Wells, Pauline Josefine Kleiber (1863–1928)

By: Lisa K. Hill

Type: Biography

Published: January 1, 1996

Updated: June 19, 2019

Pauline Josefine Kleiber Wells, leading Texas antisuffragist, daughter of Emma Henrietta (Butler) and Joseph Kleiber, was born at Brownsville, Texas, on September 19, 1863. She was baptized in the Catholic Church on October 6 of that year. Pauline grew up one of five Kleiber children. On November 4, 1880, she married James Babbage Wells, Jr., who became a powerful South Texas Democrat. They had four children. Freed by servants from housekeeping tasks, Pauline devoted herself to motherhood, her children's intellectual growth, reading, playing piano, and theater. As early as 1912, Pauline Wells was working to prevent woman suffrage. Her husband was also an active opponent of voting rights for women. Mrs. Wells's interest in the movement grew in 1913 while she was on a trip to New York City, where she met and exchanged ideas with antisuffrage leaders. When the Texas legislature first voted on an amendment granting woman suffrage in February 1915, she traveled to the Capitol to "save the citadel of the Home." She helped defeat the resolution by arguing before the Senate that suffrage was "identified with feminism, sex antagonism, socialism, anarchy and Mormonism." She later became president of the newly-formed Texas Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage. She lobbied again in 1918 to defeat a bill enabling women to vote in the decisive Texas primaries but lost. In spring 1919 she headed a drive by Texas "antis" to hold off ratification of an amendment giving women the right to vote in the general election. Their victory proved short-lived, as Texans soon ratified the Nineteenth Amendment. Pauline Wells died of heart disease on August 21, 1928, in Marlin, Texas, and was buried in Brownsville.

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Evan Anders, Boss Rule in South Texas: The Progressive Era (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982). A. Elizabeth Taylor, Citizens at Last: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Texas (Austin: Temple, 1987). A. Elizabeth Taylor, "The Woman Suffrage Movement in Texas," Journal of Southern History 17 (May 1951; rpt., in Citizens at Last: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Texas, ed. Ruthe Winegarten and Judith N. McArthur, Austin, 1987). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. James B. Wells Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Women
  • Suffragists and Antisuffragists
Time Periods:
  • Progressive Era

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

Lisa K. Hill, “Wells, Pauline Josefine Kleiber,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 14, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/wells-pauline-josefine-kleiber.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1996
June 19, 2019

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: