Fitzhugh, William Bernice (1875–1935)

By: Ray F. Lucas

Type: Biography

Published: October 30, 2020

Updated: November 2, 2020


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William Bernice “W. B.” Fitzhugh, minister, real estate dealer, and state representative, son of George W. Fitzhugh and Onora (Daniel) Fitzhugh, was born in Thorp Springs, Texas, on August 28, 1875. Fitzhugh’s parents emigrated to Texas in the 1870s. Fitzhugh, the second child of six siblings, had two brothers and three sisters.

Fitzhugh received his A.B. from Trinity College (then located in Tehuacana, Texas), where he was a member of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. He later attended Cumberland University Theological Department in Lebanon, Tennessee, where he was licensed as a minister of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. He subsequently held pastorates in several locations in North Texas and, after 1918, in Walsenburg and Colorado Springs, Colorado. He also was a real estate dealer and proprietor of W. B. Fitzhugh & Company with his father George W. Fitzhugh (and later with his wife Julia) with offices in Arlington and Forth Worth, Texas. Fitzhugh was elected on two separate occasions to the House of the Texas legislature. A Democrat, he served in the Twenty-ninth and Thirty-first Texas legislatures as a representative from the District 78 in Tarrant County.

As a freshman legislator in 1905, Fitzhugh had a relatively undistinguished tenure. He served as a member of the Education, Federal Relations, Insurance, and Municipal Corporations committees. He also earned an appointment to a special committee to investigate the Texas Confederate Home in Austin.

In 1908 Zeb Jenkins ran against Fitzhugh in the Democratic primary, and initial tallies showed that Fitzhugh won by 195 votes. Jenkins contested the results. Recent changes in election laws threw the contest into chaos, with questions arising over whether the case should be adjudicated by the old Democratic county committee or the newly-elected one. Ultimately the old committee heard the case and declared Fitzhugh the winner by 127 votes.

His second legislative term as a member of the Thirty-first legislature, beginning in 1909, offered more opportunities for Fitzhugh to distinguish himself. Only one of the seven bills he introduced in the regular session—an act granting a new charter to the city of Fort Worth—passed and ultimately became law, but as a member of the Banks and Banking, Common Carriers, Insurance, Liquor Traffic, and Municipal Corporations committees and chairman of the Rules Committee, he had ample opportunities to influence legislation. Fitzhugh took his role as chairman of the Rules Committee seriously and argued points of order on the House floor on six occasions and had four of those sustained by the chairman.

One contentious issue of the Thirty-first legislature was prohibition. Fitzhugh voted “No” on House Joint Resolution No.2, which would have sent an amendment to the state constitution prohibiting the manufacture and sale of intoxication liquors to the people for a vote. He explained his vote in the House Journal and stated that during the campaign, regardless of his person opinion, he promised to follow the dictates of his district on submission of a constitutional amendment. According to Fitzhugh, “That district gave a decided majority against submission. I now redeem that pledge by voting ‘no,’ the responsibility of which shall be upon the voters of the Seventy-eighth Representative District of Texas.” Fitzhugh kept his campaign pledge, and the measure ultimately died for the session. Fitzhugh opposed prohibition and publicly spoke out against state measures to ban liquor. The Thirty-first legislature had four called sessions. In the Fourth Called Session, Fitzhugh voted “no” on House Concurrent Resolution No. 3 which called for the repeal of the Fifteenth Amendment and changes to the Fourteenth Amendment to restrict the right of African Americans to vote. The measure ultimately died in the Senate.

Running for renomination to his seat in 1910, Fitzhugh and his opponent, Marvin H. Brown, ended the contest in a tie. The “semi-official canvass” done at the county auditor’s office showed Brown earning 5,091 votes with Fitzhugh trailing by nine votes at 5,082. A return sheet error from one precinct gave Brown ten extra votes. Once corrected, Fitzhugh led by one vote. Another precinct showed a one-vote error in favor of Brown, leaving the candidates tied. The law required the election to be decided by lots, a procedure that neither Fitzhugh nor Brown favored. Further complicating matters, Fitzhugh was in Austin attending the third special legislative session of the year during the election. When the county committee met to consider the matter, Fitzhugh conceded the race. He did not wish to contest the election by claiming fraud, the only way to force a recount and avoid a drawing of lots. Brown was declared the winner. Fitzhugh’s political career did not end with his concession. He was appointed to the state Mineral Board in December 1910 and ran for the Texas House again in 1914; he lost to Louis J. Wortham 2,398 to 1,105.

William Bernice Fitzhugh married Julia V. Hanger on November 16, 1898, in Tarrant County, Texas. Julia died on April 20, 1928, and was buried at Forest Hill Cemetery in Fort Worth. Fitzhugh then married Elizabeth Hammond on November 5, 1931, in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico. Fitzhugh and his first wife (Julia) had three children; only one—son William Cullen Fitzhugh—survived infancy. Their son later saw service both during World War II and the Korean War and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the U. S. Army’s Twenty-Fourth Infantry Division. He received the Bronze Star.

After leaving politics, Fitzhugh continued to work as a real estate broker in Texas with his wife Julia. About 1918 he moved to Colorado, where he continued to work in real estate and worked as a “fill-in” minister in churches in Colorado Springs, Walsenburg, and Cripple Creek.  Fitzhugh moved between Texas and Colorado during the last decade of his life. He died on July 8, 1935, in Shreveport, Louisiana, while he was visiting his son and seeking treatment for a “throat aliment.” His immediate cause of death was a heart attack. He was buried at Forest Hill Cemetery in Fort Worth.

Austin American-Statesman, August 23, 1908. Colorado Springs Gazette, August 28, 1922. Fort Worth Record and Register, July 27, 28, 30, 1910. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 28, 1908; August 14, 22, 28, 1908; July 27, 30, 1910; December 26, 1910; July 20, 1911; July 26, 1914; July 11, 1935; April 26, 1944. Legislative Reference Library of Texas: W. B. Fitzhugh (https://lrl.texas.gov/legeLeaders/members/memberDisplay.cfm?memberID=2958&searchparams=chamber=~city=~countyID=0~RcountyID=~district=~first=~gender=~last=fitzhugh~leaderNote=~leg=~party=~roleDesc=~Committee=), accessed September 8, 2020.

Categories:

  • Business
  • Politics and Government
  • Government Officials
  • House
  • State Legislators
  • Thirty-first Legislature (1909-1910)
  • Twenty-ninth Legislature (1905-1906)
  • Religion
  • Presbyterian

Time Periods:

  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
  • Progressive Era
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s

Places:

  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Fort Worth

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

Ray F. Lucas, “Fitzhugh, William Bernice,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 21, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/fitzhugh-william-bernice.

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October 30, 2020
November 2, 2020

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