Fry, Elizabeth Austin Turner (1838–1921)


By: Judith N. McArthur

Revised by: Katherine Kuehler Walters

Type: Biography

Published: January 1, 1995

Updated: April 15, 2022


Elizabeth Austin Fry, suffragist and temperance reformer, was born to James Monroe Turner and Tobitha (Billingsley) Turner on December 22, 1838, in Trenton, Tennessee. Her father died in 1849. In 1852 she and her family moved to Bastrop, Texas, where her brother became a merchant. On October 23, 1862, she married Adoniram Judson “A. J.” Fry, a merchant from Seguin and a second lieutenant with the Eighth Texas Infantry of the Confederate Army. According to 1861 and 1862 tax records, he owned one enslaved person. During the Civil War, she lived with her family in Bastrop but saw her husband periodically as his service kept him in the state and allowed him an occasional leave of absence, including a sixty day leave for the birth of their first child. After the war, she and her family moved to Seguin. The couple became the parents of four sons and one daughter: Judson, Elizabeth, Jessie, Horace, and Archibald. Their fourth child, Horace, died two weeks after his second birthday in 1873. Although her husband purchased land with John Ireland in Bexar County in 1870, references in newspapers suggest the Frys likely moved to San Antonio in 1878.

In San Antonio, Elizabeth Fry participated actively in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and the woman suffrage movement. She joined the forces campaigning for a state prohibition amendment in 1887 and worked for prohibition within the state WCTU, for which she served for eight years as the first superintendent of the franchise department and later chairman of the state central committee. With Fannie Breedlove Davis, Mary M. Clardy, and others, she served as delegate for Bexar County at the Prohibition Party’s state convention held in Fort Worth in May 1890 (see WOMEN AND POLITICS). With many suffragists, including Jenny Bland Beauchamp, Sarah C. Acheson, and Mary L. Herndon in attendance, Fry requested that women be allowed to vote at the convention. After some debate, the request was granted. In 1891 she also represented Texas at the national WCTU convention in Boston.

Like many reform-minded women, she soon came to believe that women needed the vote in order to make their influence felt on public policy. She stated her views in a letter to the San Antonio Express as early as 1886 or 1887 and joined the small group of women who issued a call in April 1893 for an equal suffrage society. The following month she helped organize the Texas Equal Rights Association and was elected second vice-president. She was a TERA delegate to the annual conventions of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1894 and 1896 and an alternate delegate in 1895. In 1895 she represented the Texas suffragists at the state People's party convention to ask the Populists to include a woman suffrage plank in their platform. She was elected chairman of the TERA central committee in 1894.

She contended that women themselves, through their ignorance and acquiescence, were as much to blame as men for their second-class status and asserted that only their failure to present an organized, forceful demand for the vote kept them from being enfranchised. As one of the more outspoken members of the TERA, she sided with the faction that in 1894 voted to invite Susan B. Anthony to undertake a lecture and organizing tour for suffrage in Texas. When President Rebecca Henry Hayes refused to accede, the pro-Anthony members of the executive committee declared the presidency vacant and unanimously elected Elizabeth Fry to fill it. Her election was never formally sanctioned, however, and Hayes remained in control.

In San Antonio, where she was a member of a dozen benevolent societies, Fry helped establish the First Christian Church and was an organizer and charter member of the Protestant Orphan's Home and of a home for needy women and girls. In 1891 she attended the first organizational meeting, held under the direction of Ellen Maury Slayden, the Battle of Flowers Association in San Antonio. She presided over the local equal rights club that met weekly in her home and was vice president of the Texas board for the Chicago World's Exposition in 1893. During the Progressive era, she joined many other women in advocating urban and social reforms and was appointed a First Ward precinct chair for the Citizens’ Auxiliary Committee to the San Antonio Board of Health for a “clean-up campaign” to improve garbage removal and general sanitation in the city (see PUBLIC HEALTH). After Governor William P. Hobby signed the Woman Primary Suffrage Bill into law, Fry was one of the 656 women in San Antonio who registered to vote on June 26, 1918, the first day of registration. On November 4, 1920, at a meeting at the St. Anthony Hotel, in San Antonio, she became a charter member of the Republican Women of San Antonio. She was named honorary vice chairman, and Eleanor Brackenridge named honorary chairman. According to her obituary, as one of the earliest suffrage workers in San Antonio she was given the honor of being the first woman to cast a ballot there after women were authorized to vote.

Elizabeth Austin Turner Fry died in San Antonio on December 31, 1921. She was buried next to her husband, who died in 1892, in City Cemetery No. 1 in San Antonio, Texas.

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Elizabeth Brooks, Prominent Women of Texas (Akron, Ohio: Werner, 1896). Dallas Morning News, May 14, 1890; May 10, 1893, June 8, 9, November 4, 1894, June 8, 1895; January 2, 1922. San Antonio Express, March 26, 1911; September 7, 1912; June 27, 30, 1918; November 5, 1920; January 1, 1922. A. Elizabeth Taylor, "The Woman Suffrage Movement in Texas," Journal of Southern History 17 (May 1951; rpt., in Citizens at Last: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Texas, ed. Ruthe Winegarten and Judith N. McArthur, Austin, 1987). Texas Equal Suffrage Association Scrapbook, Austin History Center.

Categories:
  • Women
  • Suffragists and Antisuffragists
  • Temperance
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Activists
  • Civic Leaders
  • Health and Medicine
  • Politics and Government
Time Periods:
  • Civil War
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
  • Progressive Era
Places:
  • Central Texas
  • San Antonio

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

Judith N. McArthur Revised by Katherine Kuehler Walters, “Fry, Elizabeth Austin Turner,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 25, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/fry-elizabeth-austin-turner.

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January 1, 1995
April 15, 2022

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