Frances Mitchell Rountree, member of the Texas House of Representatives from 1931 to 1933, was the first woman elected to represent Brazos County in the Texas legislature. Born in Llano, Texas, on March 19, 1880, she was the daughter of Thomas C. and Lulu M. (Clark) Mitchell. She attended Southwestern University, but there is no evidence that she graduated from that institution. She married Lee J. Rountree on April 2, 1902, in Williamson County. There were no children from the marriage. In Bryan, her husband established a newspaper—the Bryan Daily News (which later became known as the Bryan Daily Eagle). She managed the Eagle when her husband served in the Texas legislature in Austin. Rountree assumed responsibility for the editorship on the death of her husband, while he was serving as a state legislator in 1923. Her handling of the Eagle’s publication was evidence of her extensive involvement in the surrounding community. The paper was utilized as an advocate for Bryan’s Carnegie Library and other local needs.
Rountree served one term in the Texas House of Representatives as the Democratic representative for District 26 (Brazos and Grimes counties). She was elected as the first woman to represent the county of Brazos for the Forty-second Texas Legislature (January 13, 1931, to January 10, 1933). She was one of five women Texas legislators elected that year. The other representatives were Sarah Hughes, Helen Moore, Cora Strong, and Margie Neal. This marked the largest contingent of Texas women lawmakers up to that time. Rountree continued her husband’s work on the Brazos River Conservation and Reclamation District while in office. She participated in several committees: Appropriations; Education; Privileges, Suffrage and Elections; and School Districts. In her role on these committees, she sponsored five bills; two became law. One bill enabled the governor to exchange highway rights of way, and the second law established a training facility for firefighters at Texas A&M College (now Texas A&M University). She successfully fought a repeal of the “blue laws” that would have permitted theaters in the state to open for business on Sundays. She also served as a Texas delegate to the Democratic National Conventions of 1928, 1936, and 1944.
After her work in the state legislature, Rountree returned to Bryan and resumed work as the editor and publisher of the Eagle. She became the first woman to head the Texas Editorial Association, and she served as vice president of the National Editorial Association. She retained her desire to remain active as a civic leader in the community and maintained membership on the executive board of the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs. She was also the first woman to lead the Bryan Chamber of Commerce. Rountree was active in the Children’s Education Foundation and worked in the local library to promote literacy for children.
Frances Mitchell Rountree died in Bryan on December 5, 1956. There are several different conflicting documentations regarding her death. One report indicates that she collapsed at her desk and died of a stroke. Her death certificate records death as a result of chronic sapremia, which was a term to describe toxicity caused by a presence in the blood of putrefactive bacteria often accompanied by gangrene. Rountree had received burns from an x-ray fourteen years prior that never healed. She was buried at the Bryan City Cemetery in Bryan, Texas.