some of the more novel recipes come from the Durango City title Recetas practicas y utiles, sobre cocina, reposteria, pasteleria.

These recipes have been translated by our Student Clerk, Carla Burgos, and are linked below. We hope you will consider including one in your own tamalada this week. Some families might not be large enough to have their own tamalada, and if this is the case, see if there are any local tamaladas that are open to all. This past weekend, I participated in the Tamal Institute, which is part of the annual La Gran Tamalada here in San Antonio and there are tamaladas hosted throughout the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. If you can’t find one locally, host your own! No matter how you celebrate, have a wonderful holiday season and a cozy winter solstice!

Finding the Derry Family

November 25, 2019

UTSA Special Collections recently acquired a photo album of a San Antonio African-American family. Prior to researching the family, I only had the descriptions provided on some of the photographs in the album to tell me about this family. Some photos have a full name for their subjects while others only have a first name. Some photos provide the address pictured, others provide the city, but still others are completely blank.

I began by recording all of the descriptions, focusing on names and places. One photo in particular was key to my research. This photo identified Charles H. Derry as well as his residential address.

The Derry home.

Once I had Derry’s name and address, I dug into our Worley’s San Antonio city directories to see if he was listed. Indeed, in the 1921 directory, he was listed at the address on the photograph and alongside his name was his workplace. Later directories added further information to Derry’s story, including his job title, his wife’s name, job title, and workplace, as well as those of their son and daughter.

At this point, I had enough information about the Derry family to move on to other resources. My next stop was the HeritageQuest database. Many academic and public libraries have access to this database, which collects genealogical sources like local and family histories as well as U.S. Federal Census records up to 1940 and much more. Census records provided me with the family member’s approximate birth years, birthplaces, and their educational experience.  I also visited one of the San Antonio Public Library branches to access their onsite databases Ancestry Library and Fold3, which yielded death certificates and draft cards.

From there I searched both UTSA’s Digital Collections as well as The Portal to Texas History for each family member. The materials in these collections provided additional information on the family, including obituaries, funeral programs, and some of their social involvement. In UTSA’s Digital Collections, we have digitized our holdings of SNAP Magazine, a weekly San Antonio publication dedicated to reporting news from an African-American perspective. In The Portal to Texas History, users can search UTSA’s digitized issues of the San Antonio Register, the city’s second weekly newspaper focused on the local African-American community.

Based on all of this research, I have been able to put together the following narrative about the Derry family:

Charles Harry Derry, Jr. was born into a farming family in Flatonia, a town in Fayette County, Texas in 1883. His parents were Charles Sr. and Mattie (née Brooks) Derry, both of whom were born in Texas in 1864. Over in Gonzales County, a teamster named Allan A. and his wife Francis “Frankie” Smith gave birth to their second daughter, Mattie K. Smith. Allan had been born in Louisiana in 1855 and Frankie was a native Texan born in 1860. Mattie K.’s family eventually moved to San Antonio where she graduated from Riverside School on Rincon Street and went on to earn a bachelor of science degree from Prairie View State College and also attended the University of Southern California. 

Charles H. Derry, Jr. driving at the U.S. Arsenal.

By 1920, Charles Jr. was living in San Antonio with his wife Mattie K. and their son Elmore “Elmo” Vernon and daughter Johnnie Marvel. Charles was working as a chauffeur and then a foreman at the San Antonio U.S. Arsenal. Mattie K. was a teacher for 30 years, most of which were spent at Norris Wright Cuney Elementary School on Iowa Street. Their son, Elmo was a teacher at multiple schools, including Frederick Douglass Junior High School, Dunbar Junior High School, and Phillis Wheatley High School. Their daughter, Johnnie also taught early in her adulthood, but worked most of her life as a maid at the Karotkin Furniture Company.

The Derrys were active in the San Antonio community, especially in social organizations and church. Charles Jr. was an active member of the Utopia Culture Club and was a pallbearer at multiple funerals. Mattie K. was a member of numerous organizations, including the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority, the Order of Eastern Star, the Order of Calanthe, and the Worthy Counselors Council. She was also an active member of the St. Paul Methodist Church since childhood. Elmo was active in school groups, the Alamo Social Club, and the El Feyes Club. Johnnie, like her mom, was also a faithful member of St. Paul United Methodist Church.

The Derry family with their horse and carriage.

Both Elmo and Johnnie were college educated. While I have not yet found Elmo’s alma mater, Johnnie did attend Prairie View College. Both children married, but neither had children. It appears that Johnnie’s husband Clayborn Blevins died in World War II and Elmo’s wife Mattie (née DuBois) succumbed to a month-long illness in 1949. After his wife’s death, Elmo moved back in with his parents, where he would stay for the rest of his life.

Mattie K. was the first member of this nuclear family to pass in 1962. She was followed by her husband in 1970, her son in 1977, and her daughter in 2003. While their line ended 16 years ago, UTSA Special Collections keeps their stories alive by protecting materials that document their lives. We are honored to preserve their memories in perpetude.

Processing the Diana Kennedy Papers

October 28, 2019

Ealier this year, UTSA Special Collections was honored when renowned cookbook author Diana Kennedy chose us as the home for her archival papers and personal library. Since then, the books have been placed in our rare books vault and are currently being cataloged. As for Diana’s personal papers, yours truly (the Manuscripts Archivist) has been hard at work getting things ready for researchers to use. In the archives world, we call this “processing.” When archivists initially receive collections, we often don’t know the full extent of what we’ve been given. It’s also common for materials to present preservation problems. Processing typically involves identifying and resolving preservation concerns, and rehousing materials in to archival grade acid-free folders and boxes. It also involves organizing the papers in a way that is logical, and creating an inventory (called a finding aid), which is published online for researchers to see.

The Diana Kennedy papers are not yet open for research, but will be made available as soon as processing is complete. It is often very difficult to gauge the length of time it will take to process a collection; quantity of records, formats present in the collection, and condition of the materials all play a role. Until then, here’s an update on the work that has been done with the collection thus far.

The materials arrived packed in an assortment of luggage, but were immediately re-boxed into archival boxes upon receipt.

35 mm Slide photographs in labeled slide boxes.
Research files, notebooks, and a VHS tape.
Manila envelopes and Ziploc bags containing correspondence and research notes inside an archival box.

After the materials had been reboxed, I began surveying the collection and conducting background research on Diana Kennedy and her career. I made detailed notes about the contents of the collection. Here’s a quick summary of what I found:

  • Dates: 1949-2017 (bulk 1970s-1990s)
  • Numerous slide and print photographs, mostly of her land, work, travels, and friends.
  • Draft pages, outline notes, research files, and contracts for her cookbooks.
  • Correspondence, including letters with other renowned chefs and letters from fans.
  • Four large scrapbooks dating 1969-1986 which document her early career, including her receipt of the Order of the Aztec Eagle award.
  • Press clippings from magazines, news articles, etc.
  • A journal from when she moved into her home in Zitacuaro
  • Photos and handwritten research notes from her visits all over Mexico, organized by Mexican state. The bulk of recipes are located in these folders since she collected these recipes from locals throughout her travels.
  • A visitor’s sign-in book for her home.
  • Materials documenting the visit of HRH Prince Charles, including two signed letters and a telegram from Prince Charles, and a menu she created for him.
  • Project documentation for “Documentation of the Biodiversity of Mexican Gastronomy: Rescue of the Culinary Archives of Diana Kennedy” (in Spanish). This is a project which UNAM folks did for CONABIO, and there is a detailed photographic catalog of all the plants on Diana’s estate, (especially indigenous plants), as well as reports that analyze the recipes in her books, breaking them down by ingredients and identifying the source of the ingredients, noting whether ingredients are indigenous or not. Fascinating!

As I surveyed the collection, I looked for patterns and themes that would allow a logical organization of the materials to emerge. Eventually I was able to establish the arrangement of materials and began to place things in order.

