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TEXAS EQUAL RIGHTS ASSOCIATION

TEXAS EQUAL RIGHTS ASSOCIATION. The Texas Equal Rights Association, the first statewide female suffrage organization, was formed after Rebecca Henry Hayes of Galveston, a vice president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and ten other women, a majority of whom were members of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, issued a call on April 8, 1893, for an organizing convention. Approximately fifty individuals, one-fifth of them men, became charter members of the association that organized the following month during a three-day convention in Dallas. Officers besides Hayes, who was elected president, included Elizabeth Fry, Sarah Acheson, and Dr. Ellen Lawson Dabbs.qqv The officers constituted an executive committee, which was also to serve as a lecture bureau. The TERA was organized as a state branch of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. It adopted a slightly modified version of the constitution and bylaws of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association and assessed individual annual dues of fifty cents. Men were welcomed as members, although the composition of the group was always overwhelmingly female. The TERA was committed to securing voting and political rights for women on the same terms as men, including the right to hold political office and serve on juries. Members stressed the unfairness of taxation without representation and the injustice of being subject to a government that they had no voice in electing. Many also contended that female suffrage would result in purer politics and cleaner government. Although the TERA adopted a formal eight-point plan of work drafted by Dr. Grace Danforth and E. L. Dohoney,qqv it concentrated on awakening public opinion to the need for enfranchising women. It also sent members to the state Democratic, Republican, and People's partyqqv conventions to ask for equal suffrage planks. At various times it incorporated a department of dress reform, headed by Danforth; a department to compile lists of laws that benefited or discriminated against women, directed by Alice McAnulty; and a department of educational opportunities for women and children, under the charge of Sarah Acheson. Local auxiliaries to the TERA were organized in Denison, Taylor, and Granger in 1893; and in Fort Worth, Dallas, San Antonio, Belton, Beaumont, and Circleville in 1894.

At the 1894 convention in Fort Worth, Hayes was reelected president, and the membership debated the question of inviting Susan B. Anthony and Rev. Anna Howard Shaw from the National American Woman Suffrage Association to visit Texas as part of a proposed lecture and organizing tour in the South. The issue generated heated discussion, in which Hayes and a minority contended that such a visit would overburden TERA's limited financial resources and that a northern suffragist like Anthony would be poorly received by Southern audiences. It was decided to let the executive committee make a decision after Anthony could be contacted about fees and dates. Subsequently, in September, the committee voted four to three to invite Anthony to Texas if the Southern tour were approved. Although Hayes promised to convey the decision to the NAWSA executive committee, she insisted that in her capacity as a member of the national committee she would nevertheless vote against the Anthony tour. The pro-Anthony faction, led by Danforth and Fry, demanded Hayes's resignation, which she refused to give. At a subsequent meeting in November, the radicals announced that Hayes had forfeited her office by her opposition to the will of the executive committee. They declared the presidency vacant and unanimously elected Elizabeth Fry to fill it. For a time, the TERA had two presidents. Hayes, with the backing of NAWSA, refused to concede the legality of the executive committee's action, and the radicals were eventually forced to give in.

Hayes presided when the TERA met in Dallas for its third convention in 1895, but lost the presidential election to Elizabeth Goode Houston. The organization resolved to avoid association with any particular political party and to undertake a campaign to organize the state on a county-by-county basis. Elizabeth Houston later appointed ten individuals to organize local and county suffrage clubs, but TERA by this time was losing strength. Divisiveness among the members undercut its effectiveness, and lack of funds was critical. The office of state organizer had been abandoned in 1894 because of financial constraints, and the superintendent of press work announced the following year that lack of money prevented her from publicizing the work effectively. The treasurer reported only $105 on hand in 1895. Local societies, never more than a handful, gradually declined, and by the end of 1896 the TERA had ceased operation.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

A. Elizabeth Taylor, "The Woman Suffrage Movement in Texas," Journal of Southern History 17 (May 1951; rpt. in Citizens at Last: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Texas, ed. Ruthe Winegarten and Judith N. McArthur, Austin, 1987). Texas Equal Suffrage Association Scrapbook, Austin History Center.

Judith N. McArthur

Citation

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

Judith N. McArthur, "TEXAS EQUAL RIGHTS ASSOCIATION," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/vit02), accessed October 30, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.