Ward, Hortense Sparks (1872–1944)

By: Janelle D. Scott

Type: Biography

Published: November 1, 1995

Updated: February 10, 2017

Hortense Ward, champion of women's rights, suffrage leader, admitted to the Texas bar, the daughter of Frederick and Marie Louise (LaBauve) Sparks, was born in Matagorda County on July 21, 1872. Ward lived in Edna as a child, and later attended Nazareth Academy, a Catholic convent school in Victoria. She returned to Edna in 1890 to teach school, and on January 5, 1891, married Albert Malsch, with whom she had three daughters. Ward moved to Houston in 1903, and, while working as a stenographer and court reporter, became interested in studying law. She and Malsch were divorced in 1906, and on August 12, 1909, she married Houston attorney William Henry Ward, later a county judge.

In 1910, after successfully passing the bar examination, Ward became one of the first women admitted to the Texas State Bar (after Edith Locke in 1902 and Alice Tiernan in 1909). She received her law license on August 30, 1910, and began practicing with her husband in the civil law firm of Ward and Ward. Though many biographical sources assert that she did not appear in court, apparently she did argue some cases, including a lawsuit in the Seventeenth District Court in Fort Worth in 1915, as reported in the Wichita Daily Times. She concentrated much of her work, however, to writing briefs and consultations. In 1915 she and her husband were admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court; she was the first woman from Texas and possibly the South to do so.

Hortense Ward became known as a champion of women's rights, writing stirring newspaper articles and pamphlets, and personally lobbying for many social reform measures in the early 1900s. She worked to get the Married Woman's Property Law of 1913 passed by the Texas Legislature. She also campaigned for a fifty-four-hour week for women in industry, a women's division in the state department of labor, a domestic relations court, and the right of women to serve as officers of corporations. In 1915, Ward became the first southern lawyer accepted into the Women Lawyers Association, and was elected vice president and associate editor of Women Lawyers' Journal only six months later. She was an ardent prohibitionist and coauthored the state prohibition constitutional amendment in 1919. Ward helped Minnie Fisher Cunningham campaign for woman suffrage. She helped lead an intense lobbying campaign of Houston businessmen, local officials, and the Texas Congressional delegation in 1917 on behalf of the federal woman suffrage amendment, which narrowly passed the United States House in January 1918 with six of the eighteen Texas congressmen voting in the affirmative. As president of the Houston Equal Suffrage Association in 1918, she was sent to Austin by the state suffrage organization to help lobby Governor William P. Hobby and the legislature on behalf of a bill allowing women to vote in state primary elections, which passed in March 1918. Her newspaper articles on voting requirements and a pamphlet, "Instructions for Women Voters," distributed statewide, were part of a grassroots campaign by the Texas Equal Suffrage Association that persuaded nearly 386,000 women to register to vote in just seventeen days in the summer of 1918. On June 27, 1918, Hortense Ward became the first woman in Harris County history to register to vote. That same year she became the first woman to be appointed as secretary of the Texas Industrial Accident Board.

Ward remained politically active in the next decade. She led the Houston women's organization for William P. Hobby against James E. Ferguson in the 1918 governor's race and campaigned statewide for the full suffrage amendment, which was narrowly defeated in May 1919. In 1924 she supported Ferguson's wife, Miriam Amanda Ferguson, for governor because she supported prohibition and opposed the Ku Klux Klan. Representing Mrs. Ferguson, Ward traveled to Maine to campaign against the Klan candidate for governor there. At the request of the Democratic National Committee, she made speeches in the East during the election year of 1924. She campaigned for Oscar Underwood of Alabama for president in 1924 and Al Smith in 1928. She herself ran unsuccessfully for county judge in 1920 and was appointed temporary judge of the Corporation Court by the city of Houston in August 1923; she was the first woman to receive any such appointment in that city. In January 1925 Hortense Ward was appointed by Governor Pat Neff to be chief justice of the All-Woman Supreme Court convened to hear the case of Johnson v. Darr. The case involved a lien on two parcels of land in El Paso County belonging to the Woodmen of the World. The supreme court justices at the time disqualified themselves from the case because of their membership in the all-male fraternal organization. The governor then appointed three women attorneys as justices: Hortense Ward, Ruth Brazzil of Galveston (see ROOME, RUTH BRAZZIL) and Hattie L. Henenberg of Dallas. The case raised the issue of whether a trust instrument must be recorded to be effective against a lien holder. The women on the court held two sessions, one in which they determined that the court had jurisdiction in the case, and another in which they affirmed the ruling of the lower court.

Hortense Ward was at one time vice president of the Woman Lawyers' Association and was a charter member of the Houston Heights Woman’s Club. She was also active in the Women's Advertising Club of Houston, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and the Sorosis Club. She was a frequent contributor to the national publication, the Woman Lawyer's Journal. Ward practiced law until the death of her husband in 1939. She died on December 5, 1944, at St. Joseph Infirmary in Houston. She was buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Houston and was survived by one daughter and eight grandchildren. Her son-in-law, John H. Crooker, was a partner in the law firm of Fulbright and Crooker, which grew into the prominent Houston firm of Fulbright and Jaworski. Her grandson, John H. Crooker, Jr., and great-grandson, John H. Crooker III, were also practicing attorneys. A Texas Historical Marker was dedicated in Ward’s honor at Hollywood Cemetery on April 30, 2011.

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Minnie Fisher Cunningham Papers, Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library. Historical Marker Files, Texas Historical Commission, Austin. Judith Nichols McArthur, Motherhood and Reform in the New South: Texas Women's Political Culture in the Progressive Era (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, 1992). Sinclair Moreland, The Texas Women's Hall of Fame (Austin: Biographical Press, 1917). Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary (4 vols., Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1971–80). Janelle D. Scott, "Local Leadership in the Woman Suffrage Movement: Houston's Campaign for the Vote, 1916–18," Houston Review 12 (1990). I. Stirling, "Being a Woman Lawyer," The Stylus, September 21, 28, 1912. Texas Bar Journal, December 1945. "Texas Women: A Celebration of History" Archives, Texas Woman's University, Denton. Lelia Clark Wynn, "History of the Civil Courts in Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 60 (July 1956). Houston Post, January 20, 1915. Houston Daily Post, July 13, 1915.

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Lawyers
  • Civil Rights, Civil, and Constitutional Law
  • Women
  • Suffragists and Antisuffragists
Time Periods:
  • Progressive Era
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • Great Depression
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

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

Janelle D. Scott, “Ward, Hortense Sparks,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 25, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/ward-hortense-sparks.

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November 1, 1995
February 10, 2017

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