Putting everything in order: it may look like a mess, but each one of those piles means something!
Research notes are being filed into archival folders, which are hand-labeled in pencil with the collection name, folder title, and date. Diana’s original folders are being kept inside the archival folders so that researchers can see how she organized her research. Folders containing materials in need of preservation work are temporarily flagged with post-its. After the organization and refoldering is complete, we’ll tackle this additional preservation work.
Slide photographs, previously stored in plastic boxes, are being rehoused in archival grade slide sheets. This will allow for greater protection of the slides while also allowing researchers to easily see several slides at once.

Stay tuned for further updates as we continue working with this collection! Access to the collection is currently closed while processing is ongoing, but Special Collections will make an announcement as soon as the collection is open for research. If you would like to be notified directly when the collection becomes available, please let us know:

Creepy Creatures and Other Cucuys: artwork from the Xavier Garza Papers

October 14, 2019

Xavier Garza was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley. He is an author, artist, and storyteller whose work focuses primarily on his experiences growing up in the small border town of Rio Grande City. Garza has exhibited his art and performed his stories in venues throughout Texas, Arizona and the state of Washington. Garza lives in San Antonio, Texas. His first book Creepy Creatures and Other Cucuys was published in 2004.

Artwork of creatures in different stages gives one a glimpse into the creative process of the artist and writer. Garza introduces the reader to supernatural characters plucked out of Mexican folklore, stories passed down across generations.

Garza has many young fans who are both charmed and scared by his creatures and stories.

The Xavier Garza Papers consist of typescript manuscripts, pencil and ink sketches, acrylic paintings and newspaper and magazine articles related to Lucha Libre: The Man in the Silver Mask , Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid, and Zulema and the Witch Owl. There are materials concerning Creepy Creatures and Other Cucuys and Kid Cyclone Fights the Devil and Other Stories. For more information, consult the online guide to the Xavier Garza Papers.

Special Collections Participates in Castroville Founders’ Day

September 30, 2019

On September 14th Castroville (The Little Alsace of Texas) celebrated the 175th anniversary of its founding.  Among the features at the day-long event were food, crafts, performances, tours, historical displays and reenactments.  At the invitation of the Landmark Inn State Historic Site, we displayed our photographs of Castroville in the millhouse at the historic property.

The nucleus of our sizable collection of Castroville images was assembled for the French exhibit at the Institute of Texan Cultures (Texas Pavilion) at HemisFair’68.  Subsequently, numerous local families shared their photos through loans or by participating at several photographic copy clinics conducted in Medina County in the 1990s.  In addition to those from private collections, our San Antonio Light Collection contains photographs taken for feature stories on Castroville.


Juli Favor, Special Collections volunteer, describes the photo collections at the display in the 1854 Haass-Quintle Mill.





















(Left to right) Les Tschirhart, Patricia Haass Tschirhart, and Olin Karm, descendants of Castroville pioneers, provide additional information for our catalog records.


Lacy Hans Bishop discovers a photograph of her great-grandfather, Harry Hans, in his butcher shop in Castroville.


Kathleen Wood, from Rio Medina, holds a photo of the wagon train that passed through Castroville on the way to San Antonio for the world premiere of “The Last Command,” in 1955. The photo brought back memories of that day when one of the movie stars asked Kathleen, then in elementary school, to sit beside him in one of the wagons.


Next to the photo display, Frank Marasco, a UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures volunteer interpreter, explains corn shucking, shelling, and milling.


Birds of a… leaf?

September 23, 2019

This post is written by archives student assistant, Jessica Mitchell.

As an archives student assistant working with our University Archivist, Kristin Law, I got to spend this summer immersing myself in UTSA’s rich history. During the course of completing a research assignment, I came across an interesting Roadrunner newsletter article entitled “Fowl Play?” which reported the mysterious toppling of a Rowdy topiary that used to be located on the Student Union’s southeast lawn. I had never heard of the topiary, but I love a good mystery, so I decided to investigate.

