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Interview with: Betty Lou Bayless
Interviewed by: Deirdre Denman Glober / Dorothy K. H. Houghton
Date: May 12, 1982
Archive Number: OH JL26-1
DG: 00:03 This tape was produced on May 12, 1982, by volunteers of the Junior League of Houston at the Houston Public Library. It is one of a series of tapes on the history of voluntarism in Houston. These tapes form a segment of the Oral History Collection of the Houston Metropolitan Archives at the library. The interviewers are Deirdre Denman Glober and Dorothy Knox Howe Houghton. The subject of the interview is Mrs. James Bayless, Betty Lou Bayless.
Mrs. Bayless, are you a native Houstonian?
BB: Yes, I am.
DG: Where did you go to school here?
BB: I went to River Oaks Elementary and Kinkaid and then away to boarding school and away to college.
DG: In Texas?
BB: Boarding school at St. Mary’s Hall in San Antonio, and then I went to junior college in Bennett in New York, and then I came back to the University of Texas for my last two years.
DG: What exposure to the performing arts did you have a child?
BB: I studied under Rowena Smith as just a plain little ballet student, and at St. Mary’s Hall I took from a teacher at San Antonio who would come to St. Mary’s Hall and teach. And then I majored in—
DG: You took ballet?
BB: Ballet, right. Then I majored in modern dance at Bennett and then transferred to the University of Texas and studied dance in the drama department there but dropped my major because I was in Plan II.
DH: 01:40 What was your major?
BB: My major at the university was Plan II, but I picked up on dance credits. Actually, the university was very sticky about transferring my many dance credits, so I took a step back as far as—
DH: Did you want to become a professional dancer?
BB: Yes, I really did. I wanted to stay in New York after Bennett. My friend and I were going to get an apartment, which is what most of the girls did. And my parents always said I could never go to the University of Texas because it was just a den of iniquity. (laughs) And so I wrote them and told them I wanted to get an apartment and stay on in New York, and they wrote back and said, “Had you ever thought of going to the University of Texas?” which I really had not because I had been so brainwashed. So I came back to Texas.
DG: Was there much symphony and opera ballet performances in Houston that you were able to watch as well as participate in?
BB: No. Actually, the only ballet that I saw that was routinely performed at Christmas was the Ballet Russe. Everybody would make a concerted effort to see many performances. I think they stayed a couple weeks.
DG: Did you travel with your family enough to see performances in other places?
BB: No. When we traveled, we went to Colorado for the summers, and that was about the extent of our journeying.
DG: What values did your family instill in you that inspired your later involvement in volunteer activities?
BB: Oh, my heavens. I’m not sure they were really values. (laughs) Well, my mother was a Junior League member, and so I sort of grew up with the yellow uniform going out once a week to work in, I guess, the kitchen. And she also was chairman of the museum project. And then she went on to work at Faith Home, which I never participated in. But that’s really about the only—oh, and my father was in charge of the fund drive at the museum one year and was on the board as a result. And also my father was interested in tennis and was chairman of the River Oaks Tournament for many years.
DG: 03:56 That was a benefit tournament at one time, is that right?
BB: No, it was an amateur and it was really just strictly in those days handled by the River Oaks Country Club. And it was an invitational amateur tournament, and people put the players up in their homes. It was really more of a social, fun time than it is now where so much money is involved and professionals.
DG: What impression did you have of why your parents were willing to do all of those civic activities, because it really sounds like a good deal.
BB: Gosh, I’m at a loss. I guess it’s just an inherent duty, more or less.
DG: How would you characterize the social and cultural climate of Houston during childhood?
BB: In those days, it was a small town. And of course the symphony was ever-present because as a child, I remember we had the opportunity to visit the symphony on the buses from elementary school. And as far as social, it was almost one big, happy family growing up. Everybody knew everybody else. But culturally, looking back, as compared to now, it was almost an oasis.
DG: What did you know about the Junior League of Houston when you were invited to membership? Your mother had been a member.
BB: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
DG: Were you invited right after you finished college?
BB: Yes. Actually, I was invited right as I was being married. It was not that big a chore as far as the duties and responsibilities because I never did work, never was employed. So I just set right in on my provisional course and waiting on tables in the Tea Room.
DG: What was your impression of the organization at first?
BB: 06:04 I was a younger provisional as compared to the norm, so I met people really that were just enough older than I was. I mean, I met another whole group of people that I wouldn’t have known either through my mother or through my acquaintances, and it opened up a broader spectrum.
DG: The first volunteer placements you had were in the Tea Room—
BB: That was mandatory.
DG: And the clinic?
BB: Right. And then I think I was elected to the admissions committee shortly thereafter because of the age group. There were very few eligible people, so I sort of inherited by default. (chuckles)
DG: So you served on the admissions committee pretty early on.
BB: Pretty early. I think I represented the younger group.
DG: And you were also chairman of Texas Children’s project at one time, right?
BB: Yes. That was much later.
DG: What kinds of things did you do in between there? Do you remember any of the positions that you held?
BB: I was chairman of the charity ball. I had been entertainment chairman. No, actually I was not entertainment chairman; I was assistant entertainment chairman to Leila Hull. And Sara Lindsey was then president, and she called and asked if I would be chairman of the charity ball and said, “And I’ll be perfectly honest with you. I asked Leila Hull, and she cannot do it.” So I stepped in with Sara’s wise guidance.
DG: What was that job like? What did it involve?
BB: Oh, it was fun. That was the first year that we—I’m trying to think. No, it wasn’t the first year, but we used a New York group, professional men that I guess had been on Broadway and for one reason or another no longer performed. But anyway, a man came to Houston and directed us. Of course the overall responsibility of the money-raising was not as much fun as the entertainment part.
DG: 08:07 Right. (laughs)
BB: But in those days, we did not have the programs, did not have paid ads, so that was not a facet of it. All we wanted to do really was just break even on the printing of the program.
DG: So the funds were raised entirely from tickets—
BB: And underwriters.
DG: And underwriters?
BB: Yes, yes, but not to the extent that the underwriters give now.
DG: How did the underwriter relationship work? Did an underwriter agree just to fund a certain part of the cost?
BB: I’m sorry to say I can’t remember. I think we started out with just very few, like maybe three or four. And then, as you know, it grew. I can’t remember whether they were asked for a specific amount. I think they were, and I can’t remember the figure.
DG: So you had their contribution to help cover the expenses.
BB: Right, right.
DG: And the funds from the ball were used primarily for gifts to the Junior League outpatient clinic?
BB: Yes. It was really mainly a Texas Children’s Hospital thrust.
DG: What were the activities of the volunteers that you supervised at Texas Children’s when you were chairman there?
BB: Each day a specialty clinic was held—for instance, rheumatoid arthritis, surgery, leukemia. And the volunteers worked in pairs, and they would be at the check-in desk and would assist the nurse in checking the patients in. They would take their temperature and get them ready for the doctor, and then they would stay in the room with the doctor when he examined the patients.
DG: 10:18 And then how was that organized at your level? Did you have assistants to help somebody there every day?
BB: Well, no. Actually, our biggest responsibility was to train the volunteers and then to be ready to substitute if they at the last minute were sick. And of course those clinics began at 8:45 in the morning, which for young mothers was a real hardship. So a lot of times at 8:15 the phone would ring and the volunteer had a sick child or something, and so I would suit up and go out.
DG: Right. Then you served also on the advisory committee that sort of coordinated things with the hospital?
BB: Yes. That was an inherent responsibility. The chairmanship was a two-year job, and then it was understood that you would go on to serve in an advisory capacity on the advisory committee that was made up of the physician in chief of Texas Children’s Hospital, our executive secretary who was Frances Heyck, the Texas Children’s Hospital chairman and also the chairman of Hermann Well-Baby and then the administrators from both hospitals, Hermann and Texas Children’s. So it was a marvelous way of communication. It solved many problems.
DG: So you would have both the current Junior League chairman and the past chairman on the committee?
BB: Right, yes.
DG: Were those monthly meetings, or how did it work?
BB: We tried to hold them monthly, but because the professionals involved were so busy, it was probably more like once every two months, three months, something like that unless the need arose and then we would call a meeting.
DG: What was the relationship between the Hermann Clinic, the well-baby clinic, and Texas Children’s clinics that made it important to have that coordination?
BB: 12:21 Dr. Blattner, who was physician in chief at Texas Children’s, was also head of pediatrics at Hermann. So just so the left hand knew what the right hand was doing and because they were our only two health projects, we just felt that the communication was necessary.
DG: Were the two clinics serving similar functions or sort of complementary functions?
BB: The well-baby was strictly for the follow-up of children that were born in the Hermann Clinic and it was preventative, where they were given their DPT shots and their routine examinations up until the time I think they were a year old. And Texas Children’s was not for well babies. It was for the sick child and research.
DG: When you chaired a project’s investigating committee to review the well-baby clinic at Hermann, that was in ’64. I think it was right after you were chairman of Texas Children’s. Do you remember the focus of that study and the recommendations of the study?
BB: The volunteers complained that there was not enough to keep them busy, which of course is an age-old complaint. (laughs) But after looking into it, we felt that if the volunteer had enough interest and enthusiasm that they could find enough to keep them busy. And Dr. Blattner prevailed upon us to stay and that it would be the responsibility of the Hermann people to beef up the program, so to speak, and make it more challenging. So with that in mind, we recommended that we stay—we probably didn’t put a stipulation as to time, but we certainly were going to stay at least one, maybe two or more years and then look at it again.
DG: Do you remember the studies on immunization that were being done there at the time?
BB: Yes. Daphne Murray was one of the key people involved in that. And the disheartening thing about that study is the fact that they could never get much response from the parents, of all things. So they would ask them to bring the children back, and there would be no-shows for appointments. And then they would get on the telephone, and it was really a drudgery type of volunteer job but very much needed. So through the boredom, I think it was proved that it was worthwhile.
DG: Uh-hunh (affirmative), because they were trying to study the side effects of different kinds of immunizations?
BB: 15:06 Yes. And at that point I think it was rubella, way back. Of course it’s routine now, but they were doing a long-range study on the rubella.
DG: What type of agreement was made among the Junior League and Texas Children’s and the Texas Institute of Child Psychology in 1964?
BB: It was child psychiatry.
DG: Child psychiatry?
BB: Yes. Actually, Dr. Irvin Kraft was the psychiatrist, and he began, as best I can recall, as one of the clinics at Texas Children’s. I think the title was “The Emotionally Disturbed.” It was a fascinating job for the volunteers because at that point child psychiatry was fairly new on the horizon. He had so much support and felt it necessary to enlarge his patient load that he opened the Texas Institute of Child Psychiatry. And at that point there was—of course there is in every hospital setting—a lot of politics involved. And the head of psychiatry at Baylor did not exactly go along with Dr. Kraft’s philosophy, so there was a parting of the ways. As I recall, it was a three-way agreement with Texas Children’s Hospital, Texas Institute of Child Psychiatry and Baylor. And Dr. Kraft set up his own board and did his own fundraising in a separate building even. But I think a lot of patients that came through Texas Children’s Hospital clinic were referred to him in the TICP, as we called it. And his concept was the fact that an emotionally disturbed child should remain with the family and in their environment rather than having residential treatment. So he felt that if they would come to this what he called a day hospital—and he had all the way from volunteers on up through psychiatrists, psychologists, case workers—and if these children could come and have a very regimented, disciplined day care program, with psychiatric overtones of course, and go back to the setting that probably they would have to live with for the rest of their lives, they would benefit far greater. And that went on for a good while, and then finally I think Baylor severed all connections, so he was just sort of out on his own.
DG: So it started as sort of one area of the outpatient clinic at Texas Children’s—
BB: Right, right.
DG: —and then developed into an entirely separate facility and institution?
BB: Right, uh-hunh (affirmative).
DG: 18:11 What was the purpose of expanding the Junior League outpatient department at Texas Children’s when the League donated about $26,000 in 1967? Do you remember that? It was part of an expansion of other parts of the hospital.
BB: Oh, yes. We certainly wanted to be a part of that. Dr. Blattner was our patron saint, the physician in chief. He was a marvelous man. And that’s when we gave the money in honor of him. I think retirement was on the horizon for him. And also because of the patient load, the facilities just became way overcrowded, and the waiting room was overcrowded and noisy, and children and mothers were piled on top of one another. And so we gave the Blattner Conference Room and then enlarged all of the facility, just along with the hospital.
DG: Turning to the League’s move from its building on Stuart Street to the new facility on Post Oak Park Drive, what do you remember about the decision to do that and the pros and cons that were discussed at the time?
BB: The decision, I guess, was just the growth of Houston. We were being surrounded by a freeway system. Parking was a problem, volunteers and patrons alike getting to the League building, plus the fact that the building was in really pretty bad shape structurally and the facilities just were too small. So we set about looking. By we—I really was not involved—there was a marvelous relocating committee that lasted for a long time. (chuckles) And they turned every stone in the southwest part of Houston looking for property and came up with several marvelous choices. In remembering, one of the big decisions was whether to locate with Neiman Marcus, who at that point had plans on the drawing board—it was even before the Galleria—and Neiman’s was thinking of buying a big block of land right off of what is now 610 West Loop, and we were negotiating with them to join hands. And then there was another piece of property on Sage Road, which is where the Sagewood Country Club is now.
DH: Was this Neiman Marcus property where Neiman Marcus is located today?
BB: Approximately, but I think it was before Gerald Hines entered the picture and the whole Galleria concept. And then this third piece of property was the property on Post Oak Park, and at that point there was nothing there. So I think the committee very wisely—it was composed of businessmen and sustaining members and actives—really scrutinized and finally made that decision. Now, as far as the pros and cons of whether to move or not to move, there was an element in the older members that felt that we had done all right where we were for this many years and why should we move. But the handwriting was on the wall, and after it was finally presented and re-presented and arguments were drawn up, pros and cons, it just became obvious.
DG: 21:51 Did it seem like a long way from downtown at first?
BB: Yes, it really did. Now, as far as the League members were concerned, it didn’t seem because by that time most of them were moving out to the west. But no, I think the location was always—actually, it was more of a chore to get down to Stuart Street, except for the older members who lived down in that area anyway. And they were worried that some of the people that lived within the Loop now, so to speak, would not patronize the Tea Room.
DG: Were there any particular reasons that it didn’t work out to do it with Neiman Marcus?
BB: I think it was decided that we would be better to be on our own and independent of any other organization or group.
DG: The land there is about three and a half acres. Was there a lot of discussion about the size of that, do you remember?
BB: No. I think one of the primary concerns was parking, and I think that we felt that we could always expand. Of course now we need to expand even more.
DG: How did the Tea Room and its need for business enter in to the considerations? You mentioned that there was some concern about whether people close in would go further out to the new site.
BB: The grill books, which is what we discussed on the telephone, just as an insurance policy—I guess it was the bylaws or a standing rule passed that each member was obliged to buy a certain number of tickets, which were called grill books, to ensure that they did indeed patronize the Tea Room.
DG: For the first year or two.
BB: 23:38 I think we are such a conservative group that we looked at the dark side of what could possibly happen, and that was one thing that they were afraid might happen.
DH: Did this mean that you could take these tickets to the Tea Room and exchange them for food?
BB: Right, exactly, yeah. Just like a cash bar, so to speak. And then another concern that we really hadn’t thought about is dance clubs and big receptions just booked the League fantastically, the support. But the acoustics were absolutely terrible.
DG: In the old building?
BB: In the new building. And the backlash was just unbelievable, and that was something that they really had not foreseen. This is in the dining room part. And the first few dances and receptions that were held there, people were just aghast. So then some experts were brought in, and it was decided that there was just absolutely nothing that could be done and we could live with it—or had to. And it’s just slowly faded away, and it’s just no problem anymore because people realize what they’re going to be facing.
DG: Right. How was the new building financed?
BB: (gasps) Oh, you got me. I was not involved with that.
DG: I didn’t necessarily mean the details of the bank loans or anything, but what kinds of special fundraising were—
BB: Well, the year that I was president was the second year that we were in the new building. Marilyn Brollier was the president the first year, which was certainly appropriate because she was the spearhead among the move and the planning. But we felt that the membership did have an obligation above and beyond the grill book, so we had an auction, which I guess was a glamorous garage sale, and everybody was asked to bring things that could be auctioned off, whether it be old wine glasses or pieces of furniture. And Ann McAshan Baker was chairman of that, and I think we made almost $18,000. And then because we were ahead of payment schedule, I think the fundraising efforts—now, it may have been continued another year, but there was no longer a need to tap the membership for these extra.
DG: 26:06 So it really went pretty readily.
BB: It did. Oh, we were ahead of schedule the whole way, I think, as far as payments.
DG: There was a gift at about that time of $100,000 from the Fondren Foundation. Was that for the building?
BB: I’m almost sure it was. Docie Allday, whose maiden name was Fondren, was very instrumental in her very quiet, soft, gentle way in getting these funds. And then of course the Underwood Room, Mrs. Underwood was a Fondren as well and she underwrote the cost of that beautiful living lounge room.
DH: The furnishings.
BB: The furnishings, right.
DH: Hasn’t the Underwood family recently refurbished that room?
BB: As I understand it, they have.
DG: The charity ball, which annually raises funds for League health care projects, was criticized by the Better Business Bureau for having excessive costs by Better Business Bureau standards. How would you differentiate the ball from other fundraising efforts in Houston in the mid 1960s?
BB: Every nickel we made we turned back to the community. None of the money that we raised went into staff operation; it was all a volunteer effort. And when the man called me from the Better Business Bureau and wanted to see our charity ball books, I had no misgivings about turning it all over to him because I felt we certainly were doing nothing wrong or even shady. The treasurer took great exception to that, and she said she felt that it was our business and that nobody should come in and be able to scrutinize or have the chance to in any way criticize us. But we did turn the books over, and I really felt like our skirts were clean. And then we got this letter back saying that indeed they were slapping us on the wrist. But actually, there was no great publicity about it. We got a letter, and anybody that wanted to call the Better Business Bureau who had been asked for a contribution for the charity ball efforts could certainly call and find out if we were on their approved list and would be told that I guess we either were not or would be given their reasons for thinking that we were not mishandling but not being as scrutinizing as possible.
DH: 28:44 How is it that we happened to be even approached by them?
BB: I don’t know, unless someone that we had asked to be an underwriter or to be a sponsor had called the Better Business Bureau. I just don’t know how they happened to even land on us because so many more things on a much larger scale were going on in Houston. As I told Deirdre, having worked at the Red Cross, the March of Dimes is heavy staff, and they have never given their books to anyone and it’s known that the money they raise really goes primarily back to salary. But I don’t know how, and I still don’t know how they came up with this percentage breakdown. But as far as our philosophy and the way we handle it, I still think that we certainly have nothing to apologize for.
DH: On this same question, though, how did the charity ball compare to other fundraising projects in just the type of project? In other words, were there other charity balls going on at that time? It seems to me that perhaps not to the extent that we have charity balls now, for example. We were just wondering what other types of fundraising projects of that scale were being held in Houston at that time.
BB: I think we were the only charity ball at that time. The reason I say that—now, maybe the Heritage Society—
DH: What about the museum? Did the museum have a ball in those days or not?
BB: I don’t think they did. This is way back. What year are we talking about?
DG: We were thinking about ’67, I guess.
BB: 30:38 That was the year that I was president. I’m talking about when I was—I’m sorry. When I was president, they did, yes. There were other balls.
DG: But when you chaired the charity ball.
BB: But the year I was chairman of the charity ball there weren’t, because then about two years later I was asked to chair the first opera ball. So that sort of gives you an idea. But then, no, in ’67 there were because the opera ball, obviously, and the museum ball.
DH: What was the year that you chaired the Junior League ball? Was it in the ‘50s?
BB: It was the year Sara Lindsey was president, and what year was that? It was in the ‘50s, in the mid to late ‘50s.
