Texas Equal Rights Association

By: Judith N. McArthur

Revised by: Jessica Brannon-Wranosky

Type: General Entry

Published: February 1, 1996

Updated: March 10, 2021

The Texas Equal Rights Association, the first statewide female suffrage organization, was formed after Rebecca Henry Hayes of Galveston, recently appointed vice president for Texas of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and member of the national organization's Southern Committee, and ten other women, a majority of whom were members of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, issued a call on April 8, 1893, for an organizing convention. Approximately fifty individuals, one-fifth of them men, became charter members of the association that organized the following month during a three-day convention at the Grand Windsor in Dallas on May 10, 1893. Officers besides Hayes, who was elected president, included Sarah L. Trumball, Elizabeth Fry, Mary Herndon, Sarah Acheson, Elizabeth Strong Tracy, Dr. Ellen Lawson Dabbs, Margaret L. Watson, and Lucy Knowles. The officers constituted an executive committee, which was also to serve as a lecture bureau. The TERA was organized as the state's NAWSA affiliate. It adopted a slightly modified version of the constitution and bylaws of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association and assessed individual annual dues of fifty cents. Men were welcomed as members, although the group was always overwhelmingly comprised of women. Although no official organizational rule existed to segregate the TERA, membership in the organization was also exclusively White. A number of members, including the inaugural president Rebecca Henry Hayes, were against universal woman suffrage, meaning that these individual suffragists advocated for only certain groups of women to be granted the right to vote. This too was not formally addressed by the association’s official working points, even though some made assertions from the floor at conventions and during interviews with the press.

In its official documents and assertions, the TERA was committed to a broad set of goals that focused on securing voting and political rights for women on the same terms as men, including the right to hold political office and serve on juries. Members stressed the unfairness of taxation without representation and the injustice of being subject to a government that they had no voice in electing. Many also contended that female suffrage would result in purer politics and cleaner government. Although the TERA adopted a formal eight-point plan of work drafted by Dr. Grace Danforth and E. L. Dohoney, it concentrated on awakening public opinion to the need for enfranchising women. It also sent members to the state Democratic, Republican, and People's party conventions to ask for equal suffrage planks.

At various times it incorporated a department of dress reform, headed by Danforth; a department to compile lists of laws that benefited or discriminated against women, directed by Alice McFadin McAnulty; and a department of educational opportunities for women and children, under the charge of Sarah Acheson. Local auxiliaries to the TERA were organized in Denison, Taylor, and Granger in 1893; and in Fort Worth, Dallas, San Antonio, Belton, Beaumont, and Circleville in 1894.

At the 1894 convention in Fort Worth, Hayes was reelected president, and the membership debated the question of inviting Susan B. Anthony and Rev. Anna Howard Shaw from the NAWSA to visit Texas as part of a proposed lecture and organizing tour in the South. The issue generated heated discussion, in which Hayes and a minority contended that such a visit would overburden TERA's limited financial resources and that Anthony, who they described as a northern suffragist with a background in abolitionism, would be poorly received by southern audiences. It was decided to let the executive committee make a decision after Anthony could be contacted about fees and dates. Subsequently, in September, the committee voted four to three to invite Anthony to Texas if the southern tour were approved. Although Hayes promised to convey the decision to the NAWSA executive committee, she insisted that in her capacity as a member of the national committee she would nevertheless vote against the Anthony tour. The pro-Anthony faction, led by Danforth and Fry, demanded Hayes's resignation, which she refused to give. At a subsequent meeting in November, a portion of TERA's executive committee announced that Hayes had forfeited her office by her opposition to the will of the executive committee. They declared the presidency vacant and unanimously elected Elizabeth Fry to fill it. For a time, the TERA had two presidents. Hayes, with the backing of NAWSA, refused to concede the legality of the executive committee's action, and those pressing for Hayes’s removal were eventually forced to give in. Anthony confided in other NAWSA leaders that she thought that removing Texas from her national tour was the best idea under the circumstances, and she subsequently wrote to Hayes telling her to communicate with those in Texas of her inability to tour the state after all. Anthony’s tour was not really the cause of the problems between the Texas suffragists, but instead, the power struggle arose from existing divisions among the group along the lines of political party affiliations and pre-TERA alliances.

Hayes presided when the TERA met in Dallas for its third convention in 1895, but lost the presidential election to Elizabeth Good Houston. The organization resolved to avoid association with any particular political party and to undertake a campaign to organize the state on a county-by-county basis. Elizabeth Houston later appointed ten individuals to organize local and county suffrage clubs, but TERA by this time was losing strength. Divisiveness among the members undercut its effectiveness, and lack of funds was critical. Even though the well-known suffragist, Mariana Thompson Folsom , became TERA’s state lecture starting in the summer of 1895, the office of state organizer became vacant in 1894, and the superintendent of press work announced in 1895 that lack of money prevented her from publicizing the work effectively. The treasurer reported only $105 on hand in 1895. Local societies gradually declined as the state association faded, and by 1898 the TERA ceased operations. NAWSA leaders informed the delegation at that year’s annual national convention that they had not received a report from Texas.

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Jessica Brannon-Wranosky, Southern Promise and Necessity: Texas Regional Identity and the National Woman Suffrage Movement, 1868-1920 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Texas, 2010). Ruthe Winegarten and Judith N. McArthur, eds. Citizens at Last: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Texas , (Austin: Ellen C. Temple, 1987). Texas Equal Suffrage Association Scrapbook, Austin History Center.

  • Women
  • Activism and Social Reform
Time Periods:
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

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

Judith N. McArthur Revised by Jessica Brannon-Wranosky, “Texas Equal Rights Association,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 03, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/texas-equal-rights-association.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1996
March 10, 2021

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: