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MINUTE WOMEN OF THE U.S.A.

MINUTE WOMEN OF THE U.S.A. Minute Women of the U.S.A., Incorporated, was founded in September 1949 by Suzanne Stevenson of Connecticut to fight Communism in government and education and to demand the teaching of the American heritage in schools and colleges. Chapters were established across the country; membership was especially strong in Texas, California, West Virginia, Maryland, and Connecticut. Texas chapters of the organization were formed in the spring of 1951 in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Wichita Falls. Although a statewide governing council was established, the local groups varied greatly in their size and influence. The most notable and active Minute Women group in Texas was in Houston, where the organization became one of the leading chapters in the nation and one of Houston's most prominent anti-Communist organizations. The group's success in Houston resulted largely from a core of prominent individuals eager to apply Suzanne Stevenson's ideas to local issues. These women were also in close contact with many male politicians and civic leaders who supported their causes. Approximately 200 men and women attended the first publicized meeting of Houston Minute Women in July 1951; by 1952 the chapter had 500 members. Eleanor Watt was the original chairman of the Houston chapter, but when turmoil developed within the organization concerning its secrecy in the fall of 1951, Stevenson appointed Virginia Biggers to the position. Other leading women within the Houston organization were Virginia Hedrick, Faye Weitinger, and Helen Darden Thomas, the daughter of Ida Dardenqv.

The Minute Women organization was officially nonpartisan. The majority of Houston's Minute Women were from the upper-middle and upper classes and were drawn into the organization for a variety of reasons: opposition to socialized medicine, support of the oil industry, patriotism, opposition to integration, and concern over new teaching philosophies advocated by professional teachers. Only United States citizens were eligible for membership, and members were required to pledge to vote in every election and to support what they believed to be the traditional American way of life. Fearing Communist infiltration, Suzanne Stevenson set up the organization with no constitution or bylaws, no parliamentary procedure to guide the meetings, and no option for motions from the floor. Also, all officers were appointed rather than elected. In Houston and across the nation the women used a unique chain-telephoning system to call meetings. They also used the telephone to convey their opinions to government officials and to their opponents. They waged letter-writing campaigns and heckled speakers. The Minute Women also read and promoted anti-Communist, anti-New Deal, and anti-Semitic literature. Their views could be heard in Houston on "Minute Women Calling for Liberty," a Sunday evening radio program. The impact of the Houston Minute Women was greatest in the schools. In November 1952 they succeeded in electing Minute Women supporters to the board of the Houston Independent School District. The women stirred controversy within the city's education system, causing resignations and firings of teachers and school officials, including the deputy superintendent of the Houston public schools.

In October 1953 the Houston Post published an exposé of the organization that brought about an investigation of the Houston school system in 1954. The National Education Association report indicated no reason to believe the Houston schools were harboring communist teachers and gave a negative view of the Minute Women's activities. This report coincided with a general nationwide decline in the reputation of Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin and with changing international relations, which somewhat eased American fears of Communist infiltration. Although the Minute Women remained active into the 1960s, the size and influence of the organization steadily diminished.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Don E. Carleton, Red Scare (Austin: Texas Monthly Press, 1985). Houston Post, October 11–28, 1953.

June Melby Benowitz

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

June Melby Benowitz, "MINUTE WOMEN OF THE U.S.A.," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/pwm01), accessed July 31, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.