DG: The Tea Room dues make possible gifts to various community agencies. For example, a $30,000 gift for a day care center was made to Ripley House in 1967, and the original Day Care Association funding was provided by the Junior League in 1953.
BB: For the Ripley House or for the day care center?
DG: For Day Care Center Association, not to Ripley House. How did the Ripley House gift come about in ’67? Do you remember that?
BB: No, I’m embarrassed to say I don’t. Obviously, the request came to the board— (recorder turns off – no audio) 32:00 to 32:18
DG: In the mid 1960s, what types of community agencies were League members active in?
BB: Actually, community placement was really a jewel of an opportunity because at that point we were so heavily committed to our own projects—that is, the Tea Room, the hospitals—that we had very few people that we could release for community placement, and there was certainly a lot of desire on the part of agencies in the community to have us work in their agencies, plus the fact that we liked to put our volunteers where our money went. So with that in mind, I do remember the probation department was started just with one or two volunteers. I do remember Shirley Pond and Camille Haynes.
DG: Do you remember what kind of things they did at the probation department when they started?
BB: 33:14 It was primarily intake, interviewing the children as they were brought in, and to help the staff. And as I understand it, they worked up and really became a vital part of their probation department program, and the numbers of volunteers were enlarged. And then I remember I was fascinated with the Ben Taub emergency room because later I went on to that. But we had a few hardy souls that took the Red Cross nurse’s aide course and went on to work there. Actually, it really was at a minimum—I’m trying to—
DG: Was the Ben Taub emergency room at that time as we know it today, sort of the major emergency room in the city?
BB: It was. It was not as highly publicized as a trauma center, so to speak, but it was the emergency room, being a city-county hospital. And they of course were set up to cope. But I’m sure in those days they didn’t have to cope quite as in depth or as frequently as they do now. But they did need volunteers to help back up the nurse and doctor effort.
DG: How were the summer reading reward plays organized?
BB: Gosh, years ago—I guess it was in the early ‘50s—the library came to the League and asked help with their children’s reading program that was organized during the summer. And they felt that in order to entice the children to enroll in these programs, they should have a marvelous reward at the end. And actually, I was almost very new in the League, but I remember a friend of mine who was working— It was first started in conjunction with the drama department at the University of Houston, which was known as the Little Red Schoolhouse, Kiki Gray. I guess it was an effort on the part of the library and the University of Houston, and then they came to the League and asked the League to work with them on this reward play. And the first play, as I recall, was Peter Pan. It was held with Kiki Gray, and she had a group of children that she worked with as part of her work at the University of Houston, and the League people. We presented it at Cullen Theater.
DG: Did the Junior League people act in it?
BB: Yes, yes. We funded it. I can’t remember—it was not a great amount of money. And then a few of the extroverts acted in it, along with these cute children from the Little Red Schoolhouse. And then it was very popular, and the library seemed most appreciative, and so it was continued each summer. And then following Kiki Gray’s endeavor, Tom and G’Ann Boyd stepped in at the University of Houston. And then after that, it was not necessarily League members that presented this play, but it was funded— (telephone rings) 36:31 Sorry. (recorder turns off) 36:36 So where shall I start?
DG: 36:37 You were telling us about the Boyds and how they got involved.
BB: Tom and G’Ann Boyd then left the University of Houston and went to Kinkaid as head of drama, and this is before Kinkaid even moved to their present location. G’Ann was a modern dance teacher, or still is, I guess, and she had a group of older students—she called us housewives and mothers—and we would go to take class from G’Ann. And Tom would write these children’s programs or plays and G’Ann would put them to music and dance.
DH: This was the G’Ann Boyd Concert Dancers. G’Ann is spelled G, apostrophe, A-N-N.
BB: G, apostrophe, capital A-N-N. Right. And it was a combination of narration, dance and music. As my husband said, the best thing about us was that we were free. We’d go anywhere, anytime and our prime focus was children. But also we did religious things. We danced the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm. We would go to the Unitarian Church frequently, and we danced at Temple Emanu El at their Festival of the Arts in the Bible. By we—I was sort of a small part. But anyway, to bring it back to focus with the reward play, the G’Ann Boyd Concert Dancers presented these plays each summer end for the library children.
DG: So that was how you came to be performing in it in ’67, in the same year that you were president.
BB: Still hanging in there. Right. (laughter)
DG: How did the role and the involvement of professionals—that is, members with full-time employment—change during the 1960s?
BB: It was really an amazing change because, as I mentioned earlier, when I was a provisional, you were either unmarried, living at home, waiting to do something volunteer-wise or you were married and raising children. There were just not many professional people around at that point. And then it became really obvious when I began working at the committee level that there were a lot of working girls that had so much to offer, and it was our responsibility to offer them volunteer opportunities. Of course it would have to fit in with the League schedule of things. It was in the evenings or on Saturday. I remember we set up what we called the PEG group, the professional evening group. I’m sort of embarrassed to even think what we asked those poor girls to do. It was things like addressing invitations to the charity ball. It was just really nitty-gritty, but at that point we hadn’t come to grips quite with what was to become just an overwhelming number and an inherent obligation as far as giving them meaningful volunteer opportunities.
