This collection documents the career of Nikki Van Hightower from the time of her appointment as Women's Advocate up to, and including, her work as Harris County Treasurer. It contains material dating from 1967 to 1997, with the bulk of the material dating from 1977 to 1989. Types of material within the collection include correspondence, memoranda, reports, studies, speeches, commentaries, press statements, publications, diaries, photographs and clippings.
The papers were originally filed in broad subject categories which have, where possible, been retained in the eight series titles: Women's Advocate, Radio, Houston Area Women's Center, International Women's Year, Political Publicity, Speeches, Personal Files, and Clippings. In order to facilitate research, files were broken down into a more detailed topical arrangement. Folders are arranged alphabetically by title within series and sub-series. Where possible, papers are arranged chronologically within folders. When dates are consistently lacking, as with the speeches and radio commentaries, material is arranged alphabetically by title.
Van Hightower's work as Women's Advocate is particularly well documented in the collection. The papers reveal the significance of that position in relation to city government and to the fact that Houston was chosen as the site of the International Women's Year National Conference in 1977.
The papers representing Van Hightower's work at KTRH reveal the extremes of opposition and support which could be engendered by the kind of direct approach to controversial social issues which Van Hightower took in the 1970s.
Also notable are the speeches and clippings. The speeches constitute a substantial portion of the collection, revealing the range of subjects on which Van Hightower spoke, and the extent of her community involvement. The clippings provide a valuable insight into media treatment of feminism during the 1970s and 1980s.
The Houston Area Women's Center series is the smallest in the collection. Van Hightower's work as Executive Director for the Center is more fully documented in the Houston Area Women's Center collection, also housed in the Carey C. Shuart Women's Research Collection.
Open for research.
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7.50 Linear Feet
In the course of her career, Nikki Van Hightower has been Women's Advocate for the City of Houston, Moderator/Commentator at Radio Station KTRH, Executive Director of the Houston Area Women's Center, and Harris County Treasurer. She has held teaching positions at the University of Houston, Texas A & M University, Lee Community College, the University of Texas School of Public Health, and the New York Institute of Technology. She has been an outspoken activist in the women's movement and a leading proponent of equality for women in the city of Houston.
Van Hightower became involved in the women's movement while in college in the early 1970s; she continued her involvement after moving to Houston in 1975. In 1976 she was appointed to the position of Women's Advocate by Mayor Fred Hofheinz, and was responsible for "coordinating efforts to secure equal rights for women" in Houston. In this capacity she served as the city liaison for the International Women's Year National Conference, which was held in Houston in 1977, and raised public awareness of women's issues with her daily presentation of the Women's Advocate Hour on Radio Station KTRH.
Van Hightower's criticism of inequalities in city employment practices, and her feminist activities, ensured her unpopularity with City Council members. In 1977 they voted to reduce her salary to $1.00 a year in an effort to force her to abandon the role of Women's Advocate. Hofheinz countered by reinstating her as "Affirmative Action Specialist," allowing her to carry out the same job under a different name. She remained in this position until Jim McConn, who succeeded Hofheinz as mayor, fired her in March 1978.
KTRH Radio subsequently hired Van Hightower to present daily commentaries and host the call-in show Doubletalk with Ed Brandon. She was fired from the station, apparently for being too controversial, in March 1979.
By this time she was committed to working with the Houston Area Women's Center, which she helped to establish in 1977. In 1979 she became the Center's Executive Director and held that position until 1986.
In 1983, Van Hightower entered elective politics, campaigning unsuccessfully for City Council At Large Position 4. In 1986, she launched a successful campaign for Harris County Treasurer, and took office in January 1987. For the next three years she fought policies which compromised the Treasurer's control of county finances. In 1990 she was unsuccessful in her bid as Democratic Nominee for State Treasurer. She currently holds the positions of Lecturer in the Department of Political Science, and Senior Lecturer with the Health Science Center at Texas A & M University.
Throughout her career, Van Hightower received numerous honors and awards and established an impressive vita of community involvement, publications, speaking engagements, and teaching appointments. Her refusal to be intimidated by the "old boy" political network, which she viewed as a fundamental obstacle to equality and justice, enabled her to implement significant changes for the citizens of Houston.
Donated by Nikki Van Hightower, 1997
Stephanie Ashley, July 1997. Text converted and initial EAD tagging provided by Apex Data.
Part of the University of Houston Libraries Special Collections Repository