Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences Embrey Human Rights Events

‘My Passion, My Philanthropy:’ Lauren Embrey on Giving Bold and ‘Now’

Lauren Embrey

Photo credit: Ginny Martin

By: Lauren Embrey

DALLAS (WOMENSENEWS)—“There is no such thing as a lesser person.” That is the motto of the Embrey Human Rights Program at Southern Methodist University, and something I innately knew from birth.When I was young, I wanted to drive a moped, but was told I couldn’t “because I was a girl.” I did not understand this. When I was a few years older, I was asked to train for the Olympics in swimming, but my mother’s response was, “Why would you want green hair and big shoulders?” I didn’t understand that either.

Then at the elite girls’ school I attended in Dallas, my hometown, the message changed. I was taught that I could accomplish anything any man could. I was not to consider myself “lesser” in any regard, and definitely not because of my gender.

That sounded and felt great. I knew I had much potential and I wanted to experience all life had to offer, so I embraced this new message. But as I engaged in the larger world, it seemed, for a while, that the old “you can’t, you’re a girl” messages came roaring back.

When I got married, for instance, I wanted to keep my last name, as many other women across the country were doing at the time. We were all rejecting a custom that linked us back to a time when wives were the possessions of husbands, just like cattle and land.

But I got a lot of pushback. Institutions questioned forms where I both checked the married box but did not have the same last name as my husband. Friends and acquaintances introduced me with my husband’s last name on the presumption I had changed it.

I was living in Texas, which culturally seemed to be denying the realities of the women’s movement. An exception of course was Vivian Castleberry, the first female editor at the Dallas Times Herald and a Women’s eNews 21 Leaders for the 21st Century awardee in 2009, who wrote about domestic violence and gender-based work inequities at a time when this was unheard of. Another exception was Louise Raggio, the first female prosecutor in Dallas County, Texas, who radically changed the property rights for women in the state. But outside of a few champions like them, the 1960s mainstream society of Texas was doing its best to stick to old customs. READ MORE