Suiter, Mary Elizabeth (1911–1964)

By: Katie Conzonire

Type: Biography

Published: December 2, 2020

Updated: December 2, 2020


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Mary Elizabeth Suiter, attorney and state legislator, was born in Winnsboro, Wood, County, Texas, on October 6, 1911. She was the only child of Minnie Bell (Stutsman) Suiter and William David Suiter. She graduated from Winnsboro High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Texas at Austin. In 1934 she graduated from law school and passed the Texas bar exam at the same institution. Her father, who was a lawyer and state senator from 1915 to 1923, inspired her career path in law and politics.  

Elizabeth Suiter was the first woman to practice law in Wood County and the first woman attorney to try a criminal case in East Texas. In 1940 she ran for the Texas House of Representatives against first-term incumbent William Jackson “Jack” Bailey in District 34 representing Wood County. In her campaign, she opposed a sales tax and supported a “reasonable luxury tax with increased levies on oil, gas, and sulfur to pay pensions.” She lost the race by twenty-nine votes. In 1942, during World War II, she ran again and campaigned on the platform of “rigid economy.” She advocated no new taxes during wartime and aimed to streamline the procedures for applying for Social Security benefits. She also fought for stricter regulations on insurance companies to prevent fraudulent advertising practices.

Suiter was vocal about the issue of gender during her campaign. She noted that she was “aware of the prejudice of some against voting for a woman,” but she stressed that of the few women who had served in the legislature, “not one of them has been found wanting.” By contrast, she claimed, many male legislators “have been accused of selling out,” and it was men “who have gotten the State government into [an] awful mess.” She argued that women “should have some recognition,” especially since they were now “expected to prepare themselves to do the same work as men” in the wartime economy. In the July Democratic primary, she defeated her opponent, Alba school principal Jack McIntosh, by 647 votes.

In the Forty-eighth Texas Legislature, Suiter served on the committees for Education, Federal Relations, Judicial Districts, Judiciary, and Uniform State Laws. She sponsored or co-sponsored five bills of public significance: House Bill No. 68, House Bill No. 86, House Bill No. 166, House Bill No. 658, and House Bill No. 687. House Bill No. 68, which included virtually the entire House as co-sponsors, provided equal rights to all people of the Caucasian race in public accommodations. In keeping with the state’s Good Neighbor policy (see GOOD NEIGHBOR COMMISSION), the purpose of the bill was to prevent insults to visiting Latin American dignitaries who might face discrimination from the state’s system of racial segregation. House Bill No. 86, which she co-sponsored with six other members, was designed to reform the state’s juvenile justice system and replace the current criminal procedure with a system of guardianship when possible. Suiter also co-authored House Bill No. 687 with the two other female members of the House, Rae Files and Florence Fenley. This bill attempted to “ease the statutory requirements on married women with property” and acknowledge conveyance apart from their husbands. While those bills failed to pass, both House Bills No. 166 and No. 658 were successful. House Bill No. 166, of which Suiter was the sole author, required family group insurance policies to specify the names of all insured people on the policies. House Bill No. 658, co-sponsored with two other East Texas members, called for the reorganization of the Special District Court of Upshur, Wood, and Smith counties, creating a seventh judicial district of Texas.

Suiter ran unopposed for a second term in 1944. In the Forty-ninth legislature, she served on the Judiciary, Uniform State Laws, Public Health, and Rules committees. She sponsored two significant bills during this term, House Bill No. 713 and House Bill No. 146. House Bill No. 713 was a statute which would make it possible for oil and gas producers to appeal Railroad Commission conservation orders. Suiter also continued her attempts to advance women’s rights in her second term when she sponsored House Bill No. 146. This bill, which was unsuccessful, was identical to House Bill No. 687 that she co-authored with Files and Fenley in the Forty-eighth legislature regarding restrictions on married women with property. During this year, she also joined the Texas Woman Legislators group where she served as secretary.

Suiter again faced no opposition in her bid for a third term in 1946. During the Fiftieth legislature, she was appointed to the Education, Privileges, Suffrage and Elections, Rules, and State Affairs committees. She also served as the vice-chair of the Judiciary Committee. During this session, Suiter sponsored House Bills No. 7, No. 302, and No. 303. House Bill No. 7 was Suiter’s third attempt to secure legislation for married women and their property rights.  House Bill No. 302 proposed to appropriate $206,000 in general revenue funds to support the Texas State Library, and House Bill No. 303 attempted to end gender-based wage discrimination. None of the bills were adopted into law. After the end of her third term, Suiter decided to end her legislative career to return home and care for her ailing father.

In 1949, after the end of her third term in the state legislature, Suiter was chosen as Winnsboro delegate to the annual Texas Bar Convention. She continued to practice general civil law in these years as a partner at Suiter & Suiter. She was elected to the Winnsboro City Council in 1955 and as mayor in 1963. Additionally, Suiter was a member of the Winnsboro Chamber of Commerce, director of Winnsboro Hospital, Inc., and had memberships with the Northeast Texas Credit Association and the Winnsboro Business and Professional Women’s Organization. For thirty-eight years she was a member of Central Christian Church where she was active in youth direction and served on their board. She also dedicated nineteen years of service to the Camp Fire Girls Association. After a lifetime devoted to state and civic duties, she died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Winnsboro on October 14, 1964. She was buried in Lee Cemetery in Winnsboro, her lifelong hometown.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram, February 24, 1935; August 30, 1042; February 14, 1945; October 16, 1964. Nancy Baker Jones and Ruth Winegarten, Capitol Women: Texas Female Legislators, 1923–1999 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000). Legislative Reference Library of Texas: Elizabeth Suiter (https://lrl.texas.gov/legeLeaders/members/memberDisplay.cfm?memberID=1360&searchparams=chamber=~city=~countyID=0~RcountyID=~district=~first=elizabeth~gender=~last=suiter~leaderNote=~leg=~party=~roleDesc=~Committee=), accessed November 21, 2020. Longview News-Journal, June 28, 1949; January 1, 1963.

Categories:

  • Politics and Government
  • Government Officials
  • State Legislators
  • Fiftieth Legislature (1947)
  • Forty-eighth Legislature (1943)
  • Forty-ninth Legislature (1945)
  • Women

Time Periods:

  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II

Places:

  • East Texas

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

Katie Conzonire, “Suiter, Mary Elizabeth,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 20, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/suiter-mary-elizabeth.

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December 2, 2020
December 2, 2020

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