Joint Legislative Council

By: Sherilyn Brandenstein

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: July 13, 2017

The Joint Legislative Council, a Texas outgrowth of the woman suffrage movement, was a consortium of organizations that promoted Texas women's interests in the state legislature for five sessions. Once their agenda was set for each session, council representatives, dubbed the Petticoat Lobby, approached legislators in pairs and politely but persistently argued their position, thus shocking some male legislators unaccustomed to women asserting themselves in public forums. In 1920 Florence C. Floore, state president of the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs, and Anna Pennybacker, former state and national federation president, asked the League of Women Voters and the Mothers Congress (forerunner of the Texas Parent-Teacher Association) to form a collaborative lobbying group to represent the state's newly enfranchised women. The three organizations authorized a Joint Legislative Committee, which met to identify goals for the 1921 legislative session, but lack of funds and staff for the effort minimized its effectiveness in Austin that year. During 1921 and 1922, however, League of Women Voters spokeswoman Jessie Daniel Ames included the committee's recommendations for a prison survey and funding of mother-infant health programs in her public addresses statewide. Subsequently, information and pressure from Texas women persuaded the state Democratic party to adopt both recommendations in its 1922 campaign platform.

The committee, comprising each member group's president and legislative chairman, regrouped late in 1922, joined by new representatives from the Texas chapter of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and the state Federation of Women's Clubs. Meeting with Texas education officials in December, the committee developed legislative priorities for the Thirty-eighth Legislature. The women sought emergency funding for schools, surveys of Texas schools and prisons, stricter prohibition laws, and the Infancy and Maternity Act to match federal funds for health care authorized by the Sheppard-Towner Act. Under Jane Y. McCallum's leadership as executive secretary, the JLC achieved all these goals in the 1923 session.

Renamed the Joint Legislative Council and joined by a Graduate Nurses Association representative, the consortium reconvened in 1924 to set legislative priorities for the 1925 session. By this time, the group could use the completed surveys of Texas education and prisons to prepare bills increasing state funding for public education (especially rural schools), increasing the power of county school boards, and establishing a state commission on illiteracy. The council wanted a constitutional amendment to centralize control of Texas prisons and a statute to relocate them. The group also sought more restrictive child labor laws. During this first of Miriam A. Ferguson's gubernatorial terms, the women proved successful in obtaining rural school funding, but not supplemental appropriations for public schools generally. The Thirty-ninth Legislature also approved the constitutional amendment consolidating prison supervision and strengthened child-labor laws. The council lobbied for and regained funds nearly cut from the state budget for a girls' correctional facility and the state's match for federal maternal-infant health-care appropriations. Council members reported that seven of the ten measures they had promoted were passed in 1925.

When the JLC met again just before the Fortieth Legislature convened in 1927, the Committee on Prisons and Prison Labor, a reform organization, also sent representatives, including McCallum. Building on past efforts, the JLC recommended that the legislature authorize an appointed prison-policy board and hire a professional manager to carry out the board's policies. The women also backed several child and adult education bills, measures to strengthen enforcement of prohibition laws, and a bill requiring political parties to include women as half of their state executive-committee membership. The Fortieth Legislature passed two council-sponsored constitutional amendments, both ratified by voters. The first established a state board of education; the second gave the legislature authority to set terms of office for that board, state college boards, and local school boards. Legislators readily adopted the constitutional amendment authorizing an appointed prison-policy board and a paid prison manager. The majority resisted the women's advice on consolidating state prisons in Central Texas and giving the governor sole oversight of related property decisions. The council also failed to obtain passage of the bill requiring equal representation of men and women on state party committees and an amendment to the prohibition search-and-seizure law. After a protracted struggle in the special session, the women did gain renewed state matching funds for the Sheppard-Towner infant and maternity health-care program.

Soon after the special session, the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs convened and voted to leave the council, reportedly to shun politics to become a social sorority. The next spring the Texas League of Women Voters decided it would not back a prohibition measure the WCTU representatives had persuaded other council members to support. The league's representatives wanted the council to work for only those legislative goals that all member groups accepted. When the council refused to adopt that criterion, the league pulled out, choosing to send its lobbyist to the 1929 legislative session independently. Just before the forty-first session opened, the Mothers Congress also withdrew to focus its money and lobbyist's time on a more limited agenda. Although the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs retained membership on the council, its leaders expressed concerns about temperance leaders' uncompromising stand when legislators overwhelmingly opposed expanding prohibition enforcement. During the 1929 session the council strengthened the graduate nurses' successful campaign for legislation giving the Texas Department of Health oversight of day nurseries, children's homes, and adoption agencies, and for a bill authorizing the Texas Nurses Association to recommend appointees to the State Board of Nurse Examiners. The council also obtained legislative approval to make a three-day waiting period and a venereal-disease test the standard prerequisites for obtaining a marriage license. As many had predicted, the women's representatives did not persuade the legislature to repeal the prohibition search-and-seizure statutes.

No record exists to indicate that the Joint Legislative Council lasted beyond the 1920s. Its decade of activism, however, gave Texas women direct experience in political organizing, publicity campaigns, and legislative procedures, while effecting permanent changes in state policy on education, prisons, and health care. The council is credited with laying the foundation for thirty-two appointments of women to state boards, election of four women to the Texas House, and the first woman state senator, all by 1931. Equally important, it disproved the myth that woman suffragists could not maintain coalitions to address other issues after obtaining the right to vote. See also PROGRESSIVE ERA, TEXAS IN THE 1920S.

Visit the Texas Women Project's standalone website

The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.

Visit Website

Emma L. M. Jackson, Petticoat Politics: Political Activism among Texas Women in the 1920's (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, 1980). Jane Y. McCallum, "Activities of Women in Texas Politics," in Texas Democracy, ed. Frank Carter Adams (Austin: Democratic Historical Association, 1937).

  • Women
  • Activism and Social Reform
Time Periods:
  • Texas in the 1920s

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

Sherilyn Brandenstein, “Joint Legislative Council,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 16, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

July 13, 2017

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: