Texas Federation of Women's Clubs

By: Megan Seaholm

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: April 4, 2022

The Texas Federation of Women's Clubs, a nonprofit organization, is the largest voluntary association of women in the state. Its purpose is to combine the efforts of women's clubs for improvements in education, natural resource conservation, home life, public affairs, international affairs, the arts, and Texas heritage. Its motto, adopted in 1913, is "In small things liberty, in large things unity, in all things charity." In its ninety-five years of existence it has initiated or supported numerous philanthropic and civic projects at the state, national, and international level. The TFWC was organized in 1897, when the Woman's Club of Waco issued a call to literary clubs of the state to meet in Waco to consider the advantages of a state organization. Delegates from eighteen clubs met and formed the Texas Federation of Literary Clubs, which hoped to encourage Texas women in literary study and to promote cooperation between the literary clubs of the state. Any woman's study club was eligible for membership upon the recommendation of two already federated clubs. The formation of these clubs was part of a national movement, an outgrowth of the popular education movement that included home-study associations, the lyceum movement, and chautauqua societies. White middle and upper class women who desired education and a new sphere of usefulness formed study clubs in all parts of the state. The federations' initial concern for education was the basis for its first commitment to public action. When the group convened in 1898, the members agreed to work for the establishment of public libraries (see CARNEGIE LIBRARIES). At least 70 percent of the public libraries in the state were founded through the assistance of Texas women's clubs. In 1899 the Texas group joined the General Federation of Women's Clubs and changed its name to the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs. These changes signified a growing interest in public affairs and a desire to affiliate with the growing national movement to improve women's status. The enthusiasm for promoting progressive causes characterized many local clubs and the TFWC. In fact, the first few decades of the TFWC was a time of remarkable activism, and the early work of the federation is an often-overlooked chapter of the Progressive Era in early twentieth-century Texas.

Kate Sturm McCall Rotan of Waco was the first TFWC president and earned the sobriquet "the Mother of the Texas Federation." Other influential founders and early leaders included Anna J. H. Pennybacker, Mary P. Y. Terrell, and Sophie Hertzberg. The first constitution provided for an elected executive board, a president, six vice presidents, recording and corresponding secretaries, a treasurer, and three additional members. The state legislature granted the TFWC its first charter in 1914. The governing structure of the TFWC grew as interests and involvements increased. Standing committees to encourage work in education, household economics, music, art, civic improvement, club extension, parks and playgrounds, conservation, fire prevention, rural life, and public health, to mention a few, were added before the federation celebrated its twentieth anniversary.

The federation grew rapidly, and in 1901 the state's 132 member clubs were organized into five intrastate districts. Membership may have peaked in 1941, when the federation had 60,000 members, 1,200 clubs, and eight districts. In 1926 junior clubs were started. In 1932 the cornerstone was laid for the permanent headquarters in Austin. The two-story, red brick building of Southern Colonial architecture cost $157,000. For the previous ten years headquarters had been located at the clubhouse of the Fort Worth Woman's Club. Two book-length histories, as well as numerous pamphlets, have been published by the federation. In 1923 publication of Texas Federation News began; in 1948 it became the Texas Clubwoman, a bimonthly publication. The activities and accomplishments of the TFWC are numerous. The federation influenced child labor legislation; juvenile courts; pure food; maternal and child health; music education and home economics in public schools; Texas history as a required subject in public schools; teacher certification; the Poet Laureate of Texas; treatment of the criminally insane; traffic and highway safety; drivers' education; foster homes for children; married women's property rights; jury service for women; rape legislation; protection of Texas tidelands; and historical preservation of the Alamo, Sam Houston's home, and the Governor's Mansion. The federation also influenced the establishment of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, the Texas Historical Commission, and the Texas Commission on the Arts. It sponsored a survey conducted by the Texas Fine Arts Commission in 1966–68. It was a significant force behind the establishment of Texas Woman's University, state tuberculosis sanitariums, the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, the state psychopathic hospital, Palo Duro Canyon State Scenic Park, Big Bend National Park, and buildings for educational exhibits at the State Fair of Texas. The federation also fostered the development of several organizations in Texas: mothers' clubs, which became parent-teacher associations (see TEXAS CONGRESS OF PARENTS AND TEACHERS); the Texas Federation of Music Clubs; Texas garden clubs; home demonstration clubs; the Joint Legislative Council; and the national Organization for Women in Safety in Texas. During World War I the TFWC sponsored five recreational canteens for servicemen based in Texas and supported the General Federation of Women's Clubs canteen in France. During World War II, the canteens were again a federation project, as were scrap salvage campaigns, the sale of war bonds, and food preservation. Other TFWC international activities have included a goodwill tour to South America, scholarships for students from Latin America, and libraries for students in Peru, Texas's partner in the Alliance for Progress. The federation has had a vigorous scholarship program since 1903. In the 1990s it supported six scholarships, and districts and local clubs provided additional scholarships. Federation philanthropy has also supported the Elisabet Ney Museum, the Alabama-Coushatta Indians, the Crippled Children's Hospital at Marlin, and war orphans and the homeless after World War II and the Korean War.

The role of the TFWC has changed over time. Many projects of the early federation have become governmental responsibilities or now receive attention from environmental, consumer, charity, or feminist groups. Still, the federation and its affiliated clubs serve thousands of Texas women who maintain an interest in organized study and organized volunteer activity, and the TFWC continues its interest in public affairs. In the early 1900s members were largely homemakers or teachers; today's clubwomen include many who work outside the home. While the constitution has never expressly excluded African-American or Hispanic women, only in recent years have they joined TFWC clubs, and they represent a very small minority of the total membership. By 1985 TFWC membership had declined to 13,000 women and 500 clubs, with forty-five junior clubs. In 1992 the federation included fourteen districts and 384 clubs. Major philanthropic and legislative concerns in the 1980s and 1990s were crime reduction, prevention of wife abuse, and aid to abused women. Major ongoing projects included work for patients and their families at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center and support for Girlstown, U.S.A. In recent years the Texas federation has increasingly pursued its still-diverse agenda in tandem with the General Federation and with corporate sponsorship. In 1992, for example, TFWC women attended conferences sponsored by Shell Oil and by Proctor and Gamble on, respectively, energy issues and solid-waste management.

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Karen J. Blair, The Clubwoman as Feminist: True Womanhood Redefined, 1868–1914 (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1980). Dallas Morning News, November 22, 1903, November 13, 1927. History of the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs (Vol. 1., ed. Stella L. Christian, Houston: Texas Federation of Women's Clubs, 1919; Vol. 2., ed. Fannie C. Potter, Denton: Texas Federation of Women's Clubs, 1941). Anne Firor Scott, Making the Invisible Woman Visible (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984). Megan Seaholm, Earnest Women: The White Woman's Club Movement in Progressive Era Texas, 1880–1920 (Ph.D. dissertation, Rice University, 1988).

  • Women
  • Women's Clubs
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Advocates
  • Civic Leaders
  • Education
  • Health and Medicine
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Organizations
  • Patrons, Collectors, and Philanthropists
Time Periods:
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
  • Progressive Era
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II

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

Megan Seaholm, “Texas Federation of Women's Clubs,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 17, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/texas-federation-of-womens-clubs.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

April 4, 2022

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