Betty Eve Ballinger, cofounder of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, was born on February 3, 1854, in Galveston, one of four children of Harriett Patrick (Jack) and William Pitt Ballinger. Her maternal grandfather, William Houston Jack, fought at the battle of San Jacinto and later became a lawyer and a statesman for the Republic of Texas. Her father received the first license to practice law issued by the state of Texas; Ballinger, Texas, is named for him. Betty was raised in the Ballinger home, the Oaks, at Avenue O and Twenty-ninth Street in Galveston. She received her education, along with her sister Lucy (Mrs. Andrew G. Mills), in the French school of Miss Hull in New Orleans and later in the Southern Home School in Baltimore. In the spring of 1891 she and her cousin Hally Ballinger Bryan Perry decided to form an organization dedicated to the perpetuation of the memory of the heroes of San Jacinto. Their interest in this pursuit was aroused by the recent discovery in an old Galveston cemetery of the neglected graves of two Texas patriots, David G. Burnet, first president of the Republic of Texas, and Sidney Sherman, a veteran of the battle of San Jacinto. After reading Henderson K. Yoakum's History of Texas (1855) in the Ballinger library, the cousins planned to solicit support from other women of Texas whose husbands or ancestors had helped the republic achieve and maintain its independence. To this end Hally's father, Guy M. Bryan, president of the Texas Veterans Association, introduced the women to Mary Smith (Mrs. Anson) Jones, widow of the last president of the Republic of Texas, and to Mary Harris Briscoe, widow of a Texas patriot. The organization was approved, and on November 6, 1891, seventeen women assembled in Houston to form the Daughters of the Lone Star Republic. Ballinger was chosen a member of the Executive Committee that drew up the organization's constitution and by-laws.
The first annual meeting of the Daughters took place on April 20, 1892, in Lampasas; at that time the organization was officially named Daughters of the Republic of Texas. The next year Ballinger delivered the keynote address to the Daughters, in which she explained the purpose of the DRT. The future of Texas, she said, "is in the hands of her sons [who,] dazzled by the splendor of the present...have forgotten the heroic deeds and sacrifices of the past. But it is not so with woman....Surrounded by the history of the family life, it is her duty to keep alive the sacred fire of tradition....Daughters of the Republic of Texas, our duty lies plain before us. Let us leave the future of Texas to our brothers, and claim as our province the guarding of her holy past." These were the words of a woman born in the antebellum South, where cultural proscriptions confined "ladies" to the traditions of family, children, domesticity, and church. Ironically, however, such women's organizations as the DRT, whose purpose was to perpetuate domestic values, encouraged women to participate in the future of Texas primarily through emphasis on improvement in education for Texas children and the maintenance of historic sites such as the Alamo and the San Jacinto battlefield. In the twentieth century, Miss Ballinger (she never married) no longer believed that the future of Texas should be left in the hands of the men alone. Between 1891 and 1912 she fulfilled her duties as a guardian of tradition, but also helped to form new women's organizations, each of which brought women more and more into public life.
After the initial organization of the state DRT, she organized and presided over (1891–93) the Galveston chapter of the DRT, named for Sidney Sherman. The group's first task, not surprisingly, was the removal of the remains of Burnet and Sherman to a new cemetery in Galveston, where in 1894 a twenty-three-foot stone obelisk was formally placed as a memorial. A dedication ceremony attended by 1,600 dignitaries and citizens marked the occasion. Betty Ballinger also served from 1895 to 1899 as DRT chairman of the Stephen F. Austin Statue Fund, the purpose of which was to commission Elisabet Ney to produce statues of Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin to be placed in Statuary Hall at the Capitol in Washington. The project was completed in 1903.
By 1912 Betty Ballinger had become a staunch supporter of woman suffrage. Her interest in various women's associations, including other hereditary-patriotic organizations, led her to seek membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Texas Society Colonial Dames. She contributed to her church (First Baptist Church of Galveston) by serving as president in 1892 of the Woman's Aid Society, and to the Johanna Runge Free Kindergarten by becoming a charter member in 1898, by serving on the board of directors, and by taking up the duties of corresponding secretary in 1912 and 1921. She was also a member of the board of trustees of the Rosenberg Library. In the same year that the DRT was established, Betty, her sister Lucy, and Mrs. Maria Cage Kimball founded the Wednesday Club, one of the first women's literary clubs in Texas and an early affiliate of the General Federation of Women's Clubs. Although initially organized for the study of Shakespeare, Balzac, Hugo, and other literary giants, the club had turned by 1912 to "sociological" topics: "Women in Industry," "Modern Educational Movements," and "Woman Suffrage." Miss Ballinger was an active member from the club's inception through 1929. She acted as delegate to the first state general convention of women's clubs in Waco in 1897 and served as president of the Wednesday Club from 1909 to 1911.
Until the Galveston hurricane of 1900 her life interests revolved around those women's organizations that filled the leisure hours of the ladies of "polite society." Although she would have claimed that these groups were of noble purpose, in fact, all but one (the Johanna Runge Free Kindergarten) did little to ameliorate conditions of poverty in the city, nor did they seek to bring about reform either within the city or for women. But a change in the city's fortunes transformed women's private and organizational lives. The storm of 1900 brought the worst kind of social disorder. In its wake, however, emerged the Women's Health Protective Association, the most effective of all the women's associations. Though it was organized to give decent burial to the victims of the storm who were not cremated, the WHPA remained active from 1901 to 1920 as a progressive reform association. Its members worked to revegetate the island, to enact updated city building ordinances, to institute regular inspection of dairies, bakeries, groceries, and restaurants, to eliminate breeding grounds for flies and mosquitoes, and to establish medical examinations for schoolchildren, hot-lunch programs, public playgrounds, and well-baby and tuberculosis clinics. Betty Ballinger quickly became involved in the WHPA, which she served as corresponding secretary in 1909. This shift to reform activities no doubt influenced her to take an active interest in the suffrage movement. At the age of sixty-eight she and a number of younger women spoke before an audience of 150 people for the right of women to vote. She served as the first vice president of the Galveston Equal Suffrage Association in 1912. Her ability to develop from a Southern lady to a progressive activist helped open the way toward greater public roles for women in the future of Texas. Betty Ballinger died on March 23, 1936, in Galveston.
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Shirley Abbot, Womenfolks: Growing Up Down South (New Haven, Connecticut: Ticknor and Fields, 1983). Betty Ballinger Papers, Rosenberg Library, Galveston. Daughters of the Republic of Texas, Fifty Years of Achievement: History of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (Dallas: Banks, Upshaw, 1942). Emma Barrett Reeves, comp., Three Centuries of Ballingers in America (Nacogdoches, Texas, 1977). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Larry J. Wygant, "A Municipal Broom: The Woman Suffrage Campaign in Galveston," Houston Review 6 (1984).
Activism and Social Reform
Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
Texas in the 1920s
Upper Gulf Coast
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Elizabeth Hayes Turner,
“Ballinger, Betty Eve,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 16, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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