Hughs, Fannie May Barbee (1874–1976)

By: Debbie Mauldin Cottrell

Type: Biography

Published: February 1, 1995

Updated: January 30, 2019

Fannie May Barbee Hughs, author, journalist, and clubwoman, was born on a farm in Houston County on August 21, 1874, the daughter of Judge James Gray and Fannie Barker (Fifer) Barbee. The family moved to Wharton County in 1889, and shortly thereafter Barbee enrolled his daughter in Baylor Female College, Belton (now the University of Mary-Hardin Baylor), where her studies included Latin and German. Although she did not graduate from Baylor, she was greatly influenced by one of her instructors there, Mrs. Eli Moore Townsend. Fannie completed her studies at Huntsville Female College in Huntsville, Alabama, where she earned a master's degree.

Upon graduation from college, she spent time in Austin with her father, a member of the Texas legislature. After marrying Covey M. Hughs, a deputy sheriff in Wharton County, she became active in public affairs. She joined the New Century Club and the Shakespeare Club and in 1912 was elected president for the fourth district of the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs. She also traveled with the Texas delegation of clubwomen to San Francisco for the 1911 meeting of the General Federation of Women's Clubs, where she participated in the successful campaign to elect Texan Anna J. H. Pennybacker as president of the national organization. During this meeting, Fannie Hughs covered the proceedings for the Houston Post and also wrote about the importance of woman suffrage as an issue for the general federation. She continued to report on the subject after the meeting, traveling to states that had passed suffrage laws and submitting articles to the Houston Post and San Antonio Express. She later served as a staff reporter for the Post.

She published her first book, a small volume of essays and poems entitled Fragments, in 1920. She later wrote The History of the Texas Woman's Press Association (ca. 1935) and Legends of Texas Rivers and Sagas of the Lone Star State (1937). Her poetry included a tribute to David Crockett written for the Houston County centennial celebration, and several pieces on various places she visited in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Her writings on Texas rivers were influenced by her childhood reminiscences of the Colorado River. Later in her life Mrs. Hughs was a delegate to the National Rivers and Harbors Convention and also wrote articles on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.

She was an active member of the Texas Woman's Press Association (now Texas Press Women) and was elected president of that organization in 1920. In 1922 she entered the race to represent the Ninth Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. In the Democratic primary she ran against five opponents but did not make the runoff, in which the incumbent, Joseph J. Mansfield, ultimately won the Democratic nomination. Hughs's campaign, which was slowed by the serious illness of her mother, represented one of the first efforts by a Texas woman to gain a congressional seat.

She remained in Wharton all of her adult life. She was a Baptist and a Democrat and worked for Texas child welfare and prison reform. Little is known about her marriage but she apparently had no children, and her husband preceded her in death. She died at the age of 101 on July 28, 1976, at Wharton Manor Nursing Home, where she had lived in her later years, and was buried at Wharton City Cemetery. She was survived by three nieces and three nephews.

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Fannie Mae Hughs, History of the Texas Woman's Press Association (Huntsville, Texas: Huntsville Item, 1935). Wharton Journal-Spectator, March 9, 1988. Wharton Spectator, July 21, August 4, 1922. Woman's Who's Who of America (New York: American Commonwealth, 1914).

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

Debbie Mauldin Cottrell, “Hughs, Fannie May Barbee,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 19, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1995
January 30, 2019

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: