Ella Caruthers Porter, founder and first president of the Texas Congress of Mothers, was born on December 23, 1862, in Caruthers Valley, Bosque County, Texas, the daughter of Samuel and Lula (Cox) Caruthers. In 1878, at the age of only fifteen, she married James N. Porter; her first daughter (who lived only six years) was born less than a year later. After the birth of two more daughters Ella Porter apparently was separated or divorced from her husband, although she was always represented in the press as a widow. Taking her two surviving daughters along, she entered Nashville College for Young Ladies and earned a degree while her children studied in the primary department. After graduation she studied sociology at the University of Chicago. She always maintained that her own feelings of being inadequately prepared for motherhood led her to child study and a career as a child-welfare advocate. Her first public work was organizing a Department of Mothers' Meetings for the state Woman's Christian Temperance Union in 1892. Five years later she represented Texas at the organizing meeting of the National Congress of Mothers in Washington, D.C. This congress encouraged women to form "Mothers' Clubs"-forerunners of the modern PTA-through which they studied child rearing and development and raised money for local schools. Ella Porter was subsequently appointed a member of the board of managers and state organizer for Texas. In 1906 she became a founding member of the Dallas Woman's Forum, a large, open-membership woman's club, and chairman of its Congress of Mothers department. In 1909 she withdrew the department from the forum and brought all of the mothers' clubs in the city together in a new association, the Dallas Council of Mothers. In the fall of the same year she organized the Texas Congress of Mothers (now the Texas Congress of Mothers and Parent-Teacher Associations) and was elected its first president. At the conclusion of the organization's second meeting in Austin in 1910, Porter convened the first child-welfare conference ever held in Texas. More than a dozen state organizations with activities touching on some aspect of child welfare met and agreed to coordinate their efforts for child-welfare legislation. Porter was unable to persuade the Texas legislature to form a state child-welfare commission, but she initiated Mothers' Congress Day at the State Fair of Texas to promote the organization's work for pure milk and better home and school sanitation. She served as president of the Texas Congress of Mothers until 1912, when she declined a fourth term and was made honorary president and a life member of the executive board. Ella Porter was a prohibitionist, a suffragist, and a clubwoman. She was a delegate to the World's WCTU convention in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1900 and held memberships in the Texas Conference of Charities and Corrections, the Texas Social Hygiene Association, the Dallas Woman's Club, the Lakeside Browning Club, and the YWCA. She was a member of the First Methodist Church. She died in Dallas on July 26, 1939, and was buried in Hillcrest Memorial Park.
The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.