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TEXAS WOMEN'S POLITICAL CAUCUS

TEXAS WOMEN'S POLITICAL CAUCUS. The Texas Women's Political Caucus was founded in November 1971 in Austin. Many of the 200 women at the first meeting had been at the formation of the National Women's Political Caucus in Washington and at the annual conference of the National Organization for Women in California, both in the summer of 1971. Informing the TWPC's initial efforts was a desire to see more women in elective and appointive offices so that a multi-partisan attack could be made against sexism, racism, institutional violence, and poverty. At the time of the TWPC's founding, the election of more women to office was seen as crucial, since only two women were in the Texas legislature (Barbara Jordan of Houston and Frances Farenthold of Corpus Christi). Leaders in the organizing conference included Liz Carpenter, who gave the keynote address, and Jane Wells, who chaired the meeting. The conference set two priorities for the caucus: to work for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution and to work to eliminate laws that infringed upon "reproductive freedom." A vocal group of Republican women reminded the caucus of the need for clearly multi-partisan efforts. The formation of a thirty-five-member Interim Policy Council at the organizing conference provided the mechanism for future caucus meetings and activities. The initial efforts of the TWPC to increase the number of women in public office was aided by the public's desire for reform after the Sharpstown stock-fraud scandal in the early 1970s. The number of women elected to the legislature increased to six in 1972. At its first state convention, held that year in Mesquite, the TWPC endorsed Farenthold in her race for governor and Alma Canales as lieutenant governor. Despite the defeat of these candidates, the TWPC continued to see more women elected to the state legislature and also worked successfully to aid in passage of the Texas Equal Rights Amendment by Texas voters in 1972. Throughout its efforts in these early years, the TWPC was aided by the establishment of numerous local caucuses that helped to carry out the work of the statewide group. In 1973, the year the Texas legislature ratified the national Equal Rights Amendment, the TWPC hosted the first convention of the National Women's Political Caucus, held in February in Houston. Highlighted by addresses from women politicians from across the country, the convention drew more than 1,000 women from Texas and also spotlighted several of the state's women politicians and TWPC leaders. At this meeting Farenthold was elected to head the national caucus for a two-year term.

The TWPC began primarily as a white Democratic organization. Not surprisingly, the group encountered some difficulties in appealing to the varied groups of Texas women. Hispanics resented Farenthold's failure to support Raza Unida party gubernatorial candidate Ramsey Muniz in 1972 and preferred thereafter to work in racial rather than local caucuses. Republicans kept a low profile in the group. Initially, the local caucus involvement was heavily dominated by Dallas, Austin, and Houston. A debate persisted between those members who believed the caucus should support women political candidates only and those who thought otherwise. Despite these differences, the TWPC benefited from expert organization, the early hiring of a full-time lobbyist and staff, and secure financial backing. Throughout the 1970s the TWPC continued with regular conventions, legislative lobbying, and candidate endorsements. The group also focused on increasing its visibility in the state by building coalitions with other feminist organizations. After twenty years of existence, the TWPC began its legislative efforts in the 1990s with its purposes and goals basically unchanged. In 1990 the group led its candidate endorsements by supporting Ann Richards, a TWPC member, for governor. The TWPC maintained its ties to the NWPC. Throughout its existence, the TWPC has offered its members automatic affiliation with the national caucus as well as membership in a local caucus if one exists. In 1991 the TWPC, which consisted of approximately 1,000 active male and female members, was led by president Melissa Millecam of San Marcos and supported by twelve local caucuses. The executive committee included officers for political education, political planning and legislation, and affirmative action. A scholarship in Liz Carpenter's name was established to promote participation in the caucus from young women, university women, and low-income women. With women composing only 12.7 percent of the Texas legislature and holding no seats in the state's congressional delegation, the organization remained committed to electing more women to public office at all levels of government. It also aimed for increased appointments for women to governmental boards and commissions. The organization worked closely with such groups as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. The Texas Women's Political Caucus has produced several publications, including its regular Texas Women's Political Times. Headquarters for the organization have remained in Austin since its founding.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Daily Texan, July 30, September 17, 1974, August 4, 1976. Dallas Morning News, May 25, August 16, 23, 1973. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Debbie Mauldin Cottrell

Citation

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

Debbie Mauldin Cottrell, "TEXAS WOMEN'S POLITICAL CAUCUS," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/wet01), accessed September 02, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.