Eva Goldsmith (also known as Eva M. Goldsmith and Eva Goldsmith Barrett), garment worker, women’s rights and labor union activist, and suffragist, was born Margaret Eva Goldsmith on a farm in Grimes County, Texas, on March 12, 1880, to John Caswell Goldsmith, a Confederate veteran (Alabama Cavalry) who migrated to Texas sometime between 1870 and 1875, and Mary Elizabeth (Tuffly) Goldsmith, who was born in Texas in 1863. Mary Elizabeth married John Caswell Goldsmith in 1875 in Texas and gave birth to Margaret Eva five years later. Eva, as she was called, grew up on her family’s land in Waller County, Texas, until 1900 when records show the Goldsmith family living in Navasota, Grimes County, Texas. She was one of twelve children, ten of which were still living in 1900. By 1909 Eva Goldsmith moved to Houston and lived in a boarding house for wage earning women and worked in the garment manufacturing company of Cyrus W. Scott Manufacturing. Mention of Goldsmith’s first union activity appears in several Houston newspapers in 1909 when she became active in the garment workers union which fought for maximum hour and minimum wage laws for women. Between 1900 and 1910 much of the rest of the Goldsmith family moved to Harris County to an unincorporated section of northwest Houston.
In 1909 Eva Goldsmith’s name first appeared in the local newspapers as an active participant in programs to promote local labor unions. She helped the Houston Labor Council prepare for a citywide Labor Day celebration by organizing the dancing festivities as the appointee from the garment workers Local 39. By 1910 the Houston Labor Council members elected Goldsmith vice-president, after the garment workers union sent a delegation to support her campaign. Her new position provided her with opportunities to represent working women from Texas. The Houston Labor Council then elected Goldsmith as their delegate to attend the Texas Federation of Labor meeting in Galveston in April 1910. During the meeting, she delivered a spirited speech condemning United States President William Howard Taft’s talk that he gave to the delegates of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in Washington, D.C. Taft opposed woman suffrage and declared that by granting women the right to vote, a “less desirable class” of women would also gain political power. Goldsmith asserted that the U. S. president’s remarks were an insult to all American working women. She insisted that “working women, many unnamed and unprotected,” were concerned with the laws that “men enact and women must obey.” Her impassioned speech gained the attention of the officers of the Texas Federation of Labor (TFL), and so they named Goldsmith as the representative to draft a resolution censuring Taft for his anti-suffrage stance. Also, at the same convention, the members of the TFL elected her as a delegate to the American Federation of Labor meeting for that year; their election made Goldsmith the first woman representative on a legislative committee for the Texas State Federation of Labor.
Goldsmith was reelected vice-president of the Houston Council of Labor in 1912 and continued to fight for labor rights at the TFL meeting held in Palestine, Texas, that same year. This time, her proposed platform was to convince companies to use union labels on all their clothing. As secretary of Local 39 of Texas Garment Workers, she argued that using union labels helped promote labor rights and solidarity among workers.
In January 1913 she championed the nine-hour workday and minimum wage legislation for women. Both protective progressive legislative measures were a talking point for national and state reformers. Goldsmith sat before the Labor Committee of the Texas House of Representatives, as the spokeswoman for the Texas Federation of Labor, to advocate the Wortham-Lane Bill, which limited the working hours of women and children in textile mills, laundries, and department stores throughout the state. Her impassioned speech apparently impressed the committee members. She described herself as a working woman who understood the poor conditions in the factories and the long hours women labored in the mills. Goldsmith told the committee that she left the farm when she was nineteen years old and saw how low wages and the difficult labor women performed caused the “physical breakdown and the moral ruin” of young women. Goldsmith brought a journal of facts, figures, and statistics to help her corroborate every statement she made to the committee. The legislation passed but without all the provisions for which she lobbied. Therefore, she penned a letter to Texas Governor Oscar Colquitt and requested that he veto the bill. She argued that the Senate amended the law to exclude textile mill workers and gave laundry workers an eleven-hour workday that went against the intention of the original protective legislation. She also signed a resolution put forth by the Houston Labor Council that condemned the actions of the senators for not including all women in the law.
As Goldsmith continued to fight for labor rights for women, she also caught the attention of key suffrage leaders in Texas. In February 1913 she wrote a letter to the editor of the Houston Chronicle in response to an article they ran by farmer W. D. Lewis. Lewis wrote that farmers’ wives did not “clamor for the ballot or indulge in political gossip.” Goldsmith insisted that the women she lived with at the YWCA were former farm girls that came to the city for work, and they, like many other women, wanted to cast their ballot to protect future working women from the exploitation of long work hours and low wages. In 1913 Annette Finnigan, president of the Houston Equal Suffrage League, asked Goldsmith to endorse woman suffrage on behalf of working-class women. The following year, Finnigan, then the president of the Texas Woman Suffrage Association (seeTEXAS EQUAL SUFFRAGE ASSOCIATION), asked Goldsmith for her assistance to organize working women in Galveston for the equal suffrage cause, to which Goldsmith subsequently agreed and offered advice.
During the same years, from 1913 to 1915, Goldsmith continued to work as a seamstress in several different Houston clothing manufacturing companies. She lived at the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) boarding homes for working women, which provided a safe place in the city for women to live. The YWCA first opened in Houston in 1907 and by 1908 promoted protective legislation for working-class women and often helped young women find jobs in the city.
She organized women’s groups through labor organizations during 1914 and 1915. Also, she helped lead the fight for suffrage resolutions by representing the Women’s Political Union at the Texas State Federation of Labor Convention in 1915. In 1915 Goldsmith, representing the State Federation of Labor and the garment workers union, again went back in front of the Texas Senate committee to advocate the fifty-four-hour workweek law and a minimum wage law for women. She stood up against the “Bee Bill,” which amended the fifty-four-hour law specifically to exempt the cotton mill workers from the legislation. Her speech addressed the legislation on maximum hours for women and asserted that women should have equal wages and equal suffrage in Texas.
By 1916 Eva Goldsmith lived in a YWCA in Galveston and worked as an inspector for the Miller Brothers Manufacturing Company. She returned to Houston sometime in 1916 or 1917 and by 1917 lived at her family residence at 4919 Center Street, just a few blocks from Camp Logan. In 1917 Goldsmith testified in an investigative hearing in the days following the Houston Riot of 1917.
During 1916 and 1917 she gave seminars titled “Industrial Need of Woman Suffrage” twice a week in the Kress Building in Houston. During World War I she remained employed as a seamstress, lived at her family’s residence on Center Street, and participated in war work. She organized working women and encouraged them to be active in war service and declared that women’s participation was necessary for victory. Furthermore, Goldsmith directed the Houston Division of the National Surgical Dressings Committee, an auxiliary of the American Red Cross. She also served as team captain for several fundraisers, including a suffrage campaign to finance several programs for women in war work.
Goldsmith’s name appeared many times in newspapers with the other members of the Houston and Harris County Equal Suffrage Associations, some that included her endorsements for political candidates who supported woman suffrage. She traveled to several cities to speak at suffrage rallies, encouraged women to fight for a national suffrage amendment and state suffrage laws, and held informational sessions to talk to women about voting from 1917 to 1919. Goldsmith spoke at a rally in Beaumont in 1918 on the importance of woman suffrage during wartime and handed out literature that argued for a constitutional amendment for suffrage.
In 1918 a delegation of women from the Harris County Equal Suffrage Association approached recently-elected Harris County Sheriff Thomas A. Binford and requested that he appoint Goldsmith to be a deputy in his office. The suffragists knew this action would make her the first woman deputy of the county. Hortense Ward, president of the Harris County Equal Suffrage Association, called for a “reconstruction period for women,” which supported women working in the county jail and thought that Goldsmith was perfect for the task. It is unknown, however, whether the appointment was carried out. The December 23, 1918, issue of the Houston Chronicle reported that the sheriff had not yet acted on the appointment, and no other information is known.
In 1919 she took a job as a Traveler’s Aid social worker. The National Traveler’s Aid Association, established in 1917 usually near ports-of-entry, catered to immigrants, especially women, to help them find a place to stay and provided services designed for travelling unaccompanied minors and stranded travelers. Goldsmith moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, by 1920 and continued to work as a Traveler’s Aid and live in the YWCA through 1923. By 1924 she began working in the Cozy Grocery and Market. On July 23, 1924, Eva Goldsmith married Arnold Barrett, a local police officer in Tulsa. He was fifty-five years old, and she was forty-three. Neither had any children at the time of the marriage, nor did they have children together. The couple continued to live in Tulsa until Arnold’s death on September 28, 1930. The local news reported that he died from a stroke while walking his evening beat and after sixteen years as a patrolman. Sometime after 1940 Eva Barrett moved to Warwick Boulevard in Kansas City, Missouri, where she died on November 6, 1954, at seventy-four years old. According to cemetery records, she is buried in an unmarked grave in her parents’ plot in Washington Cemetery in Houston.
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Beaumont Enterprise, April 16, 1910. David O’Donald Cullen and Kyle G. Wilkison, ed., The Texas Left: The Radical Roots of Lone Star Liberalism (College Station: Texas A&M University Pres, 2010). Houston Chronicle, June 20, 1909; March 2, 1910; January 18, 1911; February 2, 1913; March 23, 1913; December 8, 1918. Houston Post, January 26, 1913; March 28, 1917; August 30, 1917; February 4, 1918; December 5, 1918; April 2, 1919. James Maroney, “East Texas Labor Vignettes,” East Texas Historical Journal 51 (Fall 2013). Elizabeth Hayes Turner, Women, Culture, and Community: Religion and Reform in Galveston, 1880–1920 (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Leah LaGrone Ochoa,
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 18, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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