Celebrating two trailblazing Texas women

MSU Texas alumna Major General Dawn Ferrell, former regent Charlye Ola Farris into Texas Women’s Hall of Fame

Two trailblazing women with ties to Midwestern State University (MSU Texas) and Wichita Falls have been selected for this year’s Texas Women’s Hall of Fame. At the Nov. 4 induction ceremony, alumna Dawn Ferrell, Major General (Ret.), USAF, and former regent and namesake of MSU Texas’ Social Justice Resource Center, Charlye Ola Farris, will be among the select group of six honorees.

Major General Dawn Ferrell

A native Wichitan, Ferrell (’88, ’96), earned both her bachelor’s degree in social work and master’s degree in counseling at Midwestern State University. In 2002, she received her Ph.D. from the University of North Texas, Denton, TX.

Ferrell became the first woman brigadier general in the Texas Air National Guard in 2015. She had enlisted as a part-time air cargo specialist in 1983 as she continued her studies. In 1994 she received her commission through the Academy of Military Science, and became full time in the Guard in 2008.

“Early in my career, I was fortunate to work with Major General Dawn Ferrell and observe the traits that facilitated her groundbreaking success. She is a selfless, humble leader who inspires those around her. She personifies Texas greatness. I am so proud of Dawn and humbled to have worked alongside someone of her stature,” says Keith Lamb, Ph.D., vice president for Student Affairs at MSU Texas.

In her nearly 40-year career, Ferrell notably served as deployed aerial port commander for relief efforts after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Later deployed to Afghanistan, she was director of plans and logistics operations for the U.S. and NATO International Security Assistance Force. Ferrell retired from the Texas Air National Guard in January 2021.

Officially, Ferrell is being honored by the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame “in recognition of her exemplary leadership and significant contributions to our state and nation in both military service and higher education.”

Interim MSU Texas President James Johnston said, “These two accomplished women, both native Wichitans, have been inspirational leaders in their respective professions over many years. Their connections to MSU Texas underscore the excellence of this university and, most importantly, serve as remarkable role models for our exceptional students.” 

Charlye Ola Farris

Charlye Ola Farris was born in Wichita Falls in 1929 but was unable to attend Hardin College (now Midwestern State University) because of her race. Instead, she earned her bachelor’s degree (1948) in political science from Prairie View A&M University. In 1953 she graduated from Howard University Law School in Washington, D.C.

Charlye Ola Farris
Charlye Ola Farris was honored in October 2021 with the opening of the Charlye O. Farris Social Justice Resource Center at MSU Texas.

 

Farris became the first Black woman licensed to practice law in Texas and the first Black lawyer to practice actively in Wichita County. Her election in 1954 as County Judge Pro-Tem drew national attention as it was the first time that a Black person served as a judge in the South.

Throughout her career, Farris pursued justice for underrepresented and marginalized groups with her exceptional skill and determination. She earned national acclaim and many honors, including the prestigious Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award given annually by the American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession, and the Sarah T. Hughes Award by the State Bar of Texas honoring the accomplishments of women who have achieved outstanding recognition in their professional area and who, by doing so, have paved the way for success for other women attorneys. She was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to the Board of Regents at MSU Texas and served from 2006 until she died in 2010.

“Charlye was a person of outstanding character. In her extraordinary career, she gave a voice to people whom others refused to hear. Remarkably, the challenges she faced in her lifetime didn’t diminish her desire to help others,” said Barry Macha, MSU Texas general counsel and former Wichita County district attorney. “I hope this honor inspires new generations to follow in her path.”

In 2021, MSU Texas announced the establishment of the Charlye O. Farris Social Justice Resource Center. The Farris Center opened to students and community members this fall. It serves as a hub of advocacy for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). The university is raising funds to support this endeavor. 

Officially, Farris is being honored by the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame “in recognition of her pioneering role and 56 years in the legal profession, paving the way for others by overcoming adversity with dignity and perseverance.”

Hall of Fame

The Texas Women’s Hall of Fame was established in 1984 by the Governor's Commission for Women to honor outstanding achievements by women in the state. An independent panel of judges selects the recipients from nominations submitted by Texas residents. Inductees at the biennial ceremony have included first ladies, teachers, astronauts and athletes, among other distinguished women.

Joining Major General Dawn Ferrell and Charlye Ola Farris as 2020-2021 Texas Women’s Hall of Fame honorees are: 

  • Lauren Anderson (Arts) – “In recognition of her boundary breaking and distinguished artistic achievements in the world of ballet and her generosity in inspiring children to reach for the stars.”  
  • Kendra Scott (Business) – “In recognition of her extraordinary entrepreneurial spirit, remarkable business leadership, and passionate philanthropy in support of women and children’s causes.”
  • Elaine Stolte (Community Service) – “In recognition of her decades of service and national leadership as a tireless advocate, bringing healing and giving a voice to children who are survivors of sexual abuse.”
  • Ofelia Vasquez-Philo (Civic Leadership) – “In recognition of her legacy of community service and trailblazing leadership in support of civil rights and the preservation of Hispanic arts, culture, and heritage.”