Julia Runge, suffragist, educator, and women’s rights reformer, was the eldest of seven children born to Johanna Runge (1856–1933) and Julius Runge (1851–1906) in Galveston, Texas, on September 27, 1877. Her grandfather, Henry Runge, a German immigrant, had established himself in New Orleans and traveled to Indianola, Texas, before finally settling his family in Galveston years later in 1866. Johanna Runge was Henry’s daughter; Julius Runge was his nephew. They married in 1876 and remained a prominent Galveston family for many years.
Julia Runge apparently had ample schooling; her education listing in the 1940 federal census recorded that she had completed four years of college. Her desire for public service was the result of growing up with a mother who had a strong sense of community service. Johanna Runge founded the first free kindergarten in Galveston for the children of workers from the family’s cotton mill. While Julia lived a life somewhat typical for women of her class, by the end of the 1890s, she had established “kindergarten training schools” for potential kindergarten teachers in Galveston and Austin. By 1903 she opened a “co-operative kindergarten” under the auspices of the Houston Woman’s Club. Affiliated with the Grand Rapids (Michigan) Training School, Runge’s first training class enrolled five women, and in 1905, three of her trainee teachers graduated to work at the free kindergarten in Houston.
Julia Runge was often praised for her dedication to the children. In the May 2, 1906, edition of the Houston Daily Post, an article about the development of the Houston summer normal for teachers listed Runge as the “supervisor of Houston kindergartens [and] instructor in kindergarten methods.” The write-up referred to Runge as the “leading exponent” in the spread of kindergartens throughout the state. Not confined to Texas, in July 1906 Runge was reported in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she partook in a course on kindergarten teaching. She retired from her kindergarten work probably by about 1907, possibly due to the death of her father the previous year. Her devotion to the kindergartens was summarized in a talk that she delivered on April 20, 1900, at a meeting of the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs in San Antonio. Her lecture was reprinted in the May 21, 1900, edition of the Dallas Morning News: “Train the rising generation that they may be able to turn the mighty industrial impulses of the present day to a higher and worthier end than mere material gain and material happiness.”
Runge was also involved in the woman suffrage movement. In December 1903 the Texas Woman Suffrage Association (TWSA, later the Texas Equal Suffrage Association, TESA), the Texas chapter of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, adopted its constitution at a convention in Houston, with Annette Finnegan as the president. Runge was among the founding members of the TWSA. After the convention, she organized a meeting in Galveston where Annette Finnegan and Elizabeth Fain both spoke. In 1904 Runge attended the second state convention also held in Houston. In February 1912 she attended a meeting of more than 150 women at the Hotel Galvez to discuss women’s issues and garner interest for the creation of a suffrage group in Galveston. Runge was one of the speakers, and she raised the question of equal pay. Two days after this meeting, the Galveston Equal Suffrage Association was established. Her work as an educator carried over into the suffrage movement and included a guest appearance at a Houston suffrage school where she delivered a talk titled “The Industrial Needs of Suffrage.” On May 29, 1917, she was elected publicity chair of the Houston Equal Suffrage Association. At this meeting, members also decided “to appoint six men as an advisory board. These men, who will be the ones who have shown an interest in the suffrage movement, will probably be appointed this week.”
Julia Runge remained active in TESA and other woman suffrage groups until women obtained the vote in 1919 and TESA dissolved. The Texas League of Women Voters formed with most of the same women involved. Runge continued to attend functions such as League lunches and lectures. She paid special attention to the equal pay issue and spoke out against unfair pay practices at conferences and meetings as early as 1912 and even during World War I, at a Waco convention in 1917. There is documentation that shows Runge took part in a League of Women Voters luncheon in 1921; after that, Runge’s known affiliation with the suffrage movement ended. Her name appeared in a few newspaper social calendars in Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio newspapers in the 1920s—her last mentions in the public record.
As early as the 1910 census and on subsequent censuses, Runge’s official occupation was listed as a “practitioner” in Christian Science. Her death certificate, as well as the 1940 census, listed her as divorced, but information about her marriage is not available. Julia Runge lived in San Antonio for the last twenty years of her life and died there on November 7, 1952. Her remains were cremated and interred at Oakwood Cemetery, in Austin.