Enid Mae Justin admitted to being a women’s libber “before the word and the definition were even invented.” Born on April 8, 1894—years before women won the right to vote—she had to be tough and determined when she followed in her father Joe Justin’s footsteps and became a rare businesswoman for those times: a boot-maker.
Her father, Herman Joseph Justin (“Daddy Joe” as Enid fondly called him), was a successful boot-maker before Enid was born. In 1877 at age 18, he left Lafayette, Indiana, and his father’s cigar-making business to move to Texas. Joe worked in a Gainesville shoe shop for two years, then moved to Burlington (later known as Spanish Fort) and opened his own small shoe shop. His timing was perfect. It was 1879, the height of the cattle drive era, and Burlington was right on the Chisholm Trail. Cowboys heading up the trail to Kansas ordered boots at Joe’s shop and picked them up when they returned to Texas.
Joe met and married Annie Allen in 1886. When the railroad came to nearby Nocona in 1889, Joe, Annie and son John relocated their home and Joe’s boot-making shop to the burgeoning Montague County town. Nocona grew quickly, along with Joe’s business and the Justin family. As Enid and her six brothers and sisters each reached the age of 10, they began helping “Daddy Joe” at his shop. Enid started out stuffing catalogs into envelopes. By age 12, she was stitching boot tops on a foot-pedal-operated sewing machine. That year, her schooling came to an abrupt end when she was suspended for dancing at her brother John’s birthday party. She picked up her books, voiced her displeasure to the teacher, and left to work for “Daddy Joe” full time.
Over the next nine years, Enid helped with chores at home and learned about boot-making. No young man caught her interest until she met Julius Stelzer. They married in 1915. Tragically, their daughter Anna Jo was barely 13 months old when she died from whooping cough and pneumonia. Enid never had another child. Not long after that, “Daddy Joe” passed away. It would be seven years before a grieving Enid returned to her life’s work.
Representatives from the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce talked Enid’s brothers into moving H.J. Justin & Sons about 90 miles south to Fort Worth in 1925. Enid refused to leave. She stayed in Nocona and started her own company. “I knew I had to stay … and keep alive the business (Daddy Joe) started here,” she said in Dale Terry’s book, Miss Enid, The Texas Lady Bootmaker (Nortex Press, 1985).
The Nocona Boot Company opened in September 1925. Cowboys were a bit reluctant to deal with a saleswoman at first, but the quality of her boots won them over. With orders coming in, she concentrated on boot designs. Her first inspiration came from the curlicue pattern on an old brocade couch. Her next idea was sitting in front of her at a funeral. Enid saw a pattern in the lines on an old man’s neck and started sketching. She called that design “the neck!”
Success led to expansion of the factory. Enid bought better machinery, hired more employees and sent salesmen out on the road. Then her marriage to Julius ended. It wasn’t easy for her to accept. Not wanting to focus on her problems, she turned her full attention to her business.
When cowboys-turned-soldiers found military-issue boots uncomfortable during World War II, many got permission to wear cowboy boots instead. Enid sent Nocona boots to American soldiers around the world.
After the war—and a second marriage—ended, Enid built a larger factory in 1948. Appropriately enough, the location was only a few hundred yards from the Chisholm Trail.
In 1974, Enid, who had just turned 80, hired a nephew as her heir apparent. A few years later, a stroke paralyzed her left side. When she was 87, she sold Nocona Boot Company to Justin Industries to keep the business in the family.
Enid Mae Justin died on October 16, 1990, and was buried in her beloved Nocona. In Miss Enid, The Texas Lady Bootmaker, Enid said, “I’ve been blessed to have been in this business with these people right here in Nocona, Texas. What more could I have asked for?”
Lori Grossman is a Dallas writer.