Texas Association Opposed To Woman Suffrage

By: Debbie Mauldin Cottrell

Type: General Entry

Published: July 1, 1995

Updated: May 14, 2019

Organized opposition to woman suffrage began in the United States in the late nineteenth century in several statewide groups, including strong ones in New York and Massachusetts. These organizations, largely consisting of prominent middle and upper class women, resulted in the formation in 1911 of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, headquartered in New York. Although specific reasons for opposing woman suffrage varied throughout differing regions of the country, the national organization was united in a general opposition that focused on the lack of a need for woman suffrage and the belief that voting rights would place women in the political realm, a sphere considered inappropriate for them. The Texas Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, a branch of the national organization, was established in March 1916 in Houston under the leadership of Pauline Wells of Brownsville. It sought to unite individual and organizational opposition to woman suffrage; the group's structure included elected officers, a constitution and bylaws, committees, and district leaders. The association specifically cited its intent to publish and circulate information against woman suffrage and to appeal to the "large majority of thinking women" opposed to female voting rights in Texas. Similar to other southern antisuffrage organizations, the Texas association connected women's voting with an increase in the number of black voters, arguing that woman suffrage could result in domination by the black race in the South. The exact size of the Texas Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage is not known. Well-known participants included Mrs. Wells, its most prominent member and the wife of South Texas political boss James B. Wells, and Ida M. Darden of Fort Worth; they were assisted by leaders of the national organization, including Charlotte Rowe of New York. Pauline Wells made her first address against woman suffrage before the Texas legislature in 1915, a few years after her own views on the subject were solidified but a year before the Texas organization was formed. In this speech, the first by a woman before the Texas Senate, she linked women's voting rights to feminism, sex antagonism, socialism, anarchy, and Mormonism, and argued that most women did not want to vote. After her speech the state legislature defeated a proposed woman-suffrage amendment to the state constitution.

After the official organization of the Texas Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage in 1916, the antisuffragists' next major effort unfolded in 1918 over the issue of primary voting rights for women. Unlike an amendment to the state constitution for full suffrage, primary suffrage required only a legislative act; voter approval was not necessary. The Texas Association again lobbied the state legislature against such an extension, but found the efforts of the Texas Equal Suffrage Association, supported by Governor William P. Hobby, impossible to defeat. Primary suffrage was approved by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Hobby in March 1918, but the Texas Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage soon found another opportunity to voice its opposition to women's voting rights. Early in 1919, in response to another effort to amend the Texas Constitution to provide full voting rights for women, the antisuffrage organization distributed more than 100,000 pieces of literature against this measure, warning voters that women did not want to vote, that woman suffrage would destroy homes, and that socialism and domination by the black race would be the direct result if this measure was approved. In this battle the Texas Equal Suffrage Association faced not only the strong campaign of the antisuffrage association, but also the awkward situation of asking voters to approve a measure that called for the enfranchisement of women and the disenfranchisement of aliens. When the measure was defeated by 25,000 votes in May 1919, suffrage leaders argued that the alien vote-not the antisuffrage organization-was directly responsible. Voting results did not necessarily confirm this claim, however, and the suffragists had taken Mrs. Wells and her group seriously enough to attempt to respond to them in this round of the suffrage battle. Thus, the antisuffragists considered this defeat of the state amendment an important victory.

Their sense of success was short-lived for the federal amendment for woman suffrage came before a special session of the Texas legislature immediately after the state amendment vote. Pauline Wells and Charlotte Rowe testified against the measure, but the suffrage association was still able to obtain enough votes in the legislature to see the amendment approved in June 1919. Texas thus became the ninth state in the nation, and the first in the South, to adopt the federal suffrage amendment. With this approval, the efforts of the Texas Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage officially ceased. Mrs. Wells lived until 1928, but the organization she was so closely associated with apparently disbanded soon after the June 1919 vote. While the association did provide a viable counter to the suffrage effort in Texas-primarily through its printed materials and the testimony of Pauline Wells-it never achieved a strong grass-roots structure. The association also had to counter formidable longstanding political opposition. Efforts for voting rights for women in Texas dated to 1868, and organized suffrage work was underway in the state by 1893. Suffrage proponents capitalized on local organization and saw their strength increase through this mechanism. As suffrage supporters worked closely with proponents of prohibition, antisuffragists were often linked with anti-prohibitionists. The link was not incorrect, as breweries did oppose woman suffrage because they feared that enfranchised women would support laws against liquor consumption. The Texas Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage chose to emphasize other reasons for not granting women the right to vote, but they were unable to overcome the joint efforts against them, including the prohibition movement, in Progressive Era Texas.

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Evan Anders, Boss Rule in South Texas: The Progressive Era (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982). Eleanor Flexner, Century of Struggle: The Woman's Rights Movement in the United States (New York: Atheneum, 1973; rev. ed., Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975). Houston Post, April 1, 1915. Janet G. Humphrey, A Texas Suffragist: Diaries and Writings of Jane Y. McCallum (Austin: Temple, 1988). Jane Y. McCallum Papers, Austin History Center. A. Elizabeth Taylor, Citizens at Last: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Texas (Austin: Temple, 1987). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin (Mrs. James B. Wells).

  • Women
  • Activism and Social Reform
Time Periods:
  • Progressive Era

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

Debbie Mauldin Cottrell, “Texas Association Opposed To Woman Suffrage,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 05, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/texas-association-opposed-to-woman-suffrage.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

July 1, 1995
May 14, 2019

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