Editor's note: March is Women's History Month and the E-T is featuring influential women from Erath County's past. This is part two in the series.
Before the Stephenville Empire-Tribune there was the Empire and the Tribune — two separate newspapers.
The Empire was owned by George Washington Jenks and his wife Christina “Tena” Jenks, who was also a successful businesswoman and photographer.
Tena was born on April 17, 1859 in Gonzales to German immigrant parents, and in 1878 opened her own photo gallery at the age of 18 in Gonzales, which she continued to run for a short time after her marriage to George in 1882.
In an ad Tena took out in the Gonzales newspaper, she wrote “I have opened my new gallery and am now prepared to do any kind of photographic work. I invite the public to give me a call, and I will endeavor to please them.”
In 1883 the couple moved to Stephenville and purchased the Empire.
Tena also opened a millinery (hat) shop on the Stephenville square while helping her husband in the newspaper industry where she would place several ads for her business.
“At the Empire office, Tena and George sold sewing machines,” said Cindy Shipman, Stephenville Museum board member. “Tena was capable of setting type, editing and getting the paper out. I don’t think this was a regular occupation for her, but on several occasions George commented on her skills. George seemed proud of Tena’s skills and he was a real champion of women in general.”
During their 23-year marriage, Tena gave birth to at least eight children and besides working at the Empire and running her own business, she bought and sold real estate, purchasing several properties in her name.
Her properties were around the downtown square and included part of the lot that became Crow Bank and the lot that became Edward Jones, two other partial lots that became a bank building and a few others. She also owned property on Mason Street between Graham and Virginia streets and 200 acres southeast of Stephenville.
“Tena was a real partner in the financial and business side of her marriage with Jenks,” Shipman wrote. “She was the financial brains behind their success.”
Though Tena was a successful portrait photographer through her early years, there isn’t any evidence that shows she continued that career in Stephenville. However, her obituary states that along with opening her hat shop, she established another photo gallery in downtown.
“Tena is seldom mentioned by name in the paper. She isn’t one of those society ladies giving dinners and parties. She died about the time that ladies’ clubs really became the rage,” Shipman said. “On photos she gave to family, she labeled herself ‘Mrs. C.F. Jenks,’ not the standard ‘Mrs. G.W. Jenks’ of the day. That’s a pretty feminist viewpoint.”
Tena passed away in 1904 in her hometown of Gonzales at age 45 after a year-long battle with tuberculosis.
“Things happened after the death of Christina Jenks in 1904 that really speak to me about her influence on her family and her world view,” Shipman said. “In her will she asked her husband to ‘make ample provision for the care, education and maintenance of their children.’ After her death, although the family financial situation didn’t fail, it ceased to grow. It makes you wonder if without Tena’s vision, the family fortune was receding.”