DG: 39:48 Was there also an increasing emphasis on giving members experience in administration during that period, as opposed to primary delivery of services?
BB: Not that I recall. As I came up through administration, it was usually if you just happened to be there at the right time. For instance, I first started in admissions and it was an elective process and I served in that capacity several years. And then I sort of inherited the charity ball bit, having worked on it. And so there was really not a focus. Through the financial area there was. But the way I sort of became involved, it was just by osmosis almost. But I do think we did realize the need to bring people along to be able to handle being treasurer and in the financial arena.
DG: One thing that seemed to be developing was an increasingly sophisticated interview system, sort of channels of communication, I guess, between the board and the membership. What was the impetus for that?
BB: I think the fact that the membership was growing and that when you’re not involved you tend to sit back and criticize. And we just wanted to be able to hear from our members on a more personal, firsthand basis and listen to their complaints and then try to do something to rectify.
DG: What assistance did the Junior League give the first Houston job fairs in 1967 and ’68?
BB: I really wasn’t directly involved with that. Blair Justice, who at that point was in the mayor’s office—I think he’s a psychologist, but he was a very attractive, knowledgeable man—realized that during the hot days of the ‘60s that the youth of the city, the indigent youth primarily, would be out looking for jobs hopefully but probably couldn’t find them. And in order to sort of put a lid on this fervor or this hotbed of discontent, he thought that it would be a marvelous idea, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and the city of Houston, that they go to businesses and ask them to have a concerted effort to employ the high school children. They asked the League’s help, and I remember we went down to City Hall several times and there were two schools of thought. One was not to get involved because it was a political animal. It was my feeling that we should because it was helping the city and helping the children and that it really was a very meaty endeavor. And Mary Wilson, the vice president then—Mary Grizzard now—said it was time for us just to take off our white gloves and just settle in to something that we could really be effective in. And we did become involved that year, and I think we really brought a lot to the program in expertise if nothing else, and I don’t know why expertise because we hadn’t been involved, but I guess we just had been down the road of voluntarism. It was a success that first year, but it was refined even more the next year, and the League became involved by going to corporations and individuals and asking them to underwrite the salaries of these children—not all the children but certain children—and then they would be placed in a nonprofit situation like Ripley House, Jeff Davis, and then through our efforts their salary would be paid. And then finally, I think we stayed with it for several more years, and then the whole program—it didn’t disintegrate but it just sort of became part of a larger.
DG: 44:10 So the League helped with planning it and with the funding for the students’ positions and then actually provided some volunteers on the days that the students were going to come and get together with the possible employers.
BB: Right, right. It was a fantastic operation. We took over the Coliseum—by we I mean the job fair group—and businesses sent their personnel people down and each one of them had a booth. And it was just amazing to see the number of primarily minority children that just piled in there looking for work.
DH: When you say you asked businesses to underwrite the salaries, do you mean the business that hired the child? You’re talking about another business?
BB: Another business or an individual.
DH: Is this something of a departure from the League’s normal policy of not raising funds? I realize that the job fair is not a nonprofit organization.
BB: Yeah, it was nonprofit.
DH: It was?
BB: Oh, yes.
DH: 45:17 But the League ordinarily does not get into fundraising for other organizations, isn’t that correct?
BB: That’s right, exactly. But this was for nonprofit, and we were just helping the minority children primarily was the thought. And the League did indeed donate money itself to underwrite.
DH: But ordinarily, the League does not go out and raise money for other organizations.
BB: Oh, no. No. That’s right. But we were involved in this as a project, and we considered it part of our obligation.
DG: What characteristics of the League organization have permitted it to change its commitments appropriately as Houston has changed and developed? What is it about the way that it’s set up and the interactions are that makes it flexible enough to do that?
BB: I think it’s the members and the young members coming along. I went to a meeting just the other day; I hadn’t been to one in so long. But it’s just amazing to see the interest and the high-powered, attractive, sharp young members, and they’re on top of it and they elect the officers and the board and they’re young enough and not just sort of completely stodgy (laughs) and dead set in their tracks.
DG: There’s a system in which a member is no longer active after they are 40 or 45.
DH: Forty-five now, I think it is.
DG: They can extend up to 45 but after that they’re not as active in the membership and that sort of causes a continuous change, I guess.
BB: Oh, exactly. I think it’s the younger members that are sustaining. The whole theory behind the League is get a young gal and train her and then set her loose in the community, and that’s what a sustainer should do is just not hang in with the League all of their lives but should go onward and upward.
DG: Do you think that the community placement system and the system of having representatives on other boards also contributes to that?
BB: 47:34 Oh, certainly, the exposure. The broader the exposure, certainly the more interest you’re going to cultivate.
DG: And it contributes to a flexibility?
BB: And especially, I would think, for the professional gals, the community placement.
DG: How is the system of selective admission to League membership important to the League’s purposes and work?
