University of Houston Libraries, Special Collections

Guide to the Nikki Van Hightower Papers

Overview of the Collection

Creator Hightower, Nikki Van, 1939-
Collection Title Nikki Van Hightower Papers
Dates 1967-1997
Identification 1997-017
Physical Description 7.50 Linear Feet
Repository University of Houston Libraries M.D. Anderson Library 4333 University Drive Houston, TX, 77204-2000 URL: Email: Phone: 713-743-9229

Biographical Information:

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.

Scope and Contents

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 oh 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.


Conditions Governing Access:

Open for research.

Conditions Governing Use:

Special Collections owns the physical items in our collections, but copyright normally belongs to the creator of the materials or their heirs. The researcher has full responsibility for determining copyright status, obtaining permission to publish from copyright holders, and abiding by current copyright laws when publishing or displaying copies of Special Collections material in print or electronic form. For more information, consult the appropriate librarian. Reproduction decisions will be made by Special Collections staff on a case-by-case basis.

Access Terms

This Collection is indexed under the following controlled access subject terms.
Genre/Form of Material:
Clippings (information artifacts)
Speeches (documents)
Personal Name:
Hightower, Nikki Van, 1939-
Topical Term:
Women -- Political activity -- Texas -- Houston
Women politicians
Women's rights -- Texas -- Houston

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation:

Nikki Van Hightower Papers, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries

Acquisition Information:

Donated by Nikki Van Hightower, 1997

Processing Information:

Stephanie Ashley, July 1997. Text converted and initial EAD tagging provided by Apex Data.

Detailed List of Contents

Women's Advocate

Scope and Contents
This series contains thirty-one folders. Papers date from 1973 to 1978, with the bulk of the materials dating from 1976 to 1978. The series is divided into three sub-series: General Files, Reports and Studies, and Women's Rights Coordinating Council. Of particular note are the correspondence and memoranda files, which document the particular practices and policies with which Van Hightower took issue, and the range of opposition and support she received in response. Also noteworthy are the studies on the status of women in Houston.
General Files
Box Folder
1 1-2 Correspondence and Memoranda 1976
3-8 Correspondence and Memoranda 1977
9 Correspondence and Memoranda 1978
10 Correspondence and Memoranda undated
11 Engagement Diaries 1976-1977
12 Messages/Notes 1976-1977
13 Miscellany 1976-1978
14 Opponents/Supporters of Women's Advocate Position 1977
15 Ordinances Affecting Women's Advocate Position 1977
16 Press Releases/Proposals Defining Women's Advocate Position 1973-1976
17 Press Releases/Statements Supporting Women's Advocate Position 1977
Box Folder
2 1 Quarterly/Yearly Reports of Activities 1976-1977
2 Record of Women's Advocate Achievements undated
Reports and Studies
Box Folder
2 3 Employee Child Care Needs - City of Houston 1977
4 Employment Rights of the Women in Houston 1977
5 Progress Report on the Status of Women in Houston 1975
6 Single Parent Seminar Program, parts 4-6 1977
7 State of the Women in Houston Background Material 1977-1978
8 State of the Women in Houston 1976
9 Status of Houston Women 1977
10 Status of Women in Houston City Government as of December 31, 1977
11 Texas Child Care Inc. Study 1977
Women's Rights Coordinating Council
Box Folder
2 12 Assorted Material 1977
13 Assorted Material undated
14 Equal Opportunity Employment Commission 1976


Scope and Contents
There are forty-five folders in this series, with two sub-series representing the two different capacities in which Van Hightower worked with Radio Station KTRH: Daily Commentaries/ Doubletalk, and Women's Advocate Hour. Material dates from 1976 to 1979. The correspondence in the first sub-series consists almost entirely of letters from listeners. Correspondence in the second sub-series relates primarily to arrangements for the show. Guests of note on the Women's Advocate Hour included Ellie Smeal, then President of the National Organization of Women, and Gloria Steinem.
Daily Commentaries / Doubletalk
Box Folder
2 15-21 Correspondence 1978
Box Folder
3 1-4 Correspondence 1978
5-7 Correspondence 1979
8 Correspondence undated
9 A 1978
10 B 1978
11 C 1978
12 D 1978
13 E 1978
14 F 1978
15 G 1978
16 H 1978
Box Folder
4 1 I-K 1978
2 L 1978
3 M-O 1978
4 P 1978
5 R 1978
6 S 1978
7 T 1978
8 U 1978
9 V-W 1978
10 Untitled 1978
11 Miscellany 1976-1978
12 Notebook of Radio Program Topics 1978
13 Notebook of Radio Program Topics 1978-1979
14 Notes 1978-1979
Women's Advocate Hour
Box Folder
4 15 Correspondence 1977
16-19 Correspondence, Questions, and Preparatory Material 1977
20 Correspondence, Questions, and Preparatory Material 1978
Box Folder
5 1 Guests A-B undated
2 Guests C-G undated
3 Guests H-K undated
4 Guests L-Mac undated
5 Guests N-O undated
6 Guests P-S undated
7 Open Forum undated
8 Telephone Messages 1977

