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Folsom, Erminia Thompson (1878–1967)

Jacqui Beasley and Margo McCutcheon Biography Entry

Erminia Thompson Folsom, suffragist, teacher, and activist for peace and prison reform, daughter of Mariana (Thompson) Folsom and Allan Perez Folsom, was born on November 6, 1878, in Oswego, New York. Erminia Folsom was the third of four children. She had two older siblings, sister Oriana T. and brother Allison T., and a younger brother, Clarence S. T. The family lived to Marshalltown, Marshal County, Iowa, in 1880 before moving to Texas around 1885. By 1900 Folsom, her parents, and younger brother split their time between Edna, Jackson County, Texas, and Austin, Travis County, Texas. Folsom’s father, a Universalist minister, sold crockery in Iowa but worked as an educator and then lawyer in Texas, while her mother had a career as a Universalist minister before moving to Texas, and continued working as a lecturer once they moved to the state. During 1900 Folsom attended the University of Texas at Austin; she graduated on June 11, 1907, with a bachelor of science degree. Three years later, Folsom became a public school teacher in Dallas, where she lived with her brother Clarence. However, she spent the majority of her life in the Austin area. Politically, she supported Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Hoover. Later in her life, Folsom joined the Congregational Church of Austin. She never married.

While living in Austin, Folsom joined her mother Mariana Thompson Folsom in social activism. Both were charter members of the Austin Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), a local city chapter of the Texas Woman Suffrage Association. The Texas Woman Suffrage Association later became the Texas Equal Suffrage Association, the state branch of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). At the founding of the AWSA in 1908, the chapter had twenty-five members including Folsom and her mother. Folsom wrote the constitution and bylaws of the organization. As part of her role in the AWSA, she promoted the woman suffrage cause in many ways. She actively petitioned state representatives to support woman suffrage and vote for it in the Texas legislature, and she wrote letters and newspaper articles about the importance of woman suffrage and lectured on the subject as well. Folsom utilized her relationship with the University of Texas to create the College Equal Suffrage League, which was associated with the NAWSA. Upon her mother’s death in 1909, Folsom petitioned NAWSA for the ability to raise funds for the suffrage movement in her mother’s honor.

Erminia Folsom’s activism extended beyond suffrage. She was a member of the Texas Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (TWCTU), which was formed as a state chapter of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). The WCTU was a national organization formed primarily to advocate abstinence from alcoholic drinks, but it also expanded its agenda to to address various social problems and create committees to reform these issues. As an active TWCTU member, Folsom attended several state and national conventions; she became the Texas delegate to the 1921 National WCTU convention in San Francisco, California. Part of the TWCTU’s reform efforts focused on prisons and jails, and the creation of the Texas Prison Association in 1919 aided in those efforts. Folsom became a life member and the assistant secretary of the organization, which sought to reform prisoners, laws pertaining to prisons, and the prison system. She continued her work within the Texas legal system when she became the first female deputy constable in Travis County during 1920, and in 1921 she worked as the acting secretary of the Travis County Prison Association. In 1927 Folsom began working as a social worker in Austin, a job she performed into the 1950s. She supplemented her social work during the 1930s by operating a boarding house and teaching at a music studio. In 1948 she was a reporter for the TWCTU publication The Texas White Ribbon.

Sometime after 1957, Erminia Thompson Folsom was admitted to the Allandale Nursing Home in Austin, and she remained there until her death from pneumonia on December 31, 1967, at the age of eighty-nine. Folsom was buried on January 2, 1968, in Austin Memorial Park, and her collection of papers is housed at the Texas State Archives in Austin.

Jessica S. Brannon-Wranosky, Southern Promise and Necessity: Texas, Regional Identity, and the National Woman Suffrage Movement, 1868–1920 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Texas, 2010). Erminia Thompson Folsom Papers, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Austin. Elizabeth Hayes Turner, Rebecca Sharpless, and Stephanie Cole, eds., Texas Women: Their Histories, Their Lives (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2015). Ruthe Winegarten and Judith N. McArthur, eds., Citizens at Last: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Texas (Austin: Temple, 1987; College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2015).

Categories:

  • Education
  • Educators
  • General Education
  • Women
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Activists
  • Suffragists and Antisuffragists
  • Temperance

Time Periods:

  • Progressive Era
  • Texas in the 1920s

Places:

  • Austin
  • Central Texas

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

Jacqui Beasley and Margo McCutcheon, “Folsom, Erminia Thompson,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 20, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/folsom-erminia-thompson.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects:

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