Annette Finnigan: Building an Enlightened Community

By Betty Trapp Chapman

Annette Finnigan—energetic suffrage leader, astute businesswoman, visionary philanthropist—became involved in many aspects of Houston’s development. Her contributions have had a significant impact on its citizens. Yet today few Houstonians are familiar with her name.

Annette was born in 1873 in West Columbia, Texas, to Katherine McRedmond and John Finnigan. John, orphaned as a young boy of fourteen, was forced to leave school to earn his livelihood. A thirst for knowledge and a tireless energy for hard work, however, led him to become a successful merchant dealing in animal hides. Known as a democratic-minded person, John Finnigan believed in the worth of all individuals and in doing what he could to help others, and he instilled these admirable qualities in his daughter, Annette. In 1874, the Finnigan family moved to Houston, where Annette and her sisters, Katherine and Elizabeth, attended the newly-established public schools.

By 1888, the flourishing family business, John Finnigan Hide Company, had offices in Houston and New York City. To oversee the New York office, and possibly to expand the educational opportunities for his daughters, Finnigan moved his family to the East, although they claimed Texas residency. Annette, who had not yet graduated from the Houston Normal and High School, studied at Tilden Seminary in West Lebanon, New Hampshire, and in the fall of 1888 entered Wellesley College in Massachusetts.  Undoubtedly, her years at Wellesley profoundly influenced her. Her curriculum reveals that, while she showed an interest in languages, rhetoric, and art history, she also studied the sciences. She belonged to the campus art society and participated in the Wellesley Bicycle Club, a symbol of “emancipated womanhood.” Wellesley’s unique policy of employing an all-female faculty provided strong role models and affirmed the concept of feminine leadership. Class elections and assemblies educated women in organization, leadership, cooperation, and articulating their views. This represented a new experience for females and later proved invaluable to Annette.

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