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Borderlands: Kate Moore Brown: A Woman of Many Firsts 30 (2012-2013)

A unique resource of faculty edited college student articles on the history and culture of the El Paso, Juárez, and Southern New Mexico regions.

Kate Moore Brown: A Woman of Many Firsts

Article first published in Vol. 30, 2012-2013

By Brandy Saenz, Alexis Eubank and Ruth Vise

As a young child, Kate Moore began the study of music in Sherman, Texas, at the private North Texas Female College that provided primary, preparatory and college education and would later become the Kidd-Key College Music Conservatory. Born in Missouri on December 17, 1871, Moore was raised in Sherman, north of Dallas, a town that had a public school system in the 1880s as well as three colleges, according to the Texas Handbook Online.

Francis Marion Moore, Kate’s father, began to suffer from rheumatism beginning in the early 1870s, and he decided to move the family to warm, sunny El Paso when Kate was 14. Skilled in playing the piano and in vocal music, she entered the newly created high school, a part of the first public educational institution, Central School, located at Campbell Street and Mrytle Avenue. Kate Moore would not only make her mark in becoming one of the first two graduates of the high school, but she would greatly influence the city’s musical development and cultural growth.


Image caption: Kate Moore was one of two members of the first graduating class of El Paso’s only high school in 1887. (Photo courtesy of the El Paso County Historical Society)

Railroads began linking El Paso with the rest of the country in 1881. More and more people arrived in the town as trade took a major role economically, but families with children discovered the town lacked a free public school system. In 1884, the first public elementary school opened, expanding to include the first high school the next year. In 1886 when the Moores arrived and when Kate’s brother Francis Lee Moore was born, El Paso was beginning to grow into the city it would become by the turn of the century. Unlike Sherman, Texas, however, it had no colleges, nor a place for students to learn music.

Music in the early 1880s in El Paso left much to be desired. The town was busy building railroads in all directions and roads in the county to join various settlements, establishing newspapers and utilities and all the other necessities for growth. It was still an outpost for gunfighters and in 1881, people slept in tents and saloons because adequate housing was limited, according to Leon Metz in Chronicles of El Paso. Prostitution was at its height, and open gambling created havoc in the many saloons allowing it.

There was music of a dance hall nature in the town’s saloons and in the occasional advertising shows parading through town trying to drum up business for their products. Various “opera houses” hosted dramatic performances and a few concerts, but not until the Myar Opera House was built in 1887 and hosted not only plays but legitimate opera and classical music concerts, did El Paso have much “good music” for its citizens to enjoy. Affluent families were able to afford private music lessons for their children, of course, but there was no music for the ordinary student in the early years of public education.

So it was that Kate Moore enrolled at El Paso’s first high school and in 1887 at age 16, became the first female to graduate from said school, one of two students to complete requirements that year, the other being George Prentiss Robinson, 20, the son of a Fort Bliss paymaster. It was one of many firsts as Kate Moore defied the norms of this West Texas town as well as those in the rest of the country in her growth as an active, independent woman. Only a year later, Kate’s father moved the family to San Diego, Calif., where Kate enrolled in a local high school and received a second diploma in 1889. That year her father died and Kate moved back to El Paso in 1890.

Moore first resided at the Pierson Hotel, opened in 1881, the year the railroad came to town, and later at the E. S. Newman home, across the street from the Joseph Magoffin residence. Moore advanced the idea of music in the school curriculum and in 1890 became the first music teacher in El Paso’s public schools, indeed the first in all Texas. A total of three firsts so far! Moore taught her students both instrumental and vocal music. In addition, she gave private music lessons to augment her income. She began performing publicly as well and in 1893 performed a piano solo with a group that served as the first El Paso Symphony, according to Gladys Williams in an early history of the symphony.

Teaching and performing kept Kate busy, and she proved herself a modern woman. She belonged to the Jolly Girl Bachelors, who gave dances and played cards to amuse themselves. At times she taught at two or three schools at the same time and so she accomplished another first: owning and riding in public the newfangled contraption called a bicycle from school to school, something unheard of even in the frontier west. Heretofore, only men had been seen cycling down El Paso’s few streets. Riding her bike on the dirt roads and through the sand, Moore rode as far as 600 Montana, the site of Mesa School (later Bailey), according to Mary Cunningham in her history of the El Paso Woman’s Club. Despite the fact that Kate wore the long dresses of the time, high shoes and leggings, the town’s gossips were “dreadfully shocked,” according to a 1936 El Paso Herald-Post article.

""Image caption: A woman riding a bicycle in 1892 in El Paso (not Kate Moore) is wearing bloomers, a controversial piece of clothing at the time. (Photo courtesy of the University of Texas at El Paso Library, Special Collections Department, Kohlberg Family Papers, MS369)

The daring cyclist recalled, “I went all over town alone without the slightest fear of molestation. El Paso has been slandered a great deal. There were a few bad characters here, of course, but they never bothered the rest of its people.” She also told the story that she accompanied and protected a visiting violinist who expected to meet marauding Indians and gunfighters during a walk to his hotel. Kate Moore’s confidence and integrity served her well, and as she pedaled her bike, she also pushed for ideas such as expanding the roles for women.

In 1907, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra appeared in El Paso and the Choral Club, comprised of more than 100 singers, was organized to participate in the concert, Kate Moore Brown among them. Cunningham wrote that the press declared the performance “a triumphant success.” Such was the level of national performers and local musicians as well as music lovers that El Paso now boasted. Moore also continued her successful career as an accompanist for many musicians in town, and she played piano and organ for several churches over the years.

Head of the Music Department of the Woman’s Club, Kate Brown offered the group her home at 519 Los Angeles Street for its meetings during the 1909-1910 club season, according to Cunningham. The group studied operas during the year and completed 14 by the time the year was out. This endeavor served to provide a rather elevated study of music not readily available anywhere else close by. It would be years before El Paso had a university and even more before the university had a music department.

Because of the Woman’s Club and trained musicians like Kate Brown, the city could appreciate and present fine music. In the spring of 1910, for instance, the Music Department under Brown sponsored Madame Ellen Beach Yaw in concert. “Lark Ellen,” as she was known, was an American coloratura soprano who took both her native country and Europe by storm, becoming the first American to make a successful operatic debut in Rome. She was able to reach and maintain the C above high C, thrilling audiences everywhere, including the packed house in El Paso.

Kate Moore Brown became president of the El Paso Woman’s Club in 1910, and all club meetings were held at her home, the Woman’s Club having no permanent building until 1916. Cunningham wrote that the club developed the Art Department during Brown’s presidency and the club staged a huge art show on the 179th anniversary of George Washington’s birthday, again at the Brown home. Guides to the exhibits wore colonial costumes, and art by famous artists was loaned to the club, including one Rembrandt, in addition to work by local artists, including club members. Having a major art show in a private home may seem strange to us today, but it’s important to realize that the development of the El Paso Museum of Art was still years in the future.

Members of the Music Department of the Woman’s Club continued to study the history of music and presented recitals by local musicians and other performers, making money for various projects as well as educating and entertaining the public. So successful were the members of the Woman’s Club in promoting music in public schools that opera was even taught to the young children of Lamar School, according to Cunningham. In 1915, 280 students from the eight grades formed the chorus as local vocalists took the major parts of Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” in a public performance.

Kate Moore Brown served on the building committee charged with starting the plans for a permanent home for the Woman’s Club, which included raising money within the community. Ground was broken in May 1916 for what would be the first free standing building for a Woman’s Club in Texas. Gone would be the days when the club moved from building to building, room to room, sometimes several times a year. In order to buy furniture for the building, the club brought the famous Wagnerian soprano Madame Johanna Gadski to perform in the city. Her accompanist was Francis Moore, Kate’s brother.

In 1917, Kate organized a group of young women interested in music to form the first auxiliary of the Woman’s Club, the MacDowell Club, named for the American composer Edward MacDowell. This club would direct or be involved with almost every musical event in El Paso for decades. Kate Moore Brown chaired this auxiliary for three years and then served as honorary chair from 1921 to 1945. Membership in this prestigious group was by audition, and standards were kept high intentionally so that performances would be notable.

Such clubs are still found all over the country, a tribute to the MacDowell Colony, a retreat in New Hampshire whose aim was “to promote the arts of music, literature and the drama, architecture, painting and sculpture and the other fine arts; to encourage study, research and production of all branches of art; ... to broaden their influence; and thus carry forward the life work of Edward MacDowell,” words taken from the 1907 charter of the club. In 1919, MacDowell’s wife gave a piano recital for the local Woman’s Club.

In 1921, Kate Brown was elected to the El Paso School Board, serving two years, and being only the second woman to hold such a post. In 1924, the Woman’s Department of the El Paso Chamber of Commerce came into existence, although the larger group had been organized in 1899. And who was its first chairman-director?  Kate Moore Brown, of course! Moreover, this new group was the first of its kind in the nation. Kate also became a member of the board of directors of the Chamber of Commerce, the first woman to do so. Having worked hard with all the projects, conventions and performances the Woman’s Club had sponsored and organized over the years, she knew her city well.

Among her many activities, Kate Moore Brown began the El Paso Music Teachers Association and helped organize the El Paso International Museum Board, having suggested the idea of an art museum in 1925. She was also director-general of the Pan American Round Table and a member of the board of directors of the El Paso Public Library. She was appointed State Chairman of Child Welfare and to the state board of the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs and served as an adviser to the Junior League. In addition to her musical activities, Kate Brown Moore was an accomplished speaker and when a young member of the Woman’s Club asked, “What is your college, Mrs. Brown?” Mary Cunningham reported that Brown’s response was “The Woman’s Club of El Paso.” Nine years before her death in 1945, the Herald-Post called her the “mother of El Paso music.” 

According to a 1936 El Paso Herald-Post article, William R. Brown had turned down several promotions within the Santa Fe Railroad because of the love he and Kate had for El Paso. William played the cornet in the McGinty Band, sharing his wife’s love of music. The couple traveled extensively over the world, and Kate had an impressive collection of fans and shawls that she had acquired during her travels. In 1936, William Brown died, shortly after the couple returned from China.

Evidently more people are learning about Kate Moore Brown today. A study of her life reveals that she was truly a pioneer and leader in music and the arts in the city and a woman ahead of her time. So influential was Kate Moore as a modern woman that a 2009 cycling blog by a young male cycling enthusiast in Canada briefly outlined Kate Moore Brown’s life, emphasizing her trailblazing use of the bicycle as transportation, and ended with these words: “I am currently working on a time machine that will allow me to travel to El Paso in the 1890[s] so I can marry Kate Moore.”

Tags: Biography

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