Houston Area Women's Center

Scope and Contents
This series contains ten folders with material dating from 1977 to 1986. Initially, these files contained very little correspondence; correspondence and memoranda pertaining specifically to the Women's Center have since been transferred to this series from Van Hightower's personal files. The series also contains reports and publications.
Box Folder
5 9 Annual and Progress Reports 1980-1985
10 Center Line 1978-1982
11 Center Line 1983-1986
12 Community Resources For Women 1978
13 Correspondence, Memoranda, and Reports 1977-1982
14 Correspondence, Memoranda, and Reports 1983-1985
15 Descriptive Planning Document 1978
16 Institute of International Education 1982-1984
17 Miscellany 1978-1982
18 Task Force on School Violence Report 1982

International Women's Year

Scope and Contents
This series contains thirty-seven folders in three sub-series, which reflect the original arrangement: Texas Women's Meeting, Houston Conference Preparations, and National Conference. Material dates from 1976 to 1987, with the bulk of the material being from 1977. In the first sub-series, folders labeled "Committee Materials" contain papers relating to the activities of the Coordinating, Advisory, and Executive Committees of the Texas Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year Decade. Because separation of these papers would have disrupted the original order entirely, these folders contain a combination of agendas, minutes, membership lists, procedures, rules and memoranda. For the same reason, the term "correspondence" should be interpreted loosely here. Notable correspondents in this series include Judge Elizabeth Athanasakos (Presiding Officer of the National Committee on the Observance of International Women's Year), Hilary Whittaker (Conference Coordinator), and Bella Abzug (Secretariat for International Women's Year).
Texas Women's Meeting
Box Folder
5 19 Agendas 1977
20 Budget Proposals for International Women's Year Grant 1977
21-22 Committee Materials 1977
23 Coordinating Committee-Outreach 1977
Box Folder
6 1 Correspondence and Memoranda 1977
2 Correspondence, Memoranda and Miscellany 1977
3 Messages/Notes undated
4 Procedural Information 1977
5 Proposal to Steering Committee for Contract Services 1977
6 Resolutions Adopted 1977
7 Summary of the Final Report by the Texas Coordinating Committee to the National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year 1977
Houston Conference Preparations
Box Folder
6 8 Support and Welcome Resolution Correspondence and Information 1977
9 Women in City Government Project Correspondence and Information 1977
10 Women in City Government Project Correspondence and Information undated
National Conference
Box Folder
6 11 City Brochure - Houston 1976
12 City Brochure - San Antonio 1977
13-14 Conference Brochures 1977
15-16 Correspondence and Memoranda 1976
17-18 Correspondence and Memoranda 1977
19 Correspondence and Miscellany undated
Box Folder
7 1 Delegate/Alternate Letters 1977-1978
2 General Information and Rules of Order 1976-1977
3 Houston Committee 1977
4 Manual for Planning and Conducting Meetings For Women - Revisions 1977
5 Manual for State and Territorial International Women's Year Coordinating Committees 1976
6 Messages/Notes 1977
7 Name Lists for Invitations and Reservations 1977
8 National Women's Conference Committee 10th Anniversary Observance 1987
9 Press Releases 1976-1977
10 Proposed National Plan of Action 1977
11 Resolutions Adopted 1977
12 Torch Relay Information 1977
13 Updates for State and National Meetings 1977-1978

Political Publicity

Scope and Contents
This series contains ten folders dating from 1983 to 1989, with the bulk of the material from 1987 to 1989. Materials include election campaign publicity material, press releases, statements, and transcripts pertaining to two issues of particular prominence: the debate over transferring duties from the County Auditor to the Treasurer, and the 25.5% pay increase which County Commissioners awarded themselves in the 1989 budget. These files originally contained clippings which have been transferred to the clippings series.
Box Folder
7 14 Annual Reports of the County Treasurer 1988-1989
15 Campaign for City Council Correspondence and Publicity 1983
16 Campaign for County Treasurer - Publicity undated
17 Clarification of Treasurer's Duties 1987-1989
18 Clarification of Treasurer's Duties undated
19 Commissioner's Court Meeting Transcripts 1987-1988
20 Commissioner's Court Meeting Transcripts 1988
21 Commissioner's Salary Increase 1989
22 Correspondence 1987-1989
23 Messages/Notes 1989
24 Miscellany 1989

Speeches and Presentations

Scope and Contents
There are one hundred twenty-nine folders in this series. Although much of the material is not dated, some speeches have had dates supplied using information from Van Hightower's 1997 resume. Dates covered are 1967 to 1994. The series is divided into seven sub-series: Education, Government and Finance, History and Status of the Women's Movement, Women in Business and Political Life, Women in Crisis, Miscellaneous Subjects, and Speaking Engagement Arrangements. The first six sub-series contain full text versions and plans of speeches, presentations, statements, and testimonies. Folders also contain notes and accompanying material when applicable. Since the majority of speeches and plans were titled, they are arranged alphabetically by title in individual folders. Speeches with the same or similar titles may be foldered together. Titles of sub-series were imposed by the processor, and some assumptions had to be made about which speeches accompanying material was originally related. Untitled speeches are located at the end of the appropriate sub-series. In most cases there is no indication of the audience to which a speech was addressed. Those named include the following: American Association of University Women American Society for Public Administration Bay Area Turning Point Auxiliary Club Center for Women's Opportunities Conference for County Councils on the Status of Women First South Central Women's Studies Conference Gulf Coast Community Services Association Gulf Coast Section Society of Petroleum Engineers Houston Chapter of Hadassah Houston Independent School Board Houston Philosophical Society Houston Police Department Independent School Association of the Southwest National Council of Jewish Women National Management Association, Lockheed Northshore Rotary Club Palacios High School Rotary Club of Houston Society for Histopathologists Society for Medical Technology Texas 71st Air Force Junior R.O.T.C. Squadron Texas Association for Drug Abuse Services Inc. Texas Education Agency Texas Women's Political Caucus Texas Women's University Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Brazos Valley United States Customs Service University of Houston Academic and Professional Women's Association Women's Economic Club
Box Folder
8 1 6th Annual Law School Conference - Title IX undated
2 A.A.U.W. Awards Banquet Keynote Address 1976
3 B.P.W. Foundation Address undated
4 Equal Vocational Education undated
5 The Hidden Curriculum 1978
6 Untitled undated
Government and Finance
Box Folder
8 7 Harris County undated
8 The Impact of Federal Tax Reform on Local Government 1989
9 Political Influences on Financial Management undated
10 Politics of Government Finance undated
11 Texas and the Politics of Disenchantment 1994
12 You Make A Difference undated
13 Untitled 1989-1991
The History and Status of the Women's Movement
Box Folder
8 14 Are Men for Women? undated
15 Are Women Changing Men? 1978
16 Equal Rights Amendment undated
17 Female/Male Equality: Dreams of the Future 1980
18 Feminist Politics undated
19 Feminists: True Champions of the Homemaker 1977
20 History and Philosophy of the Feminist Movement undated
21 Houston Philosophical Society Address 1977
22 Looking Back: 20 Years of Uneven Progress in the Women's Movement 1993
