One of the best professors Shudde Fath had as an undergraduate at UT was sure women couldn’t do what men could, especially when it came to math. He called on her all the time. She always knew the answer.
What Accounting Prof. C. Aubrey Smith probably didn’t know was that Shudde–her name rhymes with Judy–was a math whiz with spunk.
Born in Bastrop on January 11, 1916, Shudde Bess Bryson had always loved numbers. She was a member of an interscholastic math league in high school and graduated Valedictorian of her class (1933). She pursued business in college because she considered it the practical application of math. She completed three years of accounting, just shy of a major, and was treasurer and house manager of her sorority (ZTA).
Women were a minority in UT’s School of Business Administration when Shudde graduated (with highest honors) in 1937. Only 18 percent of the 254 BBA degrees were granted to women in 1936-37, compared with 47 percent today.
According to Shudde, women at the time had only a handful of career options: teacher, nurse, secretary, or sales clerk. She was interested in none of these.
Shudde landed a job at the Texas Workforce Commission in 1938, where she worked in the tax department determining employer liability. That same year, she married UT student Conrad Fath and kept the books for his boat and motor shop in Austin.
But Shudde’s accounting acumen blossomed in unexpected ways. She started questioning numbers behind status quo issues and ended up becoming a first-rate consumer advocate.
Noticing a large discrepancy between commercial and residential electric rates in the early 1970s, Shudde began a crusade for fairer rates. In 1977, she won a term on the newly formed Electric Utility Commission and is credited with keeping Austin’s rates low for decades. At age 100, Shudde still sits on the Commission, which meets, not surprisingly, in the Shudde Fath Conference Room.
When she saw gender bias in salaries at the Workforce Commission, Shudde litigated and in 1980 became the first woman in the state of Texas to win a suit for sex discrimination.
When the Save Barton Creek Association lost their treasurer in 1981, she took the position and held it for 29 years. Her living room became an incubator for political activism, nurturing neighborhood associations, environmental clubs, and human rights activists for years. Shudde has been called the “grand dame” of Austin’s environmental movement. A 77-acre tract bordering the Barton Creek Greenbelt is named in her honor.
Shudde says the trick to living to 100 is good genes, proper diet, and exercise. But her advice for a meaningful life is this: “You gotta give a damn about something and work hard to make it happen. And since you don’t win them all, you have to acknowledge things would be worse if you hadn’t tried.”