The Honorable Vanessa Gilmore retired January 2, 2022, after serving 27 years as a federal judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas.
Now, embarking on a life after law, Gilmore has gifted her papers to University of Houston Libraries Special Collections. Selections from the newly acquisitioned collection were on display at the 25th Annual Table Talk Luncheon.
Gilmore’s 1994 nomination by President Clinton made her the youngest sitting federal judge to be appointed at the time. During her tenure, Judge Gilmore presided over the inaugural ceremonies of Houston mayors and elected officials, the Enron Broadband scandal, and the case of a man wrongfully convicted and incarcerated, among many others. As a practicing attorney in Houston, she served as a board member on the Community Development Corporation (CDC) along with Reverend Bill Lawson and Bishop Joseph Fiorenza in the neighborhood recovery of Third Ward, and on a number of other civic and charitable organizations. She has also served as chairperson of Texans for NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), and worked closely with diplomatic leaders, including the President of Mexico, to increase US trade opportunities. In 1991 she was appointed by Governor Ann Richards to the Texas Department of Commerce Policy Board which was responsible for increasing business, tourism, and job training development in Texas. She served there as chairperson from 1992 to 1994 and was the first African American to serve on this board.
Her collection contains scrapbooks, correspondence, photographs, speeches, and news clippings that document a distinguished legal and judicial career. As they examined the contents of the boxes holding records of Gilmore’s professional life, Vince Lee, archivist of the Carey C. Shuart Women’s Research Collection, and graduate assistant Polina Kharmats, shared how they produced the mobile exhibit for the Table Talk event.
“We look for visually impactful items that encapsulate her career,” Lee said. “We want to show milestones and distinctions of her trailblazing role. She was one of the first women of color as a federal judge, and she was the first UH Law Center graduate to be nominated for the federal bench.”
The accessioning process included a conversation with Gilmore, in which the archivists asked her to go through the materials and talk about her history. It’s an activity that sparks memories for the donor and surfaces stories and themes which provide a narrative arc of Gilmore’s career, informing a categorization of the materials that makes sense for discovery and research.
Gilmore was connected to UH Special Collections by Elizabeth Gregory, UH professor of English and director of the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) program. Gilmore is a part of the UH Friends of Women’s Studies, which supports WGSS through financial and volunteer efforts. The Table Talk Luncheon is the group’s signature event, benefiting WGSS and the Carey C. Shuart Women’s Research Collection. Ms. Shuart serves as a board member of Friends of Women’s Studies, with which UH Libraries has enjoyed a long-standing partnership, as the archives in the Shuart Women’s Research Collection play a significant role in supporting their activities. Athena Jackson, dean of UH Libraries and Elizabeth D. Rockwell chair, was a 2022 Table Talk conversationalist.
Gilmore’s papers are currently being processed. For more information, contact Vince Lee.