Watts, Lala Fay (1881–1971)

By: Judith N. McArthur

Type: Biography

Published: August 1, 1995

Updated: April 3, 2022

Lala Fay Watts, labor and temperance reformer, was born on December 23, 1881, in Northfield, Massachusetts, the daughter of Frank F. and Carrie (Ware) Fay. The family eventually moved to San Antonio, where Lala and her twin sister attended public school. She graduated from Sam Houston State Normal College and taught school for three years before marrying Claude DeVan Watts on August 18, 1902. While raising a son and daughter in Dallas, Mrs. Watts devoted her time to the Dallas Shakespeare Followers, woman suffrage, and parent-teacher work. During World War I she was also a leader in civilian war work, serving as local field secretary of the third Liberty Loan drive, chairman of the Dallas food administration advisory board, and director of the home survey drive. She chaired the petition campaign of the Dallas Equal Suffrage Association and later was appointed a deputy sheriff to help register women voters (see WOMAN SUFFRAGE). Watts headed the Dallas Woman's Hobby Committee during the successful 1918 gubernatorial campaign and was among Governor William P. Hobby's choices to represent Texas at the National Council of Social Work convention that year. Watts served as president of the Dallas Council of Mothers from 1917 to 1919, as vice president of the Second District of the Texas Congress of Mothers, and as chairman of the state organization's journal, Motherhood Magazine. General concern with child welfare, including improved health and nutrition, regular school attendance, and strict enforcement of child labor laws, led these organized women, with Watts as a principal spokesman, to petition for a state-appointed child welfare inspector. When Governor Hobby failed to respond to a joint letter from the Dallas Council of Mothers and the Texas Congress of Mothers, Watts went to Austin to present the case in person. After the position was authorized in 1918, Hobby named her to fill it. From 1918 until 1962 Watts lived in Austin, working continuously as a reformer and lobbyist. As Child Welfare Inspector, she traveled the state inspecting industries for violations of the child labor laws; her report to the legislature emphasized the need for stronger and more comprehensive protective legislation for both children and working women. With the backing of the Texas Congress of Mothers and the Texas Women's Legislative Association, of which she was a vice chairman, Watts pressed successfully for the establishment of a Woman's Division in the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1919 she became the first chief of the new division, and before assuming her duties she spent three weeks incognito as a pieceworker in a Dallas overall factory. As chief of the Woman's Division she stressed the need for safer industrial working conditions, an eight-hour day, minimum wage legislation, and a stronger mother's pension law to permit women with small children to remain at home instead of entering the labor force. She worked to develop an awareness of these issues among women's groups and lobbied for protective laws. When the Pat Neff administration took office in 1921, Watts lost her position in the Woman's Division. She remained superintendent of the Department of Women and Minors in Industry of the Texas Women's Christian Temperance Union, and in 1922 took over as president of the organization. Watts committed the TWCTU to an active role as a political pressure group and made it a part of the Women's Joint Legislative Council, which designated her presiding officer during the Thirty-Ninth Legislature in 1925. Under her guidance the TWCTU lobbied for stricter enforcement of the prohibition laws and worked to elect dry candidates to local, state, and congressional office. Despite a factional challenge to her leadership in the mid-1920s, touched off by her refusal to endorse Felix D. Robertson for governor, Watts held the presidency of the TWCTU for forty years. She resigned in 1962, at the age of eighty-two, retaining charge of the legislative and Christian citizenship work. Watts died on November 8, 1971, in Fort Worth. She was a member of the Austin First Methodist Church and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Austin.

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Austin American-Statesman, December 19, 1948. Sam Hanna Acheson, Herbert P. Gambrell, Mary Carter Toomey, and Alex M. Acheson, Jr., Texian Who's Who, Vol. 1 (Dallas: Texian, 1937). Texas Woman's Christian Temperance Union Scrapbook, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Women
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Activists
  • Temperance
Time Periods:
  • Progressive Era
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • 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, “Watts, Lala Fay,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 14, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/watts-lala-fay.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 1, 1995
April 3, 2022

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: