Battle of Flowers Association


By: Alejandra C. Garza

Type: General Entry

Published: April 6, 2022

Updated: May 9, 2022


The Battle of Flowers Association is a non-profit, volunteer-based civic organization that is managed and directed entirely by women in San Antonio. They sponsor the Battle of Flowers Parade, the largest event of the city’s annual celebration of Fiesta. The Battle of Flowers Association began with the Battle of Flowers Parade, then called the “Flower Battle,” in 1891. Ellen Maury Slayden originally proposed that the parade be held as a highlight of a San Jacinto Day (April 21) celebration, but in 1891 an event was planned for April 20 to coincide with President Benjamin Harrison’s visit to the city.  Slayden and a small group of women called a meeting of the women of San Antonio on April 14, 1891, at the San Antonio Club to discuss the parade. With support from John S. Alexander and the all-male San Antonio Club, the Battle of Flowers Parade debuted on April 24, 1891—the event took place several days late because of bad weather. Even though they were not an official club yet, this marked the beginning of the Battle of Flowers Association.

The goal of the association is to “teach the history…and keep the patriotic traditions of Texas and San Antonio alive.” Aside from Ellen Slayden, the first Battle of Flowers Parade ladies’ committee consisted of Mary Huston Andrews, Alice G. (White) Burbank of Fort Sam Houston, Annie Darragh, Ethel Tunstall Drought, Elizabeth Austin Turner Fry, Helen Johnson, Elizabeth (Simpson) Kampmann, Annie Forrester (Wardman) King, Mary (King) McLeary, Cora (Savage) Ogden, Tony (Benner) Schramm, Bettie (Thornton) Stevens and Pink (Gates) Wright. Elizabeth Simpson Kampmann was elected first chairman of the Battle of Flowers Parade in 1891. 

In 1897 the association tried to officially organize under Elizabeth Ogden’s presidency as the Flower Battle Association. A year later, they discussed organizing a permanent association with a chapter, board of directors, and by-laws. However, when the carnival celebration was introduced in conjunction with the Battle of Flowers Parade, men managed the business affairs, and women continued to manage the parade. Six men served as presidents of the association between 1901 and 1909. But in 1909 they reorganized as an all-women association and adopted the name Battle of Flowers Association. Bettie H. Newton served as its first president for this new era. In 1914 the Battle of Flowers Association received an official charter and seal from state of Texas. Birdie Coleman secured the charter from Governor Oscar B. Colquitt. Membership was limited to 400.

To obtain membership in the Battle of Flowers Association, an existing member must first propose the name of a potential new member. The proposal is then signed by two additional members, and her selection is voted upon. The president of the association is assisted by many committees.

While the parade continued to be the focal point of the Battle of Flowers Association, as the years went on, several changes occurred within the celebration. In 1894, under the presidency of Zelime Tobin Fraser, the Alamo was decorated for the first time. Mildred Tarver Bee, wife of Confederate general Hamilton Bee, headed the committee. That same year, as recognition for the April 21st event grew, the railroads offered lower fares to San Antonio. In 1896, under Elizabeth Ogden’s leadership, the association introduced a king and queen into the festivities. Ida Archer was selected as the inaugural queen, but her reign was controversial because she was from Austin not San Antonio. Nonetheless, she was presented at the “San Jacinto ball,” held “under the auspices of the Daughters of the Republic,” on April 21, 1896, along with the king, Alex Walton. The 1896 parade was officially recognized by the United States government when Secretary of War Daniel Lamont ordered that soldiers at Fort Sam Houston fire a salute to honor the event. Unfortunately, a soldier was killed, and two others sustained wounds when the salute was fired.

The Battle of Flowers Association continued to oversee the week’s main event, the Battle of Flowers Parade, even after the Fiesta Association (then called the Fiesta San Jacinto Association) emerged as the supervisory group for the overall celebration. The first president of the Fiesta Association was Atlee B. Ayres (1911–16), Olive Ayres’s husband. Olive served as president of the Battle of Flowers Association in 1915 and 1916.

