In the early days of the Hogg Foundation, when itinerant consultants traveled the state to educate its far-flung populace about mental hygiene, one of the most frequent lecturers was a middle-aged Connecticut transplant named Augusta Jewitt Street. Street, who had studied social work in college, later chaired the Social Hygiene Committee of the national League of Women Voters in the 1930s before relocating to Houston with her husband at the end of the decade.
In addition to the sheer number of presentations Street conducted, what sets her apart from other consultants of the era is the detail of the reports she sent back to the Foundation. While other consultants typically summarized their visits in a terse paragraph or two, Street sketched elaborate descriptions of the people, places, and situations she encountered, providing fascinating portraits of mid-century rural Texas. After writing a lively account of a visit to Waco, she added to Sutherland, "I wish I knew what you want in a report. I always have the urge to tell all, do you want that or a fact or two?"
The urge to tell all typically prevailed. For example, after a 1948 trip to San Antonio, Street noted her impressions of the "ranch men": "They are as hard to get ahold of as the deer they hunt. They sometimes get dragged into a meeting by the ‘Missus’; during refreshments I try to get ahold of one or two to talk to. They are amazed that any woman would go around the country saying the things I say but, ‘yes mam [sic], they sure do need saying.’ ‘I wish that I could of knowed some of them things you was talking about when I was growing up, they came the hard way.”
The communities Street and the other consultants visited were often isolated and impoverished. After a 1951 talk in Grandfalls, primarily populated at the time by migrant oil workers, Street noted that it was "one of the least favored" communities she had ever worked in, with high-school students who "always look ill-nourished." The school superintendent had told her that many of the students depended on the school lunch program for basic nutrition, and added that "the cooks found that on Mondays and days after the holidays that they had to prepare almost twice the amount of normal days because the children came to school hungry." Not surprisingly, she was told that "family morale is very low, that drinking is universal, broken homes quite usual and no recreation except as the school furnished it."
Recreation was a contentious topic in many of the communities the consultants visited; in that era in Texas, many churches prohibited dancing, and as a result local school boards often banned it as well. Street wrote that high schools in Matador and Gladewater had forbidden dances, and she sympathized with the Gladewater students who asked her to intervene on their behalf during a 1949 visit. Street noted that the school superintendent and principal were not opposed to dancing, but weren't willing to oppose the school board. Finding herself at a covered-dish supper with thirty or so men from the community, she managed to work the topic into the conversation, and reported that "[t]hey gave me very respectful attention but I am sure that I did not get very far with them on the dancing question," adding "I was really careful not to get the administration in trouble with this group."
While dancing was controversial, the discussion of sex was a minefield, but one that Street regularly found herself compelled to approach in the name of mental hygiene. During the same 1949 trip to Gladewater, she met separately with the male students for an hour, noting that the boys asked “plenty of questions on sex and I, remembering Dr. Kinsey, tried to meet them on a real basis.” Three days later in Henderson, the school principal told her that her presentation had improved from the previous year’s. She asked him why, and recorded his response: “I was much more explicit in my attitudes about parking, etc.” and about what she considered “acceptable behavior.” Rather than pleasing her, the principal’s praise worried her: “It raises the question of whether I have become dictatorial and sure of the adult approach.”
Not everyone found her attitudes about youthful development "appropriate," however. During a visit to Lubbock, "word evidently went all over town about the kind of material that I had discussed in the morning with the high school students because, as I talked about personality development and goals for maturity it became evident that we had a new element in our midst. Brother McCoy, a Baptist minister of one of the primitive sects, was there waiting for me." Waving his Bible and challenging Street to defend her views with biblical references, the minister made a point of writing down Street's responses, apparently, according to sympathetic locals, to include in his regular door-to-door flyer distribution campaigning against the wages of sin.
There were other challenges. The physical facilities could be problematic: at the Negro High School in Waco in 1947, her chat with seventy girls about family and boy-girl relationships had to compete with the noise of clattering dishes, since the only space for the meeting was the lunch room while the staff was washing up after lunch. The Colored High School in Bay City was actually decrepit, with "a dilapidated building, a room on the second floor with every seat full (two) and then some standing. I expected the floor to go thru any minute." Still, she was grateful for "such interest and courtesy and afterwards such appreciation from the students, the principal, the teachers."
Audience members could also pose problems; at a Lion's Club meeting in Monahans, the men "came in from the oil fields and wherever and acted very much like a bunch of high school kids, throwing paper wads and other horse play." Surprisingly, once Street began her presentation, the Monahans group settled down and appeared to enjoy her talk, despite her earlier fear that they wouldn't want to listen to a "lady-speaker."
Even well-meaning hosts could create difficulties. In Barstow, Street's PTA sponsors articulated confusing expectations for her talk: "The good ladies want me to do a job and not to fail by leaving God out but to bear down on why the PTA needs more members." She added, wryly, "That last sentence gives you the key to my bewilderment." Street also often chafed at the ceremony that the rural ladies felt compelled to create for their urban guest. Recounting a visit with the Matador PTA, she wrote, "I wish I could give some picture of the importance of this as a social function. You have the feeling [that they want] to do like city-folk, therefore it becomes pompous and formal and I have to really go to town to get them to break down and enjoy the affair."
More serious challenges arose when school administrators were unwelcoming, as when the principal of Birdville High School "was very plainly worried about what I was going to do in his school, [as] mental hygiene frightened him and the P.T.A. ladies overwhelmed him." In that instance, Street managed to reassure the man. Teachers could also be hostile to unfamiliar ideas and "outsiders" coming in as experts. During a four-day tour of Tarrant County schools in 1953, Street acknowledged that "some of the teachers, mostly the older ones, did seem to resent the implication that there were better ways to meet emotional needs than they had known."
Despite occasional resistance from teachers, Street tried to use her mental hygiene strategies to benefit them as well as the students. After a visit to Joinerville, she wrote, "When I talk to the teachers of these schools I do not talk to them about the children but I talk to them about their own lives. What satisfactions they have, how a woman can work out a profession and a home, the means of accepting the facts that have brought them to the business of teaching as a livelihood etc. I think that they generally resent the fact that they have to stay after school and be talked 'at' so I try to leave them with some feeling that I care about them as persons." Similarly, in Birdville she reported a "very satisfying session" sharing mental hygiene information with the teachers, adding, "I am always struck by the hard, strained and unhappy faces of so many teachers; as I talk to them I set a goal for myself of getting a little relaxation and fun into the session."
Street traveled for the Hogg Foundation from 1946 to 1952, crossing the state time and again to promote the concept of mental hygiene in more than two dozen Texas towns. The slow pace of automobile travel in that era provided ample time for reflection: "When one rides for miles and miles across the plains of west Texas there is plenty of time to get adjusted to the idea that the end of the journey will bring you something new," she wrote Sutherland. "I want to thank the Foundation for letting me work for it. I have had the most unique and satisfying experiences with the most unlikely people."