Image from the Texas House of Representatives.
Born: 1931 (Kingsville)
Died: 2003 (Austin)
Noted For: Irma Rangel was an educator and lawyer noted as the first Mexican American woman elected to the Texas House of Representatives.
Irma Lerma Rangel was not a woman inclined to let obstacles slow her down.
In the 1960s, the Rio Grande Valley native and language teacher decided to earn a law degree—despite the noteworthy “handicap” of being a Mexican-American woman in her mid-thirties.
After graduating from St. Mary’s University School of Law, Irma broke barriers by becoming one of the first Hispanic women to be selected for a federal clerkship. She later became one of the first Hispanic women to serve as an assistant district attorney in Texas—and then she became the only Hispanic woman to work as an attorney in private practice in her hometown of Kingsville in the early 1970s.
In 1974, Irma successfully ran for the chairmanship of the Kleburg County Democratic Party, thus marking the launch of her political career. In 1977, she made history when she became the first Mexican-American woman to serve in the Texas Legislature, representing the Kingsville/Kleburg areas in the House of Representatives. It was a position she would hold until the end of her life. During her 26-year tenure in the House, Irma focused on issues related to women and children, as well as those disenfranchised by poverty. She also worked to extend voting rights by strengthening the absentee voting system in Texas.
Legislation that Irma sponsored or championed resulted in enhanced financial aid for low-income students, employment opportunities for Texas mothers receiving welfare, and the creation of the College of Pharmacy at Texas A&M University Kingsville. However, she is perhaps best remembered for her landmark “10 Percent” bill, which guaranteed public college admission to Texas high school students in the top 10 percent of their graduating classes, a policy that resulted in improved minority representation on Texas campuses.
Irma was also noted for her work ethic, her colorful ensembles (which matched an equally colorful personality) and her signature (and singular) manner of introducing bills on the House floor: “I have this sweet wonderful bill that you all are going to love so much,” she would say. “So let’s just pass it out without talking about it.” [from the Caller Times, March 4, 2020].
Students at the Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School in Dallas, with Texas Women’s Foundation President and CEO Roslyn Dawson Thompson (left) and Texas Women’s Preparatory Network CEO Lynn McBee (right).
In addition to being honored as the namesake of the first public all-girls’ school in Texas, Irma was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame, named “Legislator of the Year” by the Mexican American Bar Association, and received awards from the Hispanic Caucus of the American Association for Higher Education and the American Bar Association. She died in 2003 following a battle with cancer.
Biography of Irma Lerma Rangel (with audio): from Women in Texas History