EDITOR'S NOTE: Caprock Chronicles is edited by Paul Carlson, emeritus professor of history at Texas Tech. This week’s essay by Archivist Monte Monroe of Texas Tech's  Southwest Collection looks at the amazing life and work of Lubbock’s Mae Murfee.

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In 2010, citizens passed a Lubbock Independent School District bond package addressing the needs of 21st-century students. Asbestos problems led to Mae Murfee Elementary School being razed.

The student bodies of Murfee and Haynes Elementary schools were consolidated into a new, larger, state-of-the-art institution named Jayne Ann Miller Elementary School. It was determined that the new facility deserved a fresh name and, hence, Miller Elementary School replaced the former Murfee school.

With those changes, the public record of Mae Murfee’s historic service to the community vanished and the memorabilia associated with the demolished school was returned to the family, including a state historical marker about her life.

Eva Mae Murfee was born in Nesbitt, Haskell County, Texas, the daughter of James Edward “J.E.” and Sarah Emily Griffin Murfee. Her father was an early Lubbock County pioneer and among its first prominent land developers.

Though raised on the last Texas frontier, Mae Murfee, as she was commonly known, rejoiced in learning, and she gained an education that benefited generations of students in Lubbock County and the state of Texas.

Murfee was ahead of her time. In 1905, she taught in the Block 20 School at the original community of Slide and also served as principal there. In 1909, she furthered her education at Texas Woman’s College, from which she graduated.

She carried out additional graduate work through the University of California and Georgetown University in Washington, D. C. In 1914 she became the first woman principal of Lubbock Junior High.

Recognizing a critical educational need in the community, in 1916 Murfee gifted her own books to create Lubbock High’s first school library.

For many years Murfee headed the history and government departments at Lubbock High School, garnering the first state accreditation for those courses in the district.

She was a trailblazer in the use of visual aids in the classroom, purchasing equipment with personal funds to benefit her students. Murfee even forged the first connection between the Lubbock school district and the Interscholastic League.

Her contributions to education in Lubbock continued. In the early 1920s, when it was uncommon for women to be involved in such matters, she was a strong advocate for and became the only woman on the steering committee that worked to locate Texas Technological College in Lubbock.

In fact, she personally funded a two-story boarding house as her personal contribution to the cause. It housed students for over 50  years.

In 1928 she ran for and became the Lubbock County school superintendent of education, holding the key position until 1936. In this work she led efforts to standardize educational practices across the county. She introduced home economics, a health nurse and libraries into Lubbock County schools.

Murfee also served as the area’s six-county district supervisor for the Texas Department of Education, becoming well-known throughout the state as an educational advocate, especially as an agitator for free text books in Texas schools.

Also, she was extensively involved in civic service activities. She served on local, district and state boards - as an officer or president - including the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs, the League of Women Voters, the Crippled Children’s Society, the Boy Scouts of America and the state Centennial Committee.

She was instrumental in establishing the Allen Brothers VFW Post 148 and the Ladies Auxiliary. She had been closely involved in civic activities during WWI and WWII, being awarded citations by the president, War Department and State Commission for War Service.

Murfee worked with the first Chamber of Commerce to bring water and lights to Lubbock, was on the state commission to prevent tuberculosis, was supervisor for the state organization on child welfare and actively campaigned for pure food laws.

She helped organize Delta Kappa Gama Sorority, was the county and district chair of the Democratic Party, attending a national convention, and was state chair of the Texas Conservation of Natural Resources Committee.

She was a member and officer at the state, district and local level of numerous historical and cultural organizations, and faithfully served the First Methodist Church of Lubbock for over 50 years, having a window placed in her honor.

Murfee even provided monetary support for young students like David Hester to travel oversees to broaden their horizons. She believed that “every boy and girl may be saved to useful citizenship if the right person is there at the right time — the parent or the teacher.”

A century before the accomplishments of women in modern society were proclaimed as commonplace, Mae Murfee was among the vanguard of her gender, giving of her time, resources and talents to the betterment of her community. She garnered numerous honors.

The many accomplishments and varied talents of this early South Plains “Wonder Woman” should be recognized in conspicuous fashion. They will inspire future generations of young women and, indeed, all Lubbock citizens for generations.