In 95 years, Elizabeth Robinson has lived three lifetimes – as a dancer, a fashion buyer and a rancher. She even had time to travel the world, twice. Her life has been so interesting that the Institute of Texan Cultures recorded her oral history in 2010.
Today she is in Eden Cross Apartments, back in Sequin, Texas, where she was born in 1919. Her grandparents were one of the first families to migrate from Germany to that area of the country. “Sequin had about 3,000 people in those days, and I had a good life,” Ms. Robinson said. “Everything was fine until the Depression.”Her grandfather owned a ranch and a country store, which was hard hit when farmers no longer could pay their bills for seed and food. “In those days everybody had credit, so naturally we lost money.”
As a child, Ms. Robinson went to the movies – a lot. “I would see these Broadway musical movies,” she said. “I would see them once, twice, three, four times. I decided when I grew up I was going to be a dancer.”
She talked an uncle into giving her money to go to New York over the summer, and got her first job as a professional dancer at just 15. Her mother wanted her to come home and go back to school, but she refused. “I guess I was more stubborn than her because I stayed, and she came to live with me in New York,” Robinson said. “That was 1937.”
She worked for the next few years at different nightclubs in the city performing in multiple shows. She was instrumental in developing a union for nightclub performers and others during those years.
When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Robinson said her mother was worried New York was going to be attacked too, so they left. They ended up in San Antonio, where Fort Sam Houston had a civilian motor corps for women.
“I had no education. I couldn’t type. I couldn’t do anything but dance.” She joined the corps driving a munitions truck, and eventually got promoted to drive a mail truck, but she quit when she was reprimanded about allowing an elderly African-American man to ride in the front seat with her.
She said she was called in the headquarters and was asked about what somebody saw. ” I said, “Yes sir, that’s right.” He said, “Well, if you do it again you’re going to get fired.” I said, “You know what? I quit.” And I did.”
After a stay in New Orleans, Ms. Robinson and her mother went back to New York, where she started dancing in clubs again. In 1944 she got a job with a USO show that was going overseas. The troupe traveled on an overloaded cruise ship.“We got on the USS Monterrey,” Ms. Robinson said, “It had been a cruise ship and was built for like 500 people, and there was like 5,000 of us on there. The staterooms were supposed to have two people in them; we had 20 girls in our stateroom. It took six weeks to get overseas.”
Her first stop was in New Guinea. According to a map Ms. Robinson saved, the USO performed 293,000 shows in front of 161 million attendees. The troupe performed throughout the Pacific, Europe, Northern Africa, South America, Greenland, Iceland, China and Australia.
Over the next three and a half years, she made several more overseas trips with the USO and one with the Occupation Army. Ms. Robinson returned to the states in 1947 and married a fellow entertainer. After 15 years, she had it with show business, so she became a runway model for a big designer.
“And I made twice as much money as I ever did dancing, killing myself in the jungles.”
In 1959 she became fascinated with the retail business and attended executive training school at Bloomingdale’s New York. She worked for three more years in New York, and then took a job in Houston as a buyer.
Then after 30 years in the retail business, she started ranching with her second husband. They moved to Seguin in 1971, and he died in 1976.
“I stayed in the country with three horses, a donkey, four sheep, a goat, five cats, four dogs, peafowls, ducks, carp, on about 14 acres,” she said. “One day I was 65, I said to myself, I’m tired of looking at the back end of a horse, and I sold out. I roamed the world and then I got old.
During her roaming, she went to Europe, Germany, Australia, Italy, France, Thailand and Poland. She also traveled to Częstochowa, Hungary, Romania and Czech Republic. She stopped traveling sometime after 2004 and moved back to Sequin and into Eden Cross because she liked the apartments.
“The only thing I ever really wanted was a family and never had one. I think that’s because my (first) husband and I were on the Island of Bikini” where atomic testing had taken place.
“I’ve had a good life. I can’t complain,” she said. “I’ve never been rich. I’ve always worked, and I think you should work in life as long as you can. The less you do, the less you’re going to do.”