BB: I think you just have to be very discriminating. Of course inherent refinement always jumps to mind, but I think it’s much more than that. It has to be someone that is astute enough to realize the need and responsible to follow through. The year that I was admissions chairman—and I guess it still takes place—it was primarily the daughters that were proposed the minute they became eligible. And I was one of those very daughters, so I’m guilty too. But a lot of times some girls are more mature than others, and it’s a hard responsibility for the committee to decide who is the mature, 18-year-old candidate—which in my day it was 18 years—and who is the immature 18-year-old candidate and could care less about getting up and putting on her uniform and going to the hospital to work. And so the year I was chairman, I had a strong committee, and they decided that one daughter, who was the niece of a president, was not mature enough to assume these responsibilities, and for that reason she was not taken. But it’s just too bad because it’s preached constantly, but it’s just too bad that the sponsor doesn’t realize that it’s unfair to the League and to the girl.
DG: Does the admissions committee have a fairly deep set of information about a candidate ordinarily?
BB: In my day, it was much deeper than it is now because of all the stipulations that I guess have been mandated by the government. But you knew that little girl like the back of your hand. And way back in the Dark Ages, each committee member met her, which of course now because of numbers is just not feasible.
DH: 49:59 How many were proposed the year that you were chairman of the admissions committee?
BB: I think it was in the high 70s, low 80s. And then you had some withdrawals.
DH: About how many were accepted?
BB: I think we took 27 to 30. But then in those days also, you didn’t have your provisional transfers. You didn’t inherit provisionals that other leagues had taken in.
DG: Was that just not part of the routine?
BB: It just hadn’t even been thought of. You see, the society had not become quite that mobile, and we were just horrified at the thought of having a city in California take in through their admissions committee one of their girls that lived in Houston and just handing her to us on a silver tray. But as it turns out, I think it’s worked out beautifully.
DH: That is now the way that it is done.
BB: As I understand it. I’ve had friends whose daughters live in New York, and they go through the Houston League admissions system. New York is sent a notice, and they are absorbed in their provisional class.
DH: And a candidate is not supposed to know that she is being considered for admission by the Houston League. Is that not correct?
BB: That’s right. Secrecy is of the utmost importance.
DH: You feel that you are better able to find out what she really is like if she doesn’t know.
BB: Well, and also it prevents hurt if she’s not taken. I think that’s a prime consideration.
DG: We’ve talked a little bit about the job fair. Are there any other particular accomplishments of the League during your presidency that you would point to if you were thinking about things that you were particularly pleased had happened during that year?
BB: 52:00 Let me look through my notes. (recorder turns off) 52:05
DG: What about the dyslexia committee that was initiated during that year?
BB: A lady from Dallas who was very active in a learning disabilities study in the Dallas League came and spoke to the general membership, and it was just amazing to see the people that were at that meeting who had children with these symptoms. At that point you couldn’t even pronounce dyslexia or spell it. You couldn’t even put a name to the problem that you knew that your child had. And just to be able to latch on to something concrete, it really just stirred an amazing amount of interest in the membership. And as a result of this one speaker, a committee was formed and we had other people come from—I think Dallas really was the leader in this effort. A committee was formed and out of that came the learning disabilities committee, and several adjuncts came about as a result from League members that weren’t necessarily tied in with the League project, but they started things on their own.
DG: So the initial thrust was to sort of evaluate what services there might be in Houston?
BB: And also just to tell people about dyslexia and that it had been pinpointed and there was a way to cope with it and what could be done and how to go about meeting this sort of an unknown entity at that point.
DG: And the Monterey Reading Program at Texas Children’s and also at the Briarwood School involving Junior League volunteers sort of developed out of that?
BB: That’s right, yes. It was a long time in coming. They had to really get a handle on it before they could put it into a box and present it to the Texas Children’s Hospital Clinic. But it was several years later that they did indeed have a clinic, and then it grew out of that.
DG: And at that time, that was a rather innovative thing to do in a hospital setting, I guess. The Junior League talked the hospital into it almost.
BB: Right. Jennie McFarland was one of the prime movers and shakers in that area, and she caught Dr. Blattner’s attention and she also was a member of the board of Texas Children’s Hospital. And through her efforts, and efforts of many others certainly, it was introduced as part of the ongoing program.
DH: 54:59 Mrs. Bayless, were you involved with the Houston Ballet Foundation prior to their first fund drive in 1967?
BB: No, I was not involved. I was aware that there was such an energetic young group because Diana Divant(??) 55:13, when she was president, came to ask the placement committee of the Junior League if she could receive her placement as chairman of the Ballet Foundation, and we granted her that request, plus the fact that the League donated money to a scholarship fund.
DH: That was an unusual thing for the Junior League to do, to allow someone to have that as their placement, wasn’t it?
BB: It was, but she presented such a marvelous case and we felt that it was certainly worthwhile to have such a group, so we—
DH: That was an individual placement before we had any—
BB: Right, right. We looked upon it really broadly as community.
DH: I see.
BB: She did a marvelous job of telling us the goals, and that was really my first exposure, hearing her talk about the purpose and the aims.
DH: Then how did you first become involved with the ballet? Or how soon after that?
