Justin, Enid (1894–1990)
Justin, Enid (1894–1990)
American boot manufacturer who became a leader in the industry. Name variation: Miss Enid. Born Enid Justin in Nocona, Texas, near the Red River, on April 8, 1894; died on October 14, 1990, in Nocona; daughter of Herman Joseph Justin and Anna (Allen) Justin (pioneer Texas bootmakers); completed the seventh grade in the Nocona public school system; married Julius L. Stelzer, on August 6, 1915 (divorced 1935); married Harry Whitman, on November 9, 1940 (divorced 1945); children: (first marriage) Anna Jo (1916–1918).
Left Nocona school at 13 to work in father's boot factory (1907); only child died and father died (1918); brothers moved boot company to Fort Worth (1925); opened Nocona Boot Company (1925); built larger boot factory and relocated it away from downtown area in Nocona (1948); after several expansions, plant reached its greatest size (1981); following controversial legal action, Nocona Boot Company merged with Justin Industries, and Justin effectively retired (1981).
During the 1970s and 1980s, when Western wear temporarily became haute couture for the chic, Nocona boots were often the footwear of choice. Not many of the would-be ranch hands realized that they were wearing boots bearing the name of a small Texas town near the Red River. Fewer still knew that their boots were the product of determination and hard work by a Texas woman, known affectionately in the area as "Miss Enid." Enid Justin had started the Nocona Boot Company in 1925, becoming in the process the first woman in what was truly the male-dominated world of bootmaking.
She was born into a family of bootmakers. Her father Herman Joseph Justin, the son of German immigrants, began making boots in Spanish Fort, Texas, soon after migrating there from Indiana in 1878. He had been a cobbler in nearby Gainesville but moved to Spanish Fort, where the Chisholm Trail crossed the Red River, and where the herds' drovers congregated. When the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad was built through Nocona in 1889, Herman Justin moved there and opened his first boot factory. He called his enterprise, "H.J. Justin and Sons," and made Justin Boots.
Enid Justin learned the business from the bottom up. While still a child in 1907, she quit school and was given a job in the plant. Just 13, she had been suspended by the school principal for dancing at her brother's birthday party. Angry because of the injustice, she received permission to end her few years of formal education. The Justins were a close-knit family. As a consequence, Enid had few contacts with males outside her home. In a day when women married young, Justin was 21 before dating and marrying Julius L. Stelzer, a telegrapher for Western Union.
After the marriage, she and Stelzer moved to Hollister, Oklahoma, where he became depot master for a few weeks. Homesick, Enid convinced Julius to return to Nocona and work for her father. She too resumed work, but became pregnant and decided to quit. She gave birth to her only child, Anna Jo, on December 26, 1916. A year and a month later, on January 27, 1918, the baby died during an epidemic of whooping cough and measles. Although Enid and Julius remained married until 1934, family life was never the same. Still, Justin did not return to work until after her brothers decided to move the boot company to Fort Worth in 1925.
John and Earl Justin had operated Justin Boots for seven years after their father's death in 1918. The Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, interested in having the company come to their city, offered the brothers a building site and tax abatement for several years. Convinced that relocation would help sales and make diversification possible, they moved to Fort Worth despite Enid Justin's opposition. When she told them that she intended to stay in Nocona and start her own boot company, brother Earl warned her that cowboy boots wouldn't be around much longer.
I've always been accused of having a pretty big ego, of being strong-willed, aggressive and a staunch businesswoman. I plead guilty to all of the above.
Even though Enid decided to stay in Nocona, she kept her stock in the family concern, claiming that "nobody wanted to buy it." She then borrowed $5,000 from the local bank and began operation of her own company. Her husband became the first president, since "ranchers and cowhands wanted a man in charge," but Enid Justin ran the business. She rented a small building (1,000 square feet) that had been one of her father's early plants and leased the machinery necessary for bootmaking from United Machine Company in St. Louis. Most of the skilled workers had gone to Fort Worth, but five remained. With this nucleus, the Nocona Boot Company opened its doors for business on September 1, 1925. It was chartered by the state during the next year, having ten stockholders and a five-member board of directors by 1926.
During the first year of operation, Justin divided the production line into various departments, including those for cutting, fitting, and lasting. To meet expenses at the plant, she was forced to turn her "home into a rooming house." She also "cooked for boarders, sewed and ironed for people, peddled coal … and sold washing machines," to make financial accounts balance. Her wages were $3 a week; Julius received $15. Justin worked night and day acting as shipping clerk, stenographer, and anything else that was needed. She was the company's first traveling salesperson and, with her sister as a companion, drove the dusty and occasionally muddy roads of north Texas in a Model-T Ford. At first, Justin sold more laced boots to oil field workers than traditional Western boots to cattle drivers. Despite her husband's presidency, cowboys were averse "to buying their footwear from a lady." The quality of the exclusively cowhide boots changed their minds, as did Enid's persuasiveness. Still, at the end of the first year, Nocona Boots was $267.61 in the red.
In that year, she increased the company's stock from $10,000 to $40,000, a figure maintained until the firm merged with Justin Industries in 1981. Justin kept slightly more than 50% of the stock, a "working majority." She also established the principle and practice that made the business a success. Nocona Boots produced what the customers wanted: a correct style of high-quality boots at a reasonable price. Cowboys demanded high-heeled, thin-soled boots of good leather with an 18" top to protect them against rattlesnake strikes. They also liked the decorative stitching which she added to keep the boots from folding at the ankle. Silk thread was waxed for the sewing and a solid leather heel, instead of the more common hollow one, was used. Enid Justin did most of the design patterns on the tops and toes of the boot. She borrowed her ideas from unusual sources and gave them names fitting the occasion. For example, the design called "brocade" came from a brocade couch in her home. The design called "neck" from the wrinkled neck of an old man who sat in front of her at a funeral.
Business improved rapidly. By 1934, she was sure that "Nocona Boots were headed for the top." She had enlarged the building, which had been purchased after a few years of operation. She also bought the company's machinery and added a sales force. But when she caught her husband with another woman and divorced him, the breach made her feel inferior. Julius went to Oklahoma and started the Olsen-Stelzer Boot Company, which made a "pretty good" boot but failed. The divorce caused Enid to "work even harder," if that was possible. In 1940, she met and married Harry Whitman.
This marriage was less satisfactory than the first. She believed that Harry married her for position and money. When he left in 1945, he cautioned her to get an attorney because "I came here broke, and I am not leaving that way." Harry got about $11,000 and used it to start a short-lived boot factory in Wichita Falls, Texas—"Whitbern Boots." The only good Enid realized from this episode was the opportunity to buy lasts for Nocona Boots. Harry's firm had purchased most of her supplier's inventory. Now, she bought them at a discount.
The Great Depression did not hurt Nocona Boots particularly. No one was laid off and wages were not cut. In 1935, sales were given a boost by Paramount Pictures, which featured Enid and the firm in its series on "Unusual Occupations." World War II was more of a problem. The difficulty of getting leather from northeastern tanneries, which she considered the best, meant temporary lay-offs for some of the work force. After the war, the business moved from its factory in downtown Nocona to a new building east of the business district on Highway 82, near where the Chisholm Trail had crossed. By the 1950s, her typical day began at 5:00 am when she arose and ate. She then went to the post office to pick up mail, read it, and answered most of it by 8:00 am. She was at the plant meeting dealers, suppliers, and employees until well into the evening.
Because of increased demand for her boots, Justin kept expanding the plant, especially during the 1970s when the Western fashion craze hit. Modifications were made to the original Nocona boot. She had good steel shanks put under the sole and hardwood pegs, not nails, in the insteps. The first boot tops had been eighteen inches and the heels three. These both were shortened. The new style was called "PeeWees." The older fashion had to be special ordered by the 1970s. She also produced boots called "Mule Ears," with straps that flapped down the side. The use of names for designs gave way to numbers, and many different types of leather began to be used—python, kangaroo, lizard, rattlesnake, and elephant, to name a few.
The Nocona plant was briefly unionized in the mid-'70s. "That just burned me. That just killed me," she said. "I felt like … we were family, you know. That is the way I felt towards my employees. They were people that we trained and that we knew and knew their families." She did approach her work force as a family, and some stayed for over 50 years. She planned parties, picnics, festivals, and other galas. She took family and individual problems into consideration when making judgments on workers. She kept informed about them and was genuinely concerned for their welfare. Her benevolence was effective. The labor union failed after one year, either because of her opposition or because of its inability to convince the workers that they were better off with it than with Miss Enid.
The plant on Highway 82 that went into operation in 1948 was 33,000 square feet and employed about 100 workers. In 1972, 26,000 square feet were added and 250 laborers employed. In 1981, the Nocona plant had 89,000 square feet and 500 employees, while another plant that had been built in Vernon, Texas, during
1977, had 26,000 square feet and 150 workers. As plant size increased, output rose. Four hundred and fifty boots were produced daily in 1948, 1,200 in 1972, and 1,700 in 1981. By this time, Nocona boots were sold at thousands of outlets in every state in the Union and overseas. Justin had begun introducing computerized production into the plant in 1980. In 1948, her sales were about $1 million, in 1972, approximately $8 million, and by 1981 roughly $27 million.
