Posted on March 12, 2019

March is Women’s History Month, or as we like to say here at Denton County Friends of the Family, Women’s Herstory Month. We think this is the perfect opportunity to look back at the history of the Battered Women’s Movement in Texas and celebrate how far we have come! 

If you are a volunteer who has completed orientation, then you may have already heard this story. Martha McWhirter opened the first shelter for battered women in Texas in 1870, which closed in the late 1890’s early 1900s. Martha was a devout woman who encouraged other women in the community to be more empowered in their lives and less dependent on their husbands, especially if those women were in abusive marriages. Her reasoning wasn’t simply to protect women from their abusive husbands, but also to show that women could run a business and earn a livable income, something unheard of at the time. The shelter started out as a religious prayer group of sorts, where they not only prayed for the end of violence at the hands of their husbands, but also for the sanctification of themselves. After Martha’s refuge closed there wasn’t another shelter in Texas until 1977.  

Over 100 years after the first shelter opened, in 1977, Nikki Van Hightower helped open a women’s shelter in Texas, called the Houston Area Women’s Center.  Ms. Van Hightower, a leading member of the women’s movement of the early 1970’s, was appointed to the office of Women’s Advocate in 1976 and was called the “best-known feminist” in Houston according to Women On The Move Texas.  

In 1980, just 3 years after the Battered Women’s Movement had resurfaced, Dr. Fran Danis was a driving force behind the opening of Denton County Friends of the Family. As the first Executive Director and vocal advocate for victims in our community, she brought Denton the first and only shelter for those impacted by domestic and sexual violence. Dr. Danis continues to support the work of Denton County Friends of the Family. She is a woman of Herstory, as her efforts have helped save thousands of lives here in Denton County. Without her vision to open our doors, we wouldn’t be able to provide all the services we do, like play therapy, group and individual therapy, counseling, advocacy, legal services, and so much more. She had a vision and it continues to grow and blossom from the work of all those employed at DCFOF and all those who have interned and volunteered here. 

All of these shelters have one major commonality (besides the population that they served) which is that they were all opened by women. Martha McWhirter in 1870, Nikki Van Hightower in 1977, and Fran Danis in 1980. A common theme you hear today is “Women Helping Women” and this theme is woven throughout the battered women’s movement: beginning with these women of Texas and their fight to end domestic violence and provide refuge for those seeking shelter. These are just three women who have made a positive impact on the Battered Women’s Movement, but there are millions more who are continuing to support and fight for the end of violence against women.  

This month, we invite you to share with us the women you know who either made an impact on the betterment of women’s lives in the past or those who are currently making #herstory. We are all helping to lead the way to a better future, so let’s celebrate those who have come before us and those who are with us today - those voices we can help lift up and make all the stronger. Share your #Herstory on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag/pound sign #dcfofherstory. 


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