BB: I was asked to go on the board, and I feel like the reason I was was because I just happened to be president the year that the League made their donation. They probably gave me more credit than I’m due, but I guess they really did know my interest, plus I’ve always been interested in dance. So I guess it was just sort of an obvious choice.
DH: I see. So in 1967, this grant of $6,000 which the Junior League made to the Houston Ballet Foundation to underwrite the cost of the Academy’s scholarship program for underprivileged children, that is the donation we’re talking about.
BB: Right, exactly.
DH: 56:52 And so you think that it was as a direct result of that that you went on the board.
BB: That and then I also began—this is terrible to say. (chuckles) I dragged out my old moth-eaten leotards and started taking class up at the Academy. They had adult classes. And so I was exposed to the Academy side and became really more interested in that. And then when the company was first formed, by virtue of just being sort of in the Academy surroundings as a student, I was aware that they were bringing in dancers or young people to audition for the early, early company, and we couldn’t afford to even put them up at hotels or anywhere, so we would take them into our houses. And so I housed several of the people that came for auditions and some of the company members like Jennifer Potts. Remember Jennifer Potts? She stayed with us for several months. So it was just a slow attrition that—
DH: You have served on the board of the Houston Ballet Foundation and on the executive committee for many years.
DH: You have stayed on the board ever since you first—
BB: I went off for one year because of the bylaws, but they were nice enough to ask me back.
DH: What major decisions have you been a party to that have been the most challenging and/or rewarding? Or is that too big a question? (laughter)
BB: Well, let me think. Actually, when the company was first formed, I guess that was a big commitment on the part of all of us.
DH: Can you tell us a little bit about the considerations that went on?
BB: Of course money was the chief consideration and underwriting the salaries of these company members. And at one point I remember the then president said, “We’re going to meet the bus of these kids that had been performing in Huntsville and we’re going to have to tell them that we don’t have any money, we can’t pay their salary.” And then everybody just put their nose to the grindstone and came up with the money. I mean, it was just a hand-to-mouth operation for so long that I guess any time a dancer was hired or a contract signed, it was a challenge. But then I was a part of the Guild when it was first formed.
DH: 59:10 I’ll ask you about that soon.
BB: Okay. I was not a part of the decision not to renew Nina Popova’s contract. She was the first artistic director of the ballet when we had the company.
DH: Can you tell us a little bit about why her contract was not renewed.
BB: She was interested primarily in the teaching but not so much so that she would have a showcase for the children at the end of the year. There was no year-end recital for these children. She had her favorite students which she really brought along beautifully; in fact, one went to New York City Ballet and is still performing there, plus the fact that she was a very private person. You couldn’t really establish much personal contact with her except for just maybe a few people, and she just frankly did not want to grow as we wanted to grow. We were after her to put on a Nutcracker, which everybody that’s knowledgeable in the ballet world said that is the one moneymaking thing you can produce, and she just refused to do that. She was just almost too inflexible, I guess. So that decision was reached, and then to replace her we brought in an interim director, Jim Clouser, who had been teaching modern dance classes at the Academy. I had been studying under him, and I enjoyed him as a person. He was great. He was brought in and did several works of choreography, Carmina Burana being one of them, Allen’s Landing another, which depicted early Houston. He did some really fine things, but I think he also was under the assumption that he would just inherit the artistic directorship. And it was the feeling that we should certainly form a search committee and look for someone that would serve more needs. He was more of a contemporary and did not have the strong teaching background of ballet that people felt necessary. So we were really looking for more of a person with a strong teaching background, as I say, and more of a balletic. So I happened to be one of a group that went to Chicago to interview Ben Stevenson, and we saw him teach a class, and it just was obvious that he was fantastic as a teacher. And then that evening we went and saw a performance by his company. I remember Preston Frazier leaned over and he said, “Do you think we are now seeing the Houston Ballet in performance?” And is turned out, we were because he brought so many of the members of his then Chicago company to Houston. Not immediately, but they slowly filtered down to follow him.
DH: 1:02:09 Who were some of the other people that the search committee considered seriously?
BB: Violette Verdy was considered. She is now in Boston. And a dear, sweet man—oh gosh, I can’t remember his name. He was really involved in Broadway productions, and the name escapes me. He was an older man, and his age was something that we considered in not too positive a light, plus the fact that he did not have as strong a ballet background. He was more of a musical man. Of course Jim Clouser was considered and very fairly so. I really was not a member of the search committee; I just happened to be invited. I think the reason they really invited me to go to Chicago to see Ben is the fact that they knew that I was such a strong Clouser person. But it became obvious to me after having seen Ben and then to weigh his potential against Jim that for the city of Houston it was a much better decision and more obvious to have Ben.
DH: When Ben was chosen, there was a great deal of furor in the press and so forth, which was rather unfortunate.
BB: I can criticize it since I was not a part of it, and I’m sure they had their reasons, but as far as I could see, what they probably should have done—by they I mean the president and the chairman and the people immediately involved—they should have called in the press and told them and stated their reasons why and just gone into the whole thing very formally and factually. But as it happened, they called in Jim Clouser and told him, and he reacted in, what I think, a very immature way.
[end of OHJL26_D1] 1:04:08