By 1981, Enid Justin was 87 years old and in bad health. She had suffered a stroke and was confined to a wheelchair. Whether she voluntarily decided to merge with Justin Industries or was tricked into it became a question to be settled by the Texas court system. According to Enid's version, her nephew, John Justin, Jr., chief executive officer of Justin Industries, recommended an attorney to her, and during one of the attorney's visits he had her sign a paper that he assured her was "an agreement not to sell Nocona Boot Co. to anyone for a year." In fact, she had signed a call option agreement granting Justin Industries the right to purchase her controlling shares of Nocona Boot's common stock. Justin Industries was then able to negotiate to acquire all of Nocona's stock through exchanges for Justin Industries' stock.
Enid Justin claimed that her interest in selling, which preceded the signing of the call option, was triggered by her inability to go to the plant daily, and the result of a confrontation she had with another nephew, Joe Justin, who was running the boot company in her absence. She subsequently believed she had been wrong to fire Joe and rehired him. Justin Industries' interest in the Nocona enterprise stemmed from a desire to be the largest bootmaker in the United States. At the time, Tony Lama Boots of El Paso was first, Justin second, and Nocona third in Western boot production. During the 1970s, Enid Justin had refused offers made by Charles Tandy of the Tandy Corporation and Tom Florsheim, the shoe manufacturer.
The point of contention among the Justin family appears to have been the amount of money needed to complete the merger. Apparently, the option sum was several million dollars, and Enid and Joe believed their company was worth at least $10 million. Ultimately, the merger was realized with Enid continuing as president and chair of the board of Nocona Boots for a short time before becoming a "consultant." She later maintained that the merger resulted from her desire to keep the factory in the family, and that she received $3 million in stock from Justin Industries, a conglomerate that owned the boot companies, coal mines, real estate, Acme Brick, and several other enterprises. Of her nephew John, Jr.'s desire to own Nocona Boots, she said: "He told my sister, 'I intend to own that Nocona Boot Company in its entirety someday.' But he doesn't own it, it is in a conglomerate."
Enid Justin died in the Nocona hospital and was buried in the city's cemetery; she never left the town she loved. During her active years, she was constantly engaged in advertising her product. She met movie stars, politicians, financiers, sports figures, bandleaders, monarchs, opera performers, and even tried to secure an audience with Pope Pius XII to give him a pair of her boots. She had a red pair made for the pontiff, but the American ambassador to the Vatican refused to let her give them to him. She spent millions in magazines, newspapers, and other media to spread the name of her boot company, and sponsored a 1939 "Pony Express Race" from Nocona, Texas, to San Francisco for publicity. The winner received a wheelbarrow full of silver dollars. She made sure the name Nocona and her boots were known across the country and overseas.
Throughout her long life, she received honors from social groups, business organizations, governmental bodies, and historical societies. For her pioneering contribution to Western heritage, she was made a member of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City and the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Hereford, Texas. Ironically, although she "loved boots like her family," she did not care to wear them. She saw boots as objects of beauty, but was too old-fashioned to wear them as footwear except on promotional or special occasions. As a woman in what was once the man's world of bootmaking, she was a pioneer and became a success regardless of gender.
Dallas Morning News. Sec. B. August 28, 1980, p. 5.
"Interview with Enid Justin by Floyd Jenkins, November 13, 1981," in North Texas State University Oral History Collection (Business Archives Project). No. 63, Denton.
Justin, Enid, as told to Dale Terry. "Miss Enid," The Texas Lady Bootmaker: An Informal Story of the Life of the Founder of Nocona Boot Company. Austin: Nortex Press, 1985.
"Obituary," in Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Sec. 1. October 16, 1990, p. 11.
"Pony Express—1939 Version," in Boot and Shoe Recorder. March 25, 1939.
Taliaferro, Paul. "Her Boots Built the Town," in Independent Woman: Official Publication of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs. Vol. XXVII. November 1948, p. 331.
Who's Who of American Women. 5th ed., 1968–1969.
"Bootmaker Chooses NCR Century," in NCR News. Vol. XL. August 30, 1972, p. 2.
"Enid Justin—The World's Only Lady Bootmaker," in Leather and Shoes: The International Weekly. Vol CLVIII. August 16, 1969, p. 12.
"The Legend of Miss Enid," in Ranch and Rodeo. 1976 Annual.
"Lifelong Ambition Realized in Making of Nocona Boots," in Southwestern Retailer. December 1937, p. 23.
Enid Justin Collection, Archives, Willis Library, University of North Texas, Denton.
Robert S. La Forte , Professor of History, University of North Texas, Denton, Texas