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WOMAN SUFFRAGE

WOMAN SUFFRAGE. In the settlement and development of Texas, men and women were partners in hardship and work but not in politics and government. As an independent republic and as a state in the Union, Texas granted women no voting rights. The question of their voting was raised during the Constitutional Convention of 1868–69, when Titus H. Mundine of Burleson County proposed that the franchise be conferred upon qualified persons without distinction of sex. The committee on state affairs approved this proposal, but the convention rejected it by a vote of fifty-two to thirteen. A few years later, during the Constitutional Convention of 1875, two resolutions for the enfranchisement of women were introduced. Both were referred to the committee on suffrage, but neither was reported. Through the initiative of Rebecca Henry Hayes of Galveston, the Texas Equal Rights Association was organized at a meeting in Dallas in May 1893. The association soon had auxiliaries in Denison, Dallas, Fort Worth, Taylor, Granger, San Antonio, Belton, and Beaumont. Interest in women's rights was thereby aroused. Suffrage news began appearing in Texas newspapers. A bill to enfranchise women was introduced in the Texas House of Representatives in 1895 and was referred to the committee on constitutional amendments, but was never reported. In spite of its auspicious beginning, the TERA was destined to be short-lived. Dissension arose between Hayes and the executive committee, and at the state convention in Dallas in June 1895 she was not reelected to the presidency. The association then entered a period of decline, and during 1896 it ceased to function.

Interest was revived when Annette Finnigan and her sisters, Elizabeth and Katharine, organized the Equal Suffrage League of Houston in February 1903. Through the efforts of the Houston suffragists a similar organization was established in Galveston. Delegates from the two leagues met in Houston in December 1903 and organized the Texas Woman Suffrage Association with Annette Finnigan as president. Unfortunately for the suffrage cause, the Finnigan sisters moved from the state in 1905, and without their leadership and support the association became inactive. During Finnigan's presidency the Texas Woman Suffrage Association attempted to organize leagues in several Texas cities but was unable to secure adequate local support. Throughout the state, however, there were individuals who favored votes for women. The issue was brought before the Texas legislature in 1907 when Jess A. Baker of Granbury introduced in the House of Representatives a resolution to enfranchise them. At a hearing on February 21, Elisabet Ney, the sculptor, Helen M. Stoddard, president of the state Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and several other women spoke in its behalf. Their efforts were of no avail, however, for the committee on constitutional amendments recommended that the resolution not be adopted.

In the spring of 1908 a woman suffrage club was formed in Austin. For several years it was the only votes-for-women organization in the state. In February 1912 an Equal Franchise Society was formed in San Antonio. Its president was Mary Eleanor Brackenridge, a prominent clubwoman and civic leader. The society held frequent meetings, sponsored public lectures, and distributed large quantities of literature. Its activities stimulated interest throughout Texas, and the time now seemed opportune for the establishment of a state-level organization. In April 1913 more than 100 persons from seven Texas cities met in San Antonio and reactivated the Texas Woman Suffrage Association. For the office of president they chose Mary Eleanor Brackenridge. Brackenridge held this office until April 1914, when she was succeeded by Annette Finnigan, who had returned to Texas. The following year Finnigan was succeeded by Minnie Fisher Cunningham of Galveston. At their convention in 1916 the suffragists changed the name of their organization to Texas Equal Suffrage Association and reelected Cunningham president. Subsequent conventions also reelected her, and she held this office until the Suffrage Association was replaced by the League of Women Voters of Texas in October 1919.

The suffragists realized that gaining the vote would not be easy. Women had long been unable to vote, and many people, including many women, thought that the status quo should not be disturbed. Custom and tradition held that government was the prerogative of men and hence outside of women's sphere, that women had no need for the ballot because men would protect them. Participation in politics would, it was thought, make women coarse and crude and would cause them to neglect their homes and their children. In the minds of many Texans woman suffrage was more than a political issue. It was a dangerous threat to the social order. In contrast, the suffragists pointed out that women were citizens and taxpayers and, as such, should be entitled to a voice in the affairs of government. Enfranchisement would not cause them to neglect their homes, nor would it make them coarse and crude. On the contrary, it would enable them to function more effectively in their traditional roles. As mothers, teachers, businesswomen, and workingwomen, they would use the ballot in behalf of better schools, playgrounds, parks, public health, sanitation, working conditions, and an improved life in general. A formidable task of changing public opinion lay ahead. To gain support at the grassroots level, the suffragists organized leagues throughout the state. By June 1918 there were ninety-eight such organizations. To publicize their cause they sponsored lectures and forums, conducted debates and essay contests, maintained booths at fairs and in department stores, marched in parades, made house-to-house canvasses, and sent letters and petitions to legislators and congressmen. They distributed thousands of pamphlets and kept newspapers supplied with suffrage news. With the entry of the United States into World War I, suffragist leagues supported projects and activities in behalf of the war effort. Their patriotic endeavors were important in softening the opposition to enfranchisement. The Texas Equal Suffrage Association was an affiliate of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and for several years it was the only state-level organization working for women's enfranchisement. In January 1916, however, the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (later known as the National Woman's party) established a branch in Texas. It began with a membership of 100 and with Clara Snell Wolfe of Austin as state chairman. Unlike the NAWSA, the National Woman's party engaged in militant activities such as picketing the White House and burning President Wilson in effigy. The party's Texas branch announced its approval of this policy but sponsored no militant agitation in the state. Public opinion in Texas was opposed to such militancy, and the National Woman's party was unable to gain widespread support there. Its role in the Texas suffrage movement was a secondary one. In 1915 the opponents of women's enfranchisement organized the Texas Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage. They distributed large amounts of literature but did little organizing throughout the state. The leader of the antisuffragists was Pauline Kleiber Wells, wife of James B. Wells of Brownsville.

