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CARROLL, EDNA CISNEROS

Edna Cisneros (1957)
Edna Cisneros (1957). Courtesy of La Prensa, January 20, 1957. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

CARROLL, EDNA CISNEROS (1930-2013). Edna Cisneros Carroll, probably the first Mexican American woman in the state of Texas to practice law and to serve as the state’s first female district attorney, was born on February 2, 1930, in Raymondville, Texas, to Benita (de la Garza) Cisneros and Manuel Cisneros, a local grocer.

Carroll was reared in Raymondville. She later moved to Austin to study at the University of Texas. With her three sisters, Carroll shared a home that was purchased by her parents for the siblings to live in while they attended college. She was a member of the Pre-Law Society and Kappa Beta Pi. In 1952 Carroll received a B.B.A. from the University of Texas. The university’s law school awarded her a LL.B. in 1955.

Carroll then joined Young, Young, and Daggett, a Houston law firm, to practice criminal law. Soon, however, she left to pursue political office. In 1956 she returned to Raymondville to run for Willacy County district attorney at the age of twenty-six. She defeated her opponent by almost 300 votes and won the first of many elections that would see her through a twenty-nine-year-long public service career in the county. Her election was a significant accomplishment in a region of the state where discrimination against Mexican-origin people had long existed. Eight years later, in 1964, she was reportedly still the state’s only female chief prosecutor.

As district attorney, Carroll was well-regarded for her legal skills and tenacity. One news account noted that her investigatory, prosecutorial, and oratory skills resulted in a Willacy County jury handing down a rare forty-year sentence in a murder case. She had little patience for the practice of “tradeouts” by defendants seeking guilty pleas. In 1958 Carroll faced her sister Diana Klefisch as defense counsel for the first of numerous times when they represented opposite legal sides. Their courtroom encounters drew crowds eager to hear and see the sisters argue cases. That year they met in the trial of Martín de León and Domingo Ramírez, who faced charges for burglarizing the Bell Loan Company in Raymondville. Tried in the 138th Court, the case may also have marked the first time that any two sisters represented either the prosecution or the defense in the same Texas courtroom.

News accounts combined high praise for Carroll’s legal acumen with the sexism of the era. One article opened by noting that she had just “finished powdering her nose” while she delivered “sweetly, as she held her lipstick poised” her position on defendant “tradeouts.” The Dallas Times Herald pointed out her weight of 100 pounds and referred to cookbooks displayed alongside law books in her office.

Edna Cisneros and Charles Ernest Carroll
Edna Cisneros and Charles Ernest Carroll. Courtesy of the Harlingen Valley Morning Star, February 15, 1959. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

In 1959 she married Charles Ernest (Bo) Carroll but continued to use her family name professionally, noting that the Cisneros name had a long history in the area. “It would take years and years for me to be known as Edna Carroll,” she said.

After completing nearly three decades as Willacy County district attorney, Carroll continued to live in Raymondville for many years. She died at the age of eighty-three on July 26, 2013, at the Varanda Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Harlingen, Texas. Her funeral service was held in her hometown of Raymondville, and she was interred at the Raymondville Memorial Cemetery.

Edna Cisneros Carroll’s contributions to the legal profession have been honored with the Farris-Cisneros Scholarship. Established in 1998 by the Travis County Women Lawyers Scholarship Fund, the award celebrates her and Charlye Farris, the first African American woman admitted to the Texas Bar. The $1,500 grant is presented annually to a minority female law student at the University of Texas. Applicants’ financial need, community involvement, and future plans are the basis for winning the scholarship.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Alcalde (magazine of the Ex-Students' Association of the University of Texas), October 1964. Dallas Times Herald Magazine, April 26, 1964. Daytona Beach Sunday News-Journal, May 18, 1958. McAllen Monitor, July 27, 2013. Michael Olivas, Email correspondence with Cynthia Orozco, September 1, 2015. Evelina Stulgaityte, Assistant Archivist, Tarlton Law Library, University of Texas School of Law, Email correspondence with author, January 19, 2016. Texas Bar Journal, May 2014. 

Teresa Palomo Acosta

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Handbook of Texas Online, Teresa Palomo Acosta, "Carroll, Edna Cisneros," accessed December 17, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fcarr.

Uploaded on March 24, 2016. Modified on August 28, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.