Laura Schley Burleson Negley, suffragist and Texas state representative from Bexar County in the Forty-first legislature, was born in Austin, Texas, to Albert Sidney Burleson and Adele Lubbock (Steiner) Burleson, on November 18, 1890. Born into a politically prominent family, Negley was exposed to politics throughout most of her life. Her great-grandfather, Edward Burleson, was a commander in the Texas Revolution and the third vice president of the Republic of Texas. Her father, Albert Sidney Burleson, served in the United States House of Representatives from 1898 to 1913, then served as U. S. Postmaster General under Woodrow Wilson from 1913 to 1921.
Beginning in 1898 Laura, her parents, and her two younger sisters, lived predominantly in Washington, D.C., where she attended the Force school and Western high school. The family often spent their summers in Austin and frequently traveled to Texas to visit extended family. Laura was particularly close to her aunt Mary Kyle (Burleson) Bee, the wife of Representative Carlos Bee from San Antonio. After high school, Laura attended the University of Texas at Austin, where she as a member of the Pi Beta Phi sorority, and received her bachelor of arts degree in 1911. Laura spent the next year making her debut into Washington, D. C.’s elite society; however, she delayed her formal debut party until after joining her father for an official congressional trip to Panama to examine progress on the Panama Canal.
During this period Laura joined her mother in woman suffrage efforts among the social elite in the capital city. In mid-March 1912 she, her mother, and several congressmen’s wives presented an appeal to Congress to send a constitutional amendment for woman suffrage to the states. The appeal was unsuccessful. On March 31, 1912, Laura gave her first public speech at a major woman suffrage rally held at the Columbia Theatre in Washington, D.C. A week later, on Easter Sunday, April 7, 1912, she married Richard Van Wyck Negley, a Yale graduate and banker in San Antonio, in a small ceremony at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Washington, D. C. The couple resided in San Antonio, and between 1913 and 1915 had three sons: Albert, William, and Richard. She was a member of the Texas Folklore Society, the San Antonio Housewives’ Chamber of Commerce, the National Society of Colonial Dames of America, the Red Cross, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the Equal Franchise Society. During World War I her husband served in the U. S. Army Signal Corps.
In 1928 Laura Negley served as a state alternate delegate to the Democratic national convention in Houston and on the 1928 presidential campaign committee for the party nominee, Governor Al Smith of New York. On the recommendation of Judge Arthur Seeligson and Judge Robert W. B. Terrell, both of Bexar County, Laura Negley entered the race to represent District 78-1 in the Texas House of Representatives in 1928. Her only opponent in the Democratic party primary, Charles R. McFarlane, dropped out of the race in early July. On election day she became the first woman legislator elected from Bexar County. When Negley took office in January 1929, she was one of three women in the Forty-first Texas Legislature. Helen Moore, who was elected to the House in 1928, and Negley were the third and fourth women elected to serve in the Texas legislature. Margie Neal, the second woman to serve in the legislature, served in the Texas Senate. (Edith Wilmans was elected to the House in 1922.) All four women legislators had been active in the woman suffrage movement. In addition, Negley and Moore were the first two women to serve at the same time as another woman in the state legislature.
During Negley’s tenure with the legislature, she served on the committees for education, state affairs, and criminal jurisprudence. She co-sponsored with Coke Stevenson and Alvin Wirtz and actively participated in debates on the House floor, where she took public positions against creating junior college districts and against barring the teaching of evolution. She also helped stop a bill that would have allowed the cross-examination of a wife who testified on behalf of her husband in state court. Negley rejected the term “women voters,” common during the suffrage movement ten years earlier, as unnecessary and outdated, and instead preferred “citizen voters.”
With the support of the Joint Legislative Council and the League of Women Voters, Negley sponsored successful House Bill 59 that equalized husbands’ and wives’ income from separate property by reclassifying income from a husband’s separate property as community property. This bill was built on the 1913 Married Property Law and was a remedial legislative response to the 1925 Texas Supreme Court decisions in Gus I. Arnold v. Adele E. Leonard and Gohlman, Lester Co. v. Ada T. Whittle, which made rent and revenue from a wife’s separate property community property by declaring subsequent 1917 and 1921 women’s property laws unconstitutional. House Bill 59, however, maintained the requirement of a husband’s signature before a wife gave away or sold stocks, bonds, or lands that belonged to her.
Negley decided not to run again after her first term. According to historians Nancy Baker Jones and Ruthe Winegarten, Negley’s time as a legislator put a burden on her marriage. She returned to social life in San Antonio, where she lived in Olmos Park. She and her husband also had a ranch, called Mountain City Ranch, in Kyle, Texas. During World War II her son, Richard Jr., a fighter pilot, was killed in action during the battle of Java in the Pacific in 1942. Her son, Albert, a second lieutenant in the army, was taken prisoner when the Japanese invaded the Philippines in early 1942 and held as a prisoner of war until his death. The exact date of his death is unknown but likely occurred between December 1944 and March 1945 as prisoners were transported to Japan. In 1958 Laura and her sisters endowed the Albert Sidney Burleson professorship at the school of law at the University of Texas at Austin in honor of their father. At the age of eighty-three, Negley succumbed to illness and passed away on January 23, 1973. She was honored in the Texas House of Representatives in February of the same year after a bill was introduced by Bexar County representative James Nowlin. A memorial marker for her, her husband, and sons has been placed in Mission Burial Park in south San Antonio. The Laura B. Negley Elementary School in Kyle, Texas, was named in her honor.