Our History

The Rio Grande Valley Byliners has a long and interesting past which you can read about here (see also the attached). If you have information to add, please contact Marianna Nelson. Most of the information here is available thanks to Marge Johnson from Weslaco, a Byliners member since 1959. In an article for our newsletter in January 2004, she provided names and dates and wrote about Byliners’ happenings and events that she herself lived through.
In 1943, the year the Byliners was founded, newspapers were written and managed mostly by men. Few women were journalists. So, given the male-dominated field at the time, it was unusual that the Byliners was started by women, for women. Minnie Gilbert of San Benito and Lucy Wallace of Mission were among the founders. If you have lived in the Valley a long time, you may know that Minnie wrote for the Brownsville Herald and the Valley Morning Star and Lucy for the Mission Times.
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The Byliners was started to encourage women to become more professional in their writing and to find opportunities in the writing field, as well as to get to know each other. They wanted to exchange ideas and have fellowship with other women writers and wanted to concentrate on women’s interests without the men feeling they were the only ones who could write. Thus, for many years the Byliners had a “women only” rule for members. This changed in the early 1980s when Ann Washington’s husband Tom became active in helping with the books the Byliners had published. So, the “women only” rule was dropped and men were invited to be members. Gradually, over the years, more men became interested in joined and now the membership is fairly even between the sexes.
Starting in 1975, the Byliners began writing and publishing their own books. The first, “Gift of the Rio” was spearheaded by Lucy as part of the 1975 Bicentennial activities in Mission. She managed to get a grant for the publishing costs from the Mission Bicentennial organization. Singlehandedly, she rounded up the writers, helped come up with subjects, and pushed the project to completion. Each chapter, which was written by a different writer, told of places and events in Valley history. Minnie and Ann Washington edited the book and Ann did the index. Marge Johnson recalls all of them sitting around her dining table going over the galley proofs and laying out the pages. The book came out and was very well received. About 3,000 copies were printed. It sold well and the Byliners ended up with some money in the bank.
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After a while, Lucy got a second wind and decided that the Byliners should write another book, this one about the people who settled the area and those who left a special mark on the Valley. Someone came up with the name “Roots by the River.” The press run was 3,000 again. The book was also well received and eventually made some more money.
A third book was conceived when it turned out that a lot of people were left out of the “Roots” book who deserved recognition. The book was called “Rio Grande Roundup” because it “rounded up” others who had done much for the area. This time the press run was 5,000 and was paid for by the monies made from the first two books. It did not move as fast but enough copies were sold to pay the printing expenses.
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Both Lucy and Minnie wrote several chapters in each of the books, as did Ann Washington; their work was always well researched and well written. Lucy died in the late 1980s and Minnie lived to age 99, leaving her writing days behind in the late 1990s. Marge Johnson remembers them as bright, interesting ladies who pursued their own careers, as well as the goal of creating these publications to leave a lasting legacy to the historical literature of the Valley. Others participated by writing a chapter or two, but Lucy and Minnie did the real work.
The Byliners had a period of low membership, perhaps because a potential member had to be a published writer and had to be invited and recommended by two members to join. After the rules were changed in the late 1980s, membership increased again.
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Since then, Byliners leaders including Eileen Mattei, Adrienne Ostmann, Mona Sizer, Jeff Harris, Ruth Harris, Sandra Vela, Janet Wilder, Jack King, and Don Clifford have helped the organization to continue its high level of achievement – with Excellence in Writing Contests and publications of the winning entries, monthly newsletters, annual Writers Workshops, monthly Writing Challenges, attainment of non-profit status, and publication of two more books: Tales Told at Midnight Along the Rio Grande, edited by Mona Sizer and published in 2006, and Collected Tales From the Rio Grande, edited by Don Clifford and published in 2010.
Byliners meetings are held at the Harlingen Library on second Saturdays at 1:30 p.m., except July. Writers and would-be writers seeking to perfect their craft and meet others who are doing the same are invited to attend a meeting and to join. Who knows? -- a sixth book may be in our future!