Martha Portis Renfro, the daughter of Allan Joseph and Gertrude Laura Portis, was born in Calvert, Texas on January 16, 1913. Her paternal grandparents and father had been sharecroppers. This livelihood, supplemented by her parents’ other jobs, gave Martha and her siblings the opportunity to pursue an education. Renfro graduated as salutatorian of her class in 1931, then went on to attend Prairie View A&M College. While earning her degree, Renfro simultaneously taught at Port Sullivan School in Milam County. She married Staff Sergeant William Wilbert Renfro on May 30, 1942 but was a "war widow" for the duration of World War II.
Upon completing her degree in 1945, Renfro started teaching home economics, the precursor to family and consumer science, at Rhoads High School in Daingerfield, Texas. She then worked as a Home Demonstration Agent for the Texas Extension Service before returning to the education field. In Rockdale, Texas, Renfro established the first high school home economics department. She redoubled her efforts by designing a similar department in Washington Carver High School in La Vega where she worked from 1956-1971.
Renfro then transitioned to Director of the Blue Triangle Young Women's Christian Association in East Waco where she started the first licensed daycare and created programming for summer camps and adult education. She served in this position from 1971 to 1986.
Renfro was also an active member and Sunday school teacher at New Hope Baptist Church in Waco and, like her father, was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She passed away on August 14, 2006 at the age of 93 and is interred in Waco Memorial Park.
More information about Martha Renfro can be found at the Institute for Oral History.