23 The Role of Women in Society undated
24 State of the Women in Houston undated
25 The Status of Women 1977
26 The U.S. Constitution and Women's Rights 1987
27 What Is Left To Be Done? undated
28 Women Against Women: Where are the Battle Lines? 1978
29 Women's Economic Agenda undated
30 Women's Issues Then and Now undated
31 Women's Movement undated
32 The Women's Movement: Crises and Accomplishments 1976
33 Women's Suffrage undated
34 Women Today 1989
35 Untitled 1977-1989
36 Untitled undated
Box Folder
8 37 Child Care undated
38 Public Policy and the Single Parent Family undated
39 Statement to the Members of the Houston Independent School Board 1986
40 Testimony Before the Center for Women's Opportunities 1977
41 Untitled undated
Personal Growth
Box Folder
9 1 The High Cost of Low Self-Esteem 1988
2 Living a Courageous Life undated
3 Living With Success undated
4 Maintenance of Power undated
5 Mental Health in a Sexist Society undated
6 Mystique of the Loner undated
7 The Personal to the Political undated
8 Risk-Taking: Inventing a New Wheel undated
9 Taking Risks 1978-1979
10 Womanpower: How to Get it, How to Use it, and is it Worth it Anyhow? undated
11 Women and Change undated
12 Women and Risk-Taking undated
13 Untitled undated
Women in Business and Political Life
Box Folder
9 14 Aggie Democrats
15 Aviation Department undated
16 Becoming a Political Person 1990
17 Can Women Make a Difference? undated
18 Employment Discrimination 1967
19 Establishing a Mutually Valuable Partnership With Your Boss 1989
20 Gender Gap 1984
21 How to Be an Effective NPO Executive undated
22 How to Make it in a Man's World undated
23 The Impact of Sex Roles and Sex Stereotyping on Female Employment in the City undated
24 Influencing Local Government: Pressure Group Activity undated
25 Involvement and the Professional Woman undated
26 Learning From the Women's Movement: Implications For Management 1990
27 Male/Female Sex Roles in the Workforce: Phony or Real? 1977
28 N.A.S.A. Vendors Address undated
29 National Management Association Lockheed Address undated
30 Networking undated
31 Nursing 1985
32 Personnel Organization undated
33 The Politics of Affirmative Action 1977
34 The Power Structure: How to Achieve it and Use it Effectively undated
35 Pressure Group undated
36 Professional Women in Political Life undated
37 Progress of the Professional Woman in the Working World 1980
38 Public Relations undated
39 Role of Women in the Political Process undated
40 Secretaries undated
41 Status of Women in Business 1978
42 What Do Business Women Want? undated
43 What is Discrimination? undated
44 Women and Employment undated
45 Women at the Top: More Humanity or More of the Same? undated
Box Folder
10 1 Women Democrats 1990
2 Women, Employment Discrimination and Aging undated
3 Women in Politics 1988
4 Women in Radio
5 Women in Science
6 Women in the Military 1978
7 Women's Route to Elective Office undated
8 Untitled 1977
9 Untitled undated
Women in Crisis
Box Folder
10 10 Battered Women undated
11 Bay Area Turning Point Auxiliary Club Address 1994
12 Enforcement of Laws undated
13 Houston Area Women's Center undated
14 Houston Police Department In service on Battering 1984
15 Politics of Women in Crisis undated
16 Pornography: the Abuse of Freedom undated
17 Public Price Tag of Violence in the Home undated
18 Rape Program undated
19 Testimony on Sexually Oriented Businesses 1982
20 What Is Sexual Harassment? undated
21 Women and Drugs undated
22 Untitled undated
Miscellaneous Subjects
Box Folder
10 23 Art as a Vehicle for Social Change undated
24 Censorship undated
25 Freedom and Rights of the Press, the Reporter and the Public undated
26 Naturalization Ceremony Address 1977
27 The Politics of Health Care 1978
28 Rising Energy Costs, the Squeeze on the Consumer 1979
29 The Sociology of Diving undated
30 Speech for John Anderson undated
31 Testimony Before the Texas Senate Against Senate Bill #119 Limiting Abortion Benefits to Public Employees 1979
32 Testimony Supporting "Americans With Disabilities" Act 1989
33 Untitled 1981
34 Ephemera for Grenias Campaign 1983-1984
35 Untitled - Awards and Toasts undated
Speaking Engagement Arrangements
Box Folder
11 1 Arrangements and Correspondence, 1977
2-8 Arrangements and Correspondence 1978
9 Messages/Notes 1977-1978

