Women's History Month: Marian "Mamie" Rather Powell
March 16, 2023
SHSU Media Contact: Campbell Atkins
Marian “Mamie” Rather Powell dedicated her life to education and suffrage and stands the test of time as a local role model for women and equality. While her teaching career at Sam Houston Normal Institute lasted just four years, her memory lives on through the voices of Bearkats every time they bellow the school song.
Powell was the only child of Rawley Samuel and Mary Henry Rather and was born on May 2, 1881. The family had deep roots in Huntsville and were some of the earliest settlers in the area. Powell was an honor student in Huntsville High School’s first graduating class in 1898.
Powell graduated from the University of Texas in 1902 with a Bachelor of Science degree. She was active in a number of organizations while in Austin and served on the editorial staff at the school newspaper, as well as class secretary. After earning her degree, she returned to Huntsville to teach science and mathematics at her alma mater.
In 1909, Gov. Thomas Campbell appointed her to a vacant teaching position at Sam Houston Normal Institute in the mathematics department. The next year, at the school’s homecoming celebration, she penned the school song at the request of University President Harry Estill. Powell chronicled the occasion in a May 1936 article in the school’s newsletter:
“Dr. Estill asked L.W. Elliot to write the poem and asked me to write a song suitable for the occasion and for adoption as The School Song… I had published a volume of verse. I was almost the youngest member teaching mathematics and occasionally writing verses for home consumption, local talent plays, etc… Dr. Estill has continued to express his approval of the sentiment and rhythm of the song, and as far as I know, it is still the official School Song, although neither the words nor music lend themselves to pep squad rallies.”
When the school changed its name from Sam Houston Normal Institute to Sam Houston Teachers College, Estill rearranged three lines in the song to eliminate S.H.N.I.
During her teaching career, she also directed plays and pageants, which would be performed on the historic grounds of Sam Houston’s home. These performances were extremely popular with the students of the time. In 1929, Estill would reach out to Powell for help in restoring the home:
“Remembering your interest and valuable assistance in the matter of influencing the Legislature to make an appropriation for the restoration and beautification of the Sam Houston home and grounds, I am writing to enlist your further help in this matter,” wrote Estill in a letter detailing the need to raise funds for maintained restoration. “Can you not directly or indirectly through patriotic organizations or women’s organizations lend your valuable assistance again in this important matter? Any suggestions from you will be deeply appreciated.”
Powell left her teaching post in 1913 to marry local attorney Benjamin H. Powell, who would go on to serve as a district judge and, ultimately, on the Commission of Appeals of the Supreme Court of Texas. After this appointment, the family moved to Austin. The couple had two children, Benjamin Harrison Powell IV and Rawley Rather Powell.
In 1923, tragedy struck when five-year-old Rawley passed away after a failed tonsillectomy. He was buried in Huntsville’s Oakwood Cemetery near family members, but Mamie had bigger ideas for his memorial.
In 1925, the family purchased land on the north side of the cemetery, naming it the “Rawley Rather Powell Memorial Park Addition.” Almost 10 years later, the family commissioned a replica of the Christus statue by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. The bronze replica sits at the edge of the woodland and the internment of their child. The site was later named a Texas Historic Landmark.
“To keep Rawley’s memorial peaceful, the Powell family instructed on the deed that the three acres of land behind the Thorvaldsen memorial should never be cleared — that it should remain wilderness forever,” said an August 1983 article in the Huntsville Item.
During her time in Austin, Powell was instrumental in establishing the city’s public library and was involved in a number of organizations, including the American Association of University Women.
Throughout her life, she was active in organizations that fought for women, education and equality. Prior to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote, she was the chairwoman of Walker County’s Women’s Suffrage Association. She later became the first woman to serve on the Huntsville School Board. She also dedicated her time with the League of Women Voters, the World Food Conservation and the Red Cross.
Her husband Benjamin passed away in 1960, but she continued to live in her home until her death in 1974. She is buried with her family in Oakwood Cemetery.
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