Watters, Anna Gray (1865–1926)

By: Sherilyn Brandenstein

Type: Biography

Published: August 1, 1995

Updated: October 2, 2020

Anna Gray Watters, civic leader and social activist, was born to John W. and Mary (Walker) Gray near Springfield, Illinois, on November 17, 1865. Her family subsequently moved to Carthage, Missouri, where Anna was raised and educated. As an adult she moved to Cleburne, Texas, to teach school. She was promoted to elementary school principal after one year. On June 9, 1897, she married E. A. Watters, a physician. The couple had three sons. As a parent of toddlers, Anna Watters became active in the local kindergarten association by working to establish kindergarten classes in Cleburne schools. In 1902 the Watters family moved to Fort Worth. In 1910 the Texas Congress of Mothers appointed Anna Watters president of its Tarrant County chapter. She successfully organized a local parent-teacher association, and in 1912 became president of the congress's first district. From 1918 through 1921 Mrs. Watters served as state president of the Texas Congress of Mothers and Parent-Teacher Association (now the Texas Congress of Parents and Teachers). She encouraged the organization's increasing political activism, especially on behalf of Texan women and children. Early in her first term the congress plunged into home-front projects to complement United States troop participation in World War I. These led to her appointment as State Chairman of Child Welfare for the Council of National Defense in 1918. In this capacity she urged Governor William P. Hobby to appoint a child welfare inspector to monitor school attendance and child labor laws and gather statistics on child welfare in Texas. In 1918 Governor Hobby added an inspector to the Labor Department to address these concerns. Anna Watters also organized a meeting of several Texas associations and state departments in 1918 to draft legislation on behalf of women and children. The next legislature passed these measures, including laws to provide equal salaries for female and male teachers, free textbooks for public schools, and a new bureau of child hygiene. Her coalition also achieved passage of the rural-school aid bill and a law setting a minimum age for nonagricultural wage earners, the latter to be enforced by the Labor Department.

In 1920 the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs persuaded the major Texas women's organizations to form a joint committee to promote legislation at the state Capitol. Anna Watters gained endorsement for this joint legislative committee from the Texas Congress of Mothers and the PTA late in 1920. Although the committee was not established until 1922, the congress and several other women's groups lobbied in 1921 for enforcement of the new minimum-wage law and enactment of limits on work hours for employed women and children in Texas. These measures did not pass. In future legislative sessions the joint legislative committee (or council) deemphasized employment issues and worked for increased school funding, prison reform, and enforcement of prohibition laws. In 1921 Mrs. Watters, on behalf of the Congress, publicly advocated prison reform in Texas. She specifically sought the inclusion of women on the Board of Control, the agency responsible for Texas juvenile reformatories. After retiring from the congress presidency, she studied child psychology and participated in local civic and church affairs until illness impeded her in 1925. She died on October 1, 1926, in Fort Worth, where she was buried.

Visit the Texas Women Project's standalone website

The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.

Visit Website

Emma L. M. Jackson, Petticoat Politics: Political Activism among Texas Women in the 1920's (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, 1980). Sinclair Moreland, The Texas Women's Hall of Fame (Austin: Biographical Press, 1917). Who's Who of the Womanhood of Texas, Vol. 1 (Fort Worth: Texas Federation of Women's Clubs, 1923–24).

  • Education
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Advocates
  • Women
  • Activists
Time Periods:
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Fort Worth
  • North Texas

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

Sherilyn Brandenstein, “Watters, Anna Gray,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 20, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/watters-anna-gray.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 1, 1995
October 2, 2020

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: