Terrell, Chester H. (1882–1920)

By: Tracy Anders Greenlee

Type: Biography

Published: August 1, 1995

Chester H. Terrell, speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, was born in Terrell, Texas, on December 2, 1882, the son of Mattie (Simpson) and J. O. Terrell, who represented Kaufman County in the Texas Senate during the nineteenth and twentieth legislatures and was the Republican candidate for governor in 1910. In 1895 the Terrell family moved to San Antonio, where Chester attended the San Antonio Academy. After graduation he enrolled in the University of Texas, where he participated in campus politics, varsity baseball, and the Chi Phi fraternity and received his law degree in 1904. He then moved back to San Antonio to become a partner in the law firm of Terrell and Terrell. In 1909, at the age of twenty-six, Terrell was elected to the Thirty-First Texas Legislature from Bexar County; he served in three consecutive legislatures (1909–15). In January 1913 he campaigned vigorously for the post of speaker of the House. Disagreement over prohibition split the "drys," who had a majority in the House, enabling Chester, a "wet," to capture the speakership at age thirty on the first ballot. But discord abounded; one "dry" editor observed, "this Legislature has been one of the most unsatisfactory and factional gatherings ever assembled in Austin." Though Terrell was known as a perfecter of bills rather than as an author of legislation, he introduced some visionary, yet unsuccessful, measures. In 1909 he proposed appointing a matron to care for female prisoners in large cities; the bill failed. He also offered a bill to enlarge the Southwestern Insane Asylum; this effort died in the Senate. In 1911 he called for an investigation of Texas water resources; again the Senate rejected his legislation. During his speakership, however, lawmakers passed one of the first major acts to control water pollution. In 1915 Terrell announced his candidacy for governor but in March withdrew due to illness. In 1916 he authored a public letter to Franklin O. Fuller, then the speaker of the House, encouraging him to call a special session to consider impeachment proceedings against Governor James E. Ferguson. This public missive marked the end of Terrell's participation in Texas politics. He supported Republican Warren G. Harding in the 1920 presidential campaign. Terrell married Gladys Bentley of Morrilton, Arkansas, on December 23, 1904; they had three daughters. He was a member of the Methodist Church and the Order of Elks. He died on September 13, 1920, and was buried at Mission Burial Park, San Antonio.

Alcalde (magazine of the Ex-Students' Association of the University of Texas), November 1917, January 1920. Austin Statesman, January 15, April 2, 1913, September 14, 1920. Lewis L. Gould, Progressives and Prohibitionists: Texas Democrats in the Wilson Era (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1973; rpt., Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1992). Presiding Officers of the Texas Legislature, 1846–1982 (Austin: Texas Legislative Council, 1982). Texas Legislature, House Journal, 31st Leg., reg. sess., 1909; 32d Leg., 1st called sess., 1911; 36th Leg., 4th called sess., 1920.

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

Tracy Anders Greenlee, “Terrell, Chester H.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 11, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/terrell-chester-h.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 1, 1995