First Jewish Women Inducted into Cowgirl Hall of Fame
By: Tumbleweed Smith
A delegation from the Texas Jewish Historical Society was amongst more than 900 people dressed in appropriate western attire to witness the first Jewish woman to be inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame. The event was held at the Will Rogers Convention Center in Fort Worth on October 27.
Frances Rosenthal Kallison helped her husband Perry operate their Diamond K ranch, where they raised prize-winning Polled Hereford cattle and hosted large barbecue dinners for troops during World War II.
Kallison was fond of riding horses and helped establish the Bexar County Sheri‑’s Posse Ladies’ Auxiliary Drill Team. The group appeared in such events as parades and livestock shows as well as two movies: “Two Guys from Texas” and “Rio Grande.”
Kallison attended Vassar College and the University of Chicago, and later earned a master’s degree from Trinity University, where she wrote the thesis, “100 years of Jewry in San Antonio.” She also established the Jewish exhibit at the Institute of Texan Cultures. Kallison led San Antonio’s National Council of Jewish Women to establish a baby clinic for the poor, a maternity ward at the public hospital and a nursery for blind toddlers. She was on the Witte Museum board for 15 years and helped found the San Antonio Botanical Gardens. She died in 2004.
“She was instrumental in founding the TJHS,” said Rabbi Jimmy Kessler.
“She married into a family that was providing farm supplies to south Texas ranchers and farmers since the late 1800’s thru Kallison’s Store, right across the street from the court house in San Antonio. She wrote articles on Texas Jewish activities for the local paper. We were both passionate about preserving Texas Jewish history and got together around 1978 and worked on getting the society started. She was a marvelous, opinionated lady who was worth arguing with over the silliest points of Texas Jewish history.”
Kal Kallison said he loved and respected his great aunt.
“From a very young age I appreciated her thirst for knowledge and her engagement in so many different aspects of San Antonio and especially the Jewish community. She had a keen intellect right up until her death. She remembered things I had forgotten. She always kept up with all the family and we had a great relationship. Passovers were special and full of people at the Kallison house,” he said.
Robi Marisol Ravicz spoke at the podium and received the award for her grandmother.
“She’s been my grandmother my whole life,” Ravicz said with a smile and a laugh.
“I had the mumps when I was young and was shipped o‑ to my grandparents’ house to get well. I remember them being so warm and loving while they were taking care of me. My grandmother’s specialty was frosted coke and every time you’d walk in the door she’d ask you if you wanted a frosted coke. On your birthday you got an angel food cake with strawberries and cream on top. She hand-whipped the whipped cream. We used to have fried chicken picnics on her back porch. In the San Antonio Battle of Flowers parade I remember watching my grandmother ride a horse in the parade. It was really wonderful,” said Ravicz.
Janelle Montgomery and Hollace Weiner spent many years gathering information in order to nominate Frances for the Cowgirl Hall of Fame recognition. “
Hollace told me the Cowgirl Hall of Fame didn’t have a Jewish cowgirl and one of her projects was to try to get one,” said Montgomery. “
I told her we needed to find one and Hollace said she had Frances in mind. I told her she had to be kidding, that Frances was my friend Robi’s grandmother. It was just one of those bizarre small world stories. Hollace and I started talking to everybody we knew and told them what we were doing. The letters never stopped coming. And that’s how we got here today. I’m so proud,” she said.
Li Ravicz, Frances Kallison’s grandson, said, “She was a cowgirl but she was also a white-glove Victorian, a fierce advocate for grace and charm,” he said.
“She loved to help underprivileged folks and always encouraged her children and grandchildren to contribute to the well-being of the community. She had an indomitable spirit. She was a big part of the birthday parties, Seders and all the events in her home. She had a big table. When we were growing up we just knew her as our grandmother,” he explained.
“Then we found out what she accomplished. She never talked about it, although we all knew history was her hobby. When I was a teenager I would drive by her house at night on my way to see friends or something and the light in her office would be on late at night. I could almost hear the manual typewriter clicking away. She never stopped working. She had a strong moral tempest and a fierce determination to do what she thought was right. When I was growing up we’d go the Witte Museum for a lecture series. Sometimes she would interrupt the presentation and correct the speaker. She had that kind of personality. She loved to garden. She’d be out in her garden and neighborhood kids would come by and she would jokingly tell them the roots of some of the vegetables went all the way to China,” Ravicz added.
Diana Vela, associate executive director of the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, said Frances Kallison’s nomination material was some of the best the museum has ever received.
“It was so thorough and well organized and made us realize what an extraordinary woman Frances Kallison was. She did so much,” said Vela.
In the 41 years the Hall has been in existence, 224 women from all over the United States have been inducted.
TJHS members Jan and Charles Hart, Joyce and Jack Gerrick, Susan and Bob Lewis, Rabbi Jimmy Kessler, Nelson Chafetz and TJHS President David Beer made the trip to Fort Worth.