In 1996, ten years after the opening of the first portion of the Student Union (then called the University Center), a sizeable expansion was built to triple its size. This expansion, sometimes called University Center II, is probably the most iconic part of the Student Union today. Its unique facade has come to be the symbol of the Student Union as a whole. When the structure was complete, a topiary was placed on the lawn to decorate the space. A topiary is a decorative figure made of a metal frame covered in plant material and in this case, it was a figure of Rowdy. Rowdy can be seen just after installation in a Paisano photograph.

Paisano picture of roadrunner topiary from September 24, 1996

Rowdy topiary photographed by Stephanie Dubick for a September 24, 1996 issue of the Paisano. (UTSA Student Publications Collection, UA 01.05)

All was well for the plant-covered bird until December 1997, when Rowdy was found lying on the grass. According to the newsletter, suspicions were split between an accident and an act of vandalism, but there was very little evidence to go by. Rowdy was moved to the greenhouse for repairs.

Cartoon version of Rowdy from the 1990s

An older version of the Rowdy logo, from before the 2008 redesign. The topiary’s shape was based on this illustration. Courtesy UTSA Communications.

This is where the formal record ends. It is also readily obvious that no topiary exists on the Student Union lawn today. I began to wonder about the outcome of the toppling incident, and whether Rowdy was ever restored to its spot near the Window Lounge. Since caring for Rowdy was a groundskeeping responsibility, I decided to talk to them first.

Quick research revealed that campus plants are in the care of the Facilities department. I contacted a Facilities employee who was around at the time of the 1997 incident. She was happy to field my questions, but, unfortunately, she wasn’t able to answer many of them. Rowdy’s former caretaker retired several years ago, taking firsthand knowledge of the toppling’s aftermath with her. Rowdy’s removal date is also unknown, but I learned that it was removed due to rust.

I contacted the campus police next. Since there had been a suspicion of vandalism, I hoped to get my hands on a copy of the police report filed. This turned out to be impossible as well; the police archives do not go back far enough. The officer I spoke to was able to give me a crucial piece of the puzzle, however. In speaking to some of his colleagues who were on the force during the incident, he learned that it was not thought to be vandalism in the end.

Having exhausted other resources, I shifted my search to photographs. One day near the HEB Student Union ballroom, I spotted a familiar character in the wedding portrait of two alumni who married on campus in 2009. Standing on the grass behind them is a haggard Rowdy! This discovery was my cue to look for more photographs, and I found a few good ones. Photographs of the topiary from the years 1996 to 2010 exist, and by 2014 it seems to have disappeared for good. The jewels of my search are closeups taken in 2007 by the UTSA Communications and Marketing department. Rowdy’s foliage is artificial in these pictures, rather than the natural vines which were originally used.

Rowdy topiary on the Student Union lawn, 2007

Rowdy topiary on the Student Union lawn, 2007. Photograph by UTSA Communications and Marketing department. (UTSA University Communications Photographs, UA 16.01.01)

Most specific details have been lost to time, but I can assemble a plausible “life history” for the Rowdy topiary based on my findings. My imagined timeline is as follows: roughly the first year of its existence, from its 1996 installation to the fall semester of 1997, was uneventful. After it toppled over in December of 1997, it was removed for repairs. All of the plant material was stripped so the frame could be welded back together. Fake leaves may have replaced real leaves at this time, or maybe later. In either case, Rowdy was placed back on the lawn once repairs were complete. Things were quiet and uneventful again for its remaining years. Its covering of artificial vine was replaced as needed until maintenance became an uphill battle. Artificial plants don’t last long in our local climate and the topiary’s iron frame gradually rusted over the decade-and-a-half it stood in place. Rowdy was eventually removed for good.

Today, the Rowdy topiary is largely forgotten. Its base is still on the Student Union lawn, empty and easy to overlook. Sometimes Rowdy can be spotted in UTSA Today news articles which use old photos, such as the article announcing the opening of the Dreamers Center. Beyond this, it only exists as an obscure piece of campus history trivia.

Topiary base and detached foot as they appear in 2019

Topiary base and detached foot as they appear in 2019. Photograph by Jessica Mitchell.

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