BLAIR, ANITA LEE

Haley Brown
Anita Blair with Fawn.
El Paso resident Anita Blair, who became the first blind woman elected to a state legislature, stands with her guide dog Fawn. She was the first person in El Paso to receive a guide dog, and Fawn later led Blair out of the burning LaSalle Hotel in Chicago. Courtesy Special Collections, University of Texas at El Paso Library and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

BLAIR, ANITA LEE (1916–2010). Anita Lee Blair was the first blind woman elected to any state legislature. She was born on September 8, 1916, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to C. Lester Blair and Jessie Blair. In 1924 the family moved to El Paso where she was raised. Blair graduated from Austin High School in El Paso in 1933. After graduation she worked for the Works Progress Administration (later named Work Projects Administration). In 1936 she survived a tragic car accident that left her completely blind. She subsequently attended The Seeing Eye guide dog school in New Jersey, where she met a German Shepherd named Fawn. As a result, in 1940 Blair became the first person in El Paso to receive a guide dog (Fawn). Blair graduated from Texas College of Mines and Metallurgy (now University of Texas at El Paso) with a B.A. in 1944 and later earned a M.A from Texas Woman’s College (now Texas Woman’s University) in 1951. She gave presentations about seeing-eye dogs and offered assistance to other states in establishing guide dog schools.

In 1946 Fawn successfully led Blair out of a burning building and down an eleven-story fire escape in Chicago, effectively saving her life. The unfortunate LaSalle Hotel Fire in Chicago claimed the lives of more than sixty individuals. This event skyrocketed Blair and Fawn’s popularity, and they toured the country and presented lectures on traffic safety and accident prevention. Blair and Fawn even made a short movie together called A Day With Fawn to be used in Blair’s lectures. Additionally, she served as the only woman on President Harry Truman’s Presidential Safety Committee.

Anita Blair Campaign Ad.
Anita Blair campaign ad in the El Paso Herald-Post, July 19, 1952. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
Anita Lee Blair Legislative Portrait.
Anita Lee Blair served in the House of the Fifty-third Texas Legislature. Courtesy Legislative Reference Library of Texas and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Fueled by a desire to enact change for blind persons and increase safety regulations, Anita Blair began her political career in the 1950s. After an unsuccessful run for the Texas House of Representatives in 1950, Blair was elected as a Democrat representing District 105-4 (El Paso County) in 1952 to the Fifty-third Texas Legislature for a two-year term. Campaign ads promoted her platform of preserving free enterprise, individual and states’ rights, and improving schools without tax increases. Upon taking office, Blair was accompanied by Fawn to the House where an assistant read newspapers, letters, and other written correspondence aloud to Blair. Major concerns for Blair as a legislator included safety regulations, rights for the disabled, and the interests of students and teachers. She supported pay raises for teachers, helped secure funding to renovate the Texas School for the Deaf, and cosponsored (unsuccessfully) a bill to allow women to serve as jurors in Texas. During her tenure, she served on the Education, Public Lands and Buildings, State Hospitals and Special Schools, and School Districts committees. 

Blair lost her beloved guide dog Fawn to cancer on August 18, 1953. She was not re-elected in 1954, partially due to her vocal opposition of several communist-hunting bills written by San Antonio Representative Marshall O. Bell. She had also called on Texas Governor Allan Shivers to investigate the possibly corrupt activities of some El Paso public officials, and she openly condemned Shivers for his tepid response. Her criticism drastically reduced her public favor, and some prominent El Paso citizens began fundraising for her political opponent. Troubles with fundraising and her lack of public support led Blair to lose the House election in 1954 to Malcolm McGregor. She ran again in 1956 but lost.

In November 1959 Blair married Curtis Rennolds Chartier. She likely eloped to New Mexico, as the Alamogordo Daily News reported on her wedding after the fact under the headline “Blind Legislator Bride: Anita Blair Wed In Secret Here.” They had no children and later divorced. She was known as Anita Blair for the rest of her life. 

Following her service in the Texas House of Representatives, Blair remained in the public eye and kept abreast of local politics in El Paso. She regularly attended city council and county commissioners meetings. In her later years she became a fixture on a popular El Paso talk radio station. She even ran unsuccessfully for El Paso county judge in 2002 at the age of eighty-six. At the age of ninety-three, Anita Lee Blair died of a heart attack on August 25, 2010, in El Paso. She was buried in the Texas State Cemetery on August 22, 2011.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Alamogordo Daily News, December 13, 1959. Chicago Daily Tribune, June 8, 1946. El Paso Times, August 26, 28, 2010. Nancy Baker Jones and Ruthe Winegarten, Capitol Women: Texas Female Legislators, 1923–1999 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000). Legislative Reference Library of Texas: Anita Lee Blair (https://lrl.texas.gov/legeLeaders/members/memberDisplay.cfm?memberID=1197&searchparams=chamber=~city=~countyID=0~RcountyID=~district=~first=~gender=~last=blair~leaderNote=~leg=~party=~roleDesc=~Committee=), accessed September 3, 2019. Marissa Monroy, “Former State Rep., Political Watchdog Anita Blair Has Died.” KVIA.com. (https://www.kvia.com/news/former-state-rep-political-watchdog-anita-blair-has-died/53145494), accessed February 25, 2019. 

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Handbook of Texas Online, Haley Brown, "BLAIR, ANITA LEE ," accessed September 19, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fblai.

Uploaded on September 10, 2019. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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