In 1911 Jess Baker of Granbury once again raised the suffrage question in the Texas House. His resolution to enfranchise women was referred to the committee on constitutional amendments, which recommended that it not pass. Two years later T. H. McGregor of Austin introduced a similar resolution in the Senate. This resolution received a favorable committee report but was rejected by a vote of nineteen to eight when the Senate voted on its passage to engrossment. By the time of the 1915 legislative session, women's enfranchisement had become an active issue. The suffragists had done much educational work through newspaper publicity and the distribution of literature. Prospects for winning concessions from the legislature seemed good. The Texas Woman Suffrage Association established an active lobby in Austin. Women throughout the state sent letters and petitions to the lawmakers. In the House the committee on constitutional amendments recommended that the suffrage resolution be adopted. When the House voted on the measure, ninety of its members voted in favor and thirty-two against. Since the ninety favorable votes were less than the two-thirds majority required for a constitutional amendment, the resolution failed. During the two years that followed, the suffragists continued to organize and propagandize. When the legislature convened in January 1917, resolutions to enfranchise women were introduced. Once again the House voted on the question. This time seventy-six representatives voted in favor and fifty-six against. Once again the resolution failed of adoption. The governor of Texas during the 1915 and 1917 legislative sessions was James E. Ferguson, an inexorable opponent of woman suffrage. When dissatisfaction with Ferguson's conduct in office led to a movement to impeach him, the suffragists actively supported the anti-Ferguson movement. During the summer of 1917 he was impeached and removed from office. His successor, Lieutenant Governor William P. Hobby, was friendly toward woman suffrage. Texas women won an important concession when primary elections were opened to them in 1918. Primary suffrage did not require an amendment of the state constitution but could be granted by a simple legislative act. At a called session in March Charles B. Metcalfe of San Angelo introduced a bill to permit women to vote in primaries. It passed the House eighty-four to thirty-four and the Senate eighteen to four. It was then signed by Governor Hobby, and Texas women thereby became eligible to participate in primary elections. In seventeen days 386,000 women registered to vote in the Democratic primary to be held on July 26, 1918. They took an active part in the campaign and strongly supported William P. Hobby for governor and Annie Webb Blanton for state superintendent of public instruction. Hobby, Blanton, and other candidates favored by the women were victorious. Since Texas was predominantly Democratic, primary suffrage was almost equivalent to full enfranchisement. Women were now a force in state politics. In August 1918 Democratic conventions in 233 counties went on record in favor of woman suffrage, and in September the state Democratic convention endorsed it.

When the legislature convened in January 1919 Governor Hobby sent a message recommending that the Texas Constitution be amended to extend full suffrage to women. He also recommended that persons of foreign birth be allowed to vote only after they had acquired full citizenship through naturalization. If adopted, this citizenship requirement would take the vote from "first paper" aliens, who were at that time fully enfranchised. Without a dissenting vote, both houses passed a resolution embodying the governor's recommendations. Before becoming part of the Texas Constitution, however, the resolution had to be approved by the voters at the polls. The enfranchisement of women and the disenfranchisement of aliens were both parts of the same resolution. The two proposals could not be voted upon separately but had to be accepted or rejected as a unit. Under existing law women could not vote in the referendum on the proposed amendment since they had only primary suffrage. Aliens could vote on it, however, because they were already fully enfranchised. Under the direction of Jane Y. McCallum of Austin the suffragists conducted a vigorous campaign. When the referendum was held on May 24, however, the proposed amendment was defeated by a majority of 25,000 votes. The antisuffragists hailed this defeat as a mandate against votes for women. The suffragists emphatically denied this claim. They maintained that the issue had been clouded by the inclusion of the citizenship requirement and published an analysis of the returns showing that counties with large alien populations cast large majorities against the proposed amendment. The following month, June 1919, the federal woman suffrage amendment was submitted to the states. The Texas legislature convened in special session on June 23. The following day the House adopted a resolution ratifying the federal amendment by a vote of ninety-six to twenty-one. In spite of some opposition, the Senate approved it on June 28. Texas was then hailed as the ninth state in the Union to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. The Nineteenth Amendment encountered its strongest opposition in the South. It was opposed as a threat to states' rights and to state control of elections, partly because of the fear that the black woman's vote might increase the political influence of blacks. These states' rights and racial objections were raised in Texas, but they were of less concern there than in other parts of the South. Of the eleven states in the former Confederacy, only three ratified the Nineteenth Amendment during the 1919–20 campaign. Texas, the first of the three, yielded to the demands of the suffragists only after the movement seemed assured of success nationally.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Minnie Fisher Cunningham Papers, Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library. History of Woman Suffrage (6 vols., New York, 1881–1922; rpt., Salem, New Hampshire: Ayer, 1985). Jane Y. McCallum, "Activities of Women in Texas Politics," in Texas Democracy, ed. Frank Carter Adams (Austin: Democratic Historical Association, 1937). Jane Y. McCallum Papers, Austin History Center. 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).

A. Elizabeth Taylor

Citation

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

A. Elizabeth Taylor, "WOMAN SUFFRAGE," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/viw01), accessed August 22, 2014. Uploaded on August 31, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.