Personal Files

Scope and Contents
This series contains thirty-eight folders of material dating from 1974 to 1997, with the bulk of the material from 1974 to 1989. Correspondence files contain a variety of communications relating to Van Hightower's involvement in clubs and committees, notifications of awards and honors, letters of thanks and congratulations, and letters from personal friends and family. Correspondents of note include Betty Ford, Ann Richards, Liz Carpenter, and Eleanor Tinsley. A significant portion of the correspondence could be considered "business" rather than personal. Since it is difficult, however, to determine the division between Van Hightower's personal and official community involvement, most of the correspondence was left in these personal files, with the exception of some material pertaining to the Houston Area Women's Center. Van Hightower's resume, in box 12 folder 13, provides a comprehensive survey of her achievements. The series also contains some photographs which are filed with accompanying correspondence, or at the end of the series.
Box Folder
11 10 Articles and Papers 1974-1989
11 Assorted Material 1978-1982
12 Assorted Material 1983-1985
13 Assorted Material undated
14 Correspondence 1974-1975
15 Correspondence 1977
16 Correspondence 1978
17 Correspondence 1979
18 Correspondence 1980
19 Correspondence 1981
20 Correspondence 1982
Box Folder
12 1 Correspondence 1983
2-3 Correspondence 1984
4-5 Correspondence 1985
6 Correspondence 1986
7 Correspondence 1987
8 Correspondence undated
9 Engagement Diaries 1978-1979
10 Engagement Diaries 1980-1981
11 Legal Documents 1986
12 Messages/Notes 1983-1986
13 Resumes 1979-1997
14 University of Houston Class 1984-1985
15 University of Houston Class - Financial Records 1985-1986
16 University of Houston Class - Miscellany 1984-1985
Box Folder
12 17 Athanaskos, Elizabeth undated
18 Hide Inspector Award 1977
19 Miller, Rex; Van Hightower, Nikki undated
20 Van Hightower, Nikki undated
21-22 Van Hightower, Nikki - Unidentified Event and People undated
23 Y.M.C.A. Membership Campaign (L to R): Fickessen, A.J; Speer, Sharon; Van Hightower, Nikki; Joiner, Joe 1978
24 Y.M.C.A. Membership Campaign (L to R): Guyon, Judge J.D.; Speer, Sharon; Fickessen, A.J.; Van Hightower; Nikki; Joiner, Joe 1978
25 Y.M.C.A. Membership Campaign (L to R): Joiner, Joe; Speer, Sharon; Fickessen, A.J.; Van Hightower, Nikki 1978
26 Y.M.C.A. Membership Campaign (L to R): Lewes, Stan; Van Hightower, Nikki; Fickessen, A.J. 1978
27 Y.M.C.A. Membership Campaign (L to R): Van Hightower, Nikki; Unidentified 1978
28 Y.M.C.A. Membership Campaign (L to R): Van Hightower, Nikki; Unidentified; Fickessen, A.J. 1978
29 Y.M.C.A. Membership Campaign: Van Hightower, Nikki 1978


Scope and Contents
There are twenty-seven folders in this series, containing newspaper clippings and magazine articles dating from 1973 to 1992. The material is arranged into subjects which, where possible, reflect series titles, and is ordered chronologically within folders. The clippings provide extensive coverage of some of the key points in Van Hightower's career. Van Hightower's election campaign for City Council is documented more fully here than in the Political Publicity series. Also prominently represented are the offices of Women's Advocate and County Treasurer. Newspaper clippings have been photocopied for preservation reasons.
Box Folder
13 1-2 City Council Election Campaign 1983
3 City Council Election Campaign undated
4 County Treasurer 1987
5 County Treasurer 1988-1989
6 County Treasurer Commissioners Salary Increase 1989
7 County Treasurer undated
8 Houston Area Women's Center 1978-1989
9 Houston Area Women's Center undated
International Women's Year
Box Folder
13 10 National Conference 1976-1977
11 National Conference 1977
12 National Conference 1977-1978
13 National Conference undated
14 Texas Women's Meeting 1977
15 Involvement in the Women's Movement 1973-1974
16 Miscellaneous 1977-1979
17 Miscellaneous 1980-1984
18 Miscellaneous 1985-1991
19 Miscellaneous undated
20 Speech Material 1989-1992
21 State Treasurer Campaign 1989-1990
22 Women's Advocate 1975-1976
23-25 Women's Advocate 1977
26 Women's Advocate 1978
27 Women's Advocate undated
Box Item
14 1 Oversizse clippings and newspapers