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The History of the Woman Suffrage Movement in Texas

"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” The 19th Amendment

Women’s suffrage refers to women’s right to vote. It was established during the latter decades of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century. “As women received the right to vote in some places, they began running for public office and gaining positions as school board members, county clerks, state legislators, judges, and, in the case of Jeannette Rankin, as a Member of Congress.”

“The campaign to establish women’s right to vote in the states was conducted simultaneously with the campaign for an amendment to the United States Constitution that would establish that right fully in all states. That campaign succeeded with the ratification of Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.”

Source: League of Women Voters of Texas

Women’s suffrage in Texas

When Texas was a republic (1836-1846) women in Texas did not have any voting rights.

It was not until 1868-1869 when Republican Titus H. Mundine of Burleson County proposed, at the Constitutional Convention, that the vote be given to all qualified persons regardless of gender. The committee on state affairs approved Burleson’s proposal, but the convention rejected it by a vote of 52 to 13. (1)

The first suffrage organization in Texas was the Texas Equal Rights Association (TERA) which was organized in Dallas in May 1893 by Rebecca Henry Hayes of Galveston. TERA remained active until 1895. (2)

In 1903 suffragists in Texas formed the Texas Woman Suffrage Association (TWSA). It was later renamed the Texas Equal Suffrage Association (TESA) in 1916. TWSA attempted to organize women’s suffrage leagues in other Texas cities, but found little support. (1)

The association lost momentum and became inactive in 1905. It was not until April 1913 when 100 Texas suffragists met in San Antonio and reorganized TWSA. The delegates elected Mary Eleanor Brackenridge from San Antonio as president. Annette Finnigan, who had returned to Houston in 1909, succeeded Brackenridge as president in 1914, followed by Minnie Fisher Cunningham from Galveston in 1915. By 1917, there were 98 local chapters of TESA throughout Texas. (1)

The association continued to pick up momentum with “lectures and forums, distributing pamphlets, keeping the issue in local newspapers, marching in parades, canvassing their neighborhoods, and petitioning their legislators and congressmen.” (1)

In 1915, the Texas legislature had before them an amendment to the state constitution giving women the vote. The Texas suffragists came within two votes giving them the right to vote. (2)

Rather than allowing their defeat to end their cause, in March 1918 the suffragists led the effort to get women the vote in state primary elections. Texas Governor William P. Hobby called a special session for Charles B. Metcalfe of San Angelo to introduce a bill to permit women to vote in primaries. “The primary women suffrage law passed the House 84-34 and the Senate 18-4.” The law was signed on March 26, 1918. (1)

“In seventeen days, TESA and other suffrage organizations registered approximately 386,000 Texas women to vote in the Democratic primary election in July 1918, which was the first time that women in Texas were able to vote.”[2] They continued to fight lobbying their federal representatives to support the Susan B. Anthony amendment to the federal constitution.[2] Texas became the first state in the South and the ninth state in the United States to ratify the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.[1] The Texas House approved the federal amendment on June 24, 1919 by a vote of 96 to 21 and the Texas Senate approved it on June 28, 1919 by a voice vote.[1]

While this was a milestone in the U.S., not all women were given the right to vote. Specific women continued to be denied voting rights through means other than “on the basis of sex.” It was not until August 6, 1965 when the suffrage of women of all color were able to exercise their right to vote.

(1) A. Elizabeth Taylor, rev. by Jessica Brannon-Wranosky, “Woman Suffrage,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 19, 2020, https:// www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/woman-suffrage.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

(2) Judith N. McArthur, rev. by Jessica Brannon-Wranosky, “Texas Equal Rights Association,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 19, 2020, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/texas-equal-rights-association.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

However, on June 28, 1919, the Texas legislature approved a resolution ratifying the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Texas was the ninth state in the U.S. and the first state in the South to ratify the amendment.

1848

The woman suffrage movement formally began at the Seneca Falls Convention in New York with the adoption of a Declaration of Sentiments that declared, “All men and women are created equal.” Resolutions called for the right to vote, equality under the law and educational opportunities for women.

1869

The Texas Constitutional Convention rejected the right to vote for women, deeming it “unwomanly.”

1893

The Texas Equal Rights Association, the first statewide woman suffrage organization, formed in Dallas with approximately 50 members, one-fifth of whom were men.

1894

Texas suffragists failed to achieve equal suffrage planks in the Democrat, Republican and Populist Party platforms.

1895

The woman suffrage movement declined and remained dormant until 1903 due to internal friction. The Texas Equal Rights Association ceased operation in 1896.

1903

The Texas Woman Suffrage Association was formed, but it languished until 1912 when local suffrage groups organized in major Texas cities.

1915

Opponents of woman suffrage formed the Texas Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage. Efforts failed to gain momentum and were limited to leaflet distribution. The Texas Legislature failed to pass a resolution to “authorize females to vote.”

1916

The Texas Woman Suffrage Association was renamed the Texas Equal Suffrage Association. It became effective in organizing local societies and suffrage campaigns.

1918

The Texas Legislature enacted a law that permitted women to vote in primary elections.

1919

In May, a referendum to amend the Texas Constitution to grant full suffrage to women, while disenfranchising noncitizen aliens, failed. But on June 28, the Texas Legislature ratified the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, making Texas the ninth state to do so. In October, the Texas Equal Suffrage Association held a “victory convention,” where they voted to dissolve and convert the organization into the League of Women Voters of Texas. (Texas Equal Suffrage Association, The Handbook of Texas)

1920

On August 26, the Secretary of State quietly certified ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that granted women the right to vote—72 years after the 1848 Seneca Falls resolution that women should have the right to vote.

Source: League of Women Voters of Texas

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