Today we remember Maura McNiel, her life and her countless contributions to women and women’s rights.
Maura was born on April 11, 1921, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, just a year after women received the right to vote in the United States. She enrolled at the University of Minnesota in 1939 and graduated three years later, with a double major in English and Psychology. Following graduation she worked for a local department store installing window displays. In December 1943 she met and married her first husband. Maura returned home to her parents when her son was 18 months old, leaving a deteriorating and abusive relationship behind.
After a few years working in an interior decorating shop in Minnesota, Maura became a dress designer. She accepted a position in Dallas after meeting with Tom McNiel. The couple married three months later. While raising her children Maura was involved in a variety of issues from children’s welfare to racial equality and the environment. But her passion was the women’s movement. Her lifelong commitment was to mentoring women and finding solutions to women’s problems. She championed Equal Rights, and advocated for services for women including employment and education.
Judge Sarah T. Hughes “voluntold” Maura she was to serve as president of a new woman’s advocacy group called Women for Change Center (later the Women’s Center of Dallas) in 1971. In 1978 the center created the Women Helping Women Awards to honor those on the front lines of change. Eight years later the board approved an official name change to The Maura Awards for Women Helping Women in 1986. For 30 years The Women’s Center continued to operate, but after many of the original founders, had moved away and other organizations, were doing similar work, the organization ceased operations in 2002.
Maura continued to advocate for equal rights for women and girls. Her work and passion for women’s issues, and feminism brought about change. Maura McNiel passed away at her home in Los Altos, California on July 18, 2020. She was 99 years old.
The Maura McNiel papers comprise clippings, brochures, minutes, speeches, correspondence, and reports reflecting her involvement in Women For Change, National Organization of Women, Child Care Information and Referral Service, Texas Women’s Political Caucus among others women’s rights; children’s rights;. The 268 audiotapes include many nationally known feminist leaders.
To learn more about Maura, her work, and the organizations she helped found, contact Samantha Dodd, curator of the Archives of Women of the Southwest for additional information or assistance with accessing the collection.
Be sure to contact the DeGolyer library and check out our books, manuscripts, pamphlets, and photographs related to countless other women who advocated for women and championed women’s rights movement during this centennial year of women’s right to vote.