By Hannah Moss, KC Marketing Intern
At a young age, Dr. Meredith May knew she was going to be successful. She was raised by strong people who inspired her to dream big.
Dr. May’s mother, Saundra, played an influential role in her upbringing. May’s mother was hired straight out of Stephen F. Austin State University to teach computer science. She is now in her 41st year of teaching at Angelina College in Lufkin.
“I have not thought about how that was a factor in my upbringing, but she was just 21 when she was hired to teach full time,” May said. Growing up, May saw how much her mother loved her job and thought she might want to become a teacher herself someday.
“I never thought of my mother as a trailblazer, but in many ways, she was,” May said.
Not only was her mother in the workforce, but so was her grandmother, great-grandmother, and great aunt.
“I was always surrounded by women who never made me feel like I was weird for being an over-achiever,” she said.
Another influence was her dad, Eugene.
“He played a big role in my success as a man who respected and encouraged strong women,” May said. “I think it’s critical for fathers/husbands/male relatives to know that they play an important role in encouraging this kind of ambition. It’s not just on the shoulders of relatives of the same gender.”
As an only child, only grandchild and only great-grandchild, May was surrounded by adults as she was growing up. Her grandparents took care of May when her parents were at work, and they passed along stories to her about family history and tradition.
“I was the receptor of all of my family’s stories. That is where some of my love for history came from,” May said.
She especially enjoyed the stories from her Uncle Mike. “My uncle in particular loved history. He would tell me stories and I developed a passion for history at a young age.” May developed a close bond with her uncle as her love for history grew. When he passed away in 1998, May wanted to do something great with history to honor her uncle. That is when she decided she would work to get a Ph.D. in history and become a professor. She attended SFASU in Nacogdoches to get a bachelor’s degree in history; and truly found her passion for history on her own.
For a long time, she felt like she was doing it for her Uncle Mike, but when she went to college, she had to ask herself if she was pursuing this degree for the right reasons. May did not have to do much soul searching.
“I can tell you exactly when my love for women’s history came about,” May said. “I was in an undergrad class at SFA, and we had to write a big research paper. We had to use original sources. That means you have to go to the original documents. I was trying to make it easier on myself by picking a local topic.”
She decided on women during World War II, thinking she may be able to find some who participated in the war effort, locally.
“I wound up interviewing a whole lot of women who went to my church who had worked in factories. One woman I talked to signed up for the Women’s Army Corps,” she said. “It was great hearing these stories I did not know about. These women had been around me while I was growing up. I had no idea that they were kick-butt women. That is also when I fell in love with oral history, interviewing people about their stories.”
Once she found the specific history she wanted to study, women’s history in East Texas, she decided to attend Texas Christian University for her graduate studies because of a connection between the two universities’ history departments. Dana Cooper, her SFA professor who taught women’s history, suggested May should go to TCU because that is where she went.
“I did what I was told,” she said, laughing. She applied to TCU and worked closely with Rebecca Sharpless (with whom Cooper had worked). While May was at TCU, she wrote a book chapter with Dr. Sharpless on “Women in East Texas” for a book on the broader history of East Texas. After enduring a relative’s passing, finding her own love for history, and attending two universities, May graduated with her Ph.D. in May 2017.
Today, May is an instructor in the history department at KC and assistant chair of the Humanities and Social/Behavioral Sciences department. She is one of four women on campus with a doctorate, with two of those in administration. She also works closely with local historical societies to make history relevant to people today — particularly in the subjects of gender and race. May’s confident attitude and support from her family has made her into the successful woman she had envisioned becoming as a young child, as she was regaled with tales of the five generations of East Texans who had come before her.
“I was surrounded by the kind of support that you need if you are going to go for something big,” she said.
Check out Dr. Meredith May’s comments on the Longview 1919 project here: here: https://www.facebook.com/1919longviewremembranceproject/videos/1224013047973582/?vh=e&extid=bht6wWiDDYyZuXom