BANFIELD, MYRA DAVIS WILKINSON
BANFIELD, MYRA DAVIS WILKINSON (1918–2006). Myra Davis Banfield, Texas legislator, the daughter of Sidney Holman Davis and Sabra (Grigg) Davis, was born on August 3, 1918, in Beasley, Fort Bend County, Texas. Banfield came from humble beginnings. Her father, probably a tenant farmer, rented land near Beasley, Texas, and was recorded as a farmer in the 1920 census. He died when Myra was only two years old. Her mother remarried and moved the family to Seminole County, Oklahoma. By 1940 Myra Davis had moved back to Fort Bend County, Texas, and she married John Robert Wilkinson, Jr., a linotype operator in newspaper publishing in Rosenberg, on June 6, 1940. Little is known about her first marriage, but by 1943 she had married Neil Oscar Banfield, a rice farmer from Arkansas. He had two sons from a previous marriage, and together they had two daughters.
Myra Banfield established herself within the Fort Bend County community as editor of the local newspaper, the Rosenberg Herald, and as president of the local chapter of the American Legion Auxiliary. Her introduction into politics occurred in 1957 when she travelled around the state and lobbied for the failed segregation package headed in part by state representative Virginia Duff, who supported legislative measures to maintain segregation in schools. In 1960 Banfield decided to run as a Democrat for state representative of her native District 30, which consisted of Fort Bend and Waller counties, as a write-in candidate. With little money, she published her platform on matchbooks. Her campaign centered on patriotism, small government, and the promotion of women’s rights. The editor of the Waller County Record published campaign flyers for her after her opponent argued that a woman’s place was in the home. These flyers cleverly likened Banfield to women like Joan of Arc, Oveta Culp Hobby, Susan B. Anthony, and Eleanor Roosevelt. These women, the flyer proclaimed, improved the world by not staying home. With the backing of the Texas Federation of Business and Professional Women, Banfield won in a run-off. After taking office, she voted against Maud Isaak’s proposal for an amendment to the state constitution assuring equal legal rights for women (ELRA) and claimed that it would ruin the relationship between husband and wife.
Banfield was active as a legislator in both the Fifty-seventh and Fifty-eighth Texas legislatures and served two terms from January 10, 1961 to January 12, 1965. She served on multiple committees during her tenure, including the Conservation and Reclamation Committee and the Labor Committee, and she served as vice chair on the State Hospitals and Special Schools Committee and Non-academic and Psychological Testing in Schools Committee during her second term. Banfield helped secure funding for Richmond State School in Fort Bend County. She was especially focused on issues of patriotism and was appointed State Americanism Chairman by the American Legion Auxiliary. As the chairman, she pushed heavily for the concept of Americanism to be taught in schools as a fight against Communism. In addition, she encouraged voters to demand new school textbooks for the classroom that were void of any nuanced reference to Communism. She was a conservative politician and favored small government. This included opposition to issues regarding the imposition of a state income tax and expanding the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) program for farmers.
Banfield was resolute in her beliefs, regardless of the consequences to her political career. One high profile example occurred during her service as a committee member charged with legalizing statewide gambling. She was originally asked to join the committee by the chairman who believed she supported the bill. However, during discussion she vehemently opposed it and ignored repeated requests by political allies to remain silent. She lost her bid for reelection.
After her service in the state legislature Myra Banfield and her husband divorced, and she attended nursing school. She spent her later years in Tyler, Texas, and married Herbert William Dippel. She remained active in state politics and organized Grandmothers for Honest Government in the 1990s, which advocated the repeal of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the General Agreement on Trades and Tariffs. A firm conservative, she supported free enterprise and emphasized that, to “save the country for our children, grandchildren, and posterity,” it was vital to reform U. S. Congress by removing lobbyists and returning to a system whereby the legislature chose “two of its most honorable members” to be U. S. senators rather than rely on popular elections. Banfield was a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Daughters of the American Revolution. She was a seventh-generation Texan. Myra Davis Wilkinson Banfield Dippel died in Tyler, Texas, on June 10, 2006, and was buried in the Texas State Cemetery.
Nancy Baker Jones and Ruthe Winegarten, Capitol Women: Texas Female Legislators, 1923–1999 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000). Legislative Reference Library of Texas: Myra Davis Banfield (https://lrl.texas.gov/legeLeaders/members/memberDisplay.cfm?memberID=870&searchparams=chamber=~city=~countyID=0~RcountyID=~district=~first=~gender=~last=banfield~leaderNote=~leg=~party=~roleDesc=~Committee=), accessed September 8, 2019. “Myra Davis Banfield Dippel,” Texas State Cemetery (https://cemetery.tspb.texas.gov/pub/user_form.asp?step=1&pers_id=2700), accessed September 8, 2019.
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