Fry, Elizabeth Austin Turner (1838–1921)

By: Judith N. McArthur

Type: Biography

Published: January 1, 1995

Elizabeth Turner Fry, suffragist and temperance reformer, was born on December 22, 1838, in Trenton, Tennessee. She moved to Bastrop, Texas, with her family in 1852. In 1861 she married A. J. Fry and moved with him to Seguin. The couple became the parents of three sons and one daughter. In 1879 the Frys moved to San Antonio, where Elizabeth Fry participated actively in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and the infant woman suffrage movement. She joined the forces campaigning for a state prohibition amendment in 1887 and worked for prohibition within the state WCTU, where she served for eight years as the first superintendent of the franchise and later chairman of the state central committee. In 1891 she 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 and radical 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 radicals on 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. 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. 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. She died in San Antonio on December 31, 1921.

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Elizabeth Brooks, Prominent Women of Texas (Akron, Ohio: Werner, 1896). Dallas Morning News, May 10, 1893, June 8, 9, November 4, 1894, June 8, 1895. San Antonio Express, 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.


  • Women
  • Suffragists and Antisuffragists
  • Temperance

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

Judith N. McArthur, “Fry, Elizabeth Austin Turner,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed December 08, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1995

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: