In September 1940 a petite 27-year-old woman stepped into history in Abilene, Texas.
Hardly anyone noticed that Dr. Virginia H. Boyd, a 1933 graduate of what is now Hardin-Simmons University, had returned to Abilene and opened an office in the Mims Building in the heart of downtown. Locals were more interested in watching Gary Cooper as “The Westerner” or Johnny Weismuller as Tarzan at one of the downtown theaters.
The next day’s newspaper ran a small headline, “Woman Doctor Opens Office,” but the succinct story that followed didn’t mention that she also was Abilene’s first and only female physician.
Eventually Dr. Virginia Connally, as she would be known following a divorce and remarriage to a local oilman, would gain the notoriety she deserved, but it would take time.
Now, the story of Connally’s life has been chronicled in a 172-page book, “Virginia Connally, M.D.: Trailblazing Physician, Woman of Faith.”
The book was written by Loretta Fulton, a veteran journalist who got to know Virginia when Fulton was the religion and higher education reporter for the Abilene Reporter-News from 1997 to 2004.
Connally’s life began on Dec. 4, 1912, in Temple, Texas. Born Ada Virginia Hawkins, she graduated from Temple High School in 1929, attended Temple Junior College one year, and then moved to Abilene in 1930 to enroll in Simmons University and live with an uncle, who was a local physician, and his wife.
After earning her degree in 1933 from Simmons University and marrying Fred Boyd, she started a new life as a student at the Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans—one of only three women in her class.
In 1940, she returned to Abilene, and the beginning of a remarkable career, life of worldwide travel, and brush with Washington’s elite through her husband’s political involvement, was born. Through it all, a deep faith has guided every endeavor.
Connally will be one of about 60 Ex-Cowgirls to attend an annual get-together this Saturday on the HSU campus. This year is special, however, as members celebrate the 85th anniversary of the Cowgirls Club.