Anna Hardwicke Pennybacker (1861-1938) was an accomplished suffragette, educator, author, and advocate for progressive causes. Born in Petersburg, Virginia, she attended Sam Houston Normal Institute and graduated in 1880 as part of its first class. She married classmate Percy V. Pennybacker in 1884, but their marriage proved to be a short one. He died in 1899, leaving her free to follow her passion for advocacy. Prior to his death, they worked together as educators and she wrote and published A New History of Texas in 1888. This textbook, known as “the Pennybacker text” was the standard for teaching Texas history for the next forty years.
Pennybacker started her career in advocacy in the Texas club movement, founding one of the first Texas women’s clubs, the Tyler Woman’s Club in 1894. From 1901 to 1903 she led the Texas Federation of Women, with which she raised $3,500 for women’s scholarships at the University of Texas and successfully lobbied for the creation of a women’s dormitory there. She is also responsible for the creation of many libraries in Texas, a legacy of a travelling library and art collection that she funded. Pennybacker held many positions with the General Federation of Women's Clubs, culminating in two terms as president, from 1911-1912 and 1912-1916.
From 1919 to 1920, Pennybacker served as an associate member of the Democratic National Committee where she began a close and influential relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt. She worked as an unofficial analyst for the Roosevelt presidential campaigns, helping to gauge political sentiments in the Southwest. Pennybacker and Mrs. Roosevelt worked together on a number of issues including the advancement of women, world peace, and the furthering of the progressive reforms of the Democratic party. As a frequent guest of the White House, Pennybacker convinced both the first lady and her husband, President Franklin Roosevelt, to speak on behalf of her causes. In fact, President Roosevelt helped to fundraise at the Chautauqua Institutes’ Women’s Club in 1936, and Eleanor Roosevelt became the first and only First Lady to speak at Sam Houston State University in 1937.
Anna Hardwicke Pennybacker remained active throughout her entire life working for the causes that she felt passionate about. She was a frequent lecturer around the country and became the first woman in history to give the commencement address to the city of Houston’s combined high schools. She had such a prolific and diverse record of contributions, from Food Administration of Texas in World War I to acting as a special correspondent to the League of Nations, that when she died in her home in Austin on February 4, 1938, she was respected throughout the country for her work in social causes.