The association’s participation in the community expanded over the years. In 1950 the revised constitution included the rules for the six activities that the Battle of Flowers Association held annually: the children’s fete (replaced by the “Thunder and Glory” Pageant in 1955), luncheon, oratorical contest, band festival, parade, and grandstands.  In 1926 Mary B. Ward founded the first annual oratorical contest. It is the oldest continuously-run college and university-level competition in Texas. Participants compose essays based on a phase of Texas history, and the association invites ten finalists to San Antonio to recite their essays before a panel of judges. The panel consists of historians, speech specialists, and a member of the Battle of Flowers Association. Students who advance to the final round receive monetary prizes. The winner takes part in the Battle of Flowers Parade and presents the winning essay at the annual luncheon. The band festival, first sponsored by the association in 1934, became an official part of the celebration during Lee Upson Palfrey’s presidency in 1935–36. In 1948, thirty-seven bands competed at Alamo Stadium and drew the largest crowds to date at the parade. 

During wartime, the Battle of Flowers Association waived jovial celebration in favor of more solemn patriotic displays.  During World War I, under of presidency of May Kelso, they collected money for beds for American hospitals in France instead of holding a parade. During World War II, they froze membership and canceled the parade again. Under Dinah H. Sharp’s presidency, the Battle of Flowers Association was active in aiding the war effort. The only association event in 1942 was the luncheon where Dinah “gave an inspiring patriotic address.” Some festivities were held during the remaining war years to provide entertainment to the many servicemen stationed in San Antonio.

Throughout the latter half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century, the association was recognized for its work in the community. In 1964 the Battle of Flowers Association received “The Preservation of That Which is Admirably Distinctive of History” award from the San Antonio Conservation Society. That same year, they received the Council of International Relations Award for “Outstanding Interest in the Field of National Friendship.”  In 2003 the International Festivals and Events Association and the Texas Festival and Events Association awarded the Battle of Flowers Association with the “Best Volunteer Program Award” and “Best Video Award” for their history video.

Through the years, the Battle of Flowers Association continued to celebrate Texas history through their events. Their signature yellow hats debuted in 1973. Additionally, popular parade traditions have evolved through the years. By at least the late 1970s chants of “Show us your shoes” came from enthusiastic onlookers as the Fiesta queen and her court, clad in elaborate gowns, revealed an assortment of contrary footwear—from tennis shoes to decorated sandals to cowboy boots and fuzzy slippers. The association trademarked their name in 1992 and adopted their mission statement “The Battle of Flowers Association…celebrating Texas History” in 1997. In 2007 the association was granted 501c3 Public Charity status. In 2016, for the first time in the 125-year history of the association, two prominent female leaders of the community were named grand marshal (Rosemary Kowalski) and honorary grand marshal (Maj. Gen. Angie Salinas).

Beginning in the mid-1990s the Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library housed the Battle of Flowers Association Collection until it was transferred to the Witte Museum in San Antonio in 2016. The collection includes the ornate Fiesta coronation gowns and illustrates changing styles and themes throughout the history of Fiesta and the Battle of Flowers Parade.

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Battle of Flowers Association (https://www.battleofflowers.org/), accessed March 9, 2022. Battle of the Flowers Association Collection, Witte Museum, San Antonio, Texas. Elizabeth Fraley, A Chronological History of the Fiesta de San Jacinto and Battle of Flowers (M.A. thesis, Southwest Texas State Teachers College, 1943). Laura Hernández-Ehrisman, Inventing the Fiesta City: Heritage and Carnival in San Antonio (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2008). San Antonio Express March 26, 1911; April 14, 1916. Judith Berg Sobré, San Antonio on Parade: Six Historic Festivals (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2003).

Categories:
  • Organizations
  • Associations
  • Women
  • Women's Clubs
Time Periods:
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
  • Progressive Era
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Texas in the 21st Century
Places:
  • Central Texas
  • San Antonio

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

Alejandra C. Garza, “Battle of Flowers Association,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 25, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/battle-of-flowers-association.

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April 6, 2022
May 9, 2022

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