Table of ContentsTexas Joins the BattleComing of AgeThe Battle Lost and WonAftermathBeginnings of the MovementHome

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Aunt Jade who takes care of the boys

Farm women led lives of hard physical labor, and had
little sympathy with women's suffrage and town
women with fancy ways.

Eben Dohoney article on suffrage and prohibition

Prohibition activist Eben Dohoney of Paris, Texas, had been a women's suffrage advocate since 1875. Forty years later, he still believed women's suffrage was the key to prohibition.

Prohibition committee, Falls County

The Prohibition movement gained steam with the 20th century, as shown by this organizing effort in Falls County.

Rev. Elijah Shettles on Jim Ferguson

The rise of Jim Ferguson brought the long-simmering issues of prohibition and women's suffrage to the boiling point.

Senator Morris Sheppard

Senator Morris Sheppard was a staunch supporter of Prohibition and women's suffrage.

 

 

The Movement Comes of Age

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The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Disaster

The lives of American women had changed greatly since the days of the first women's rights convention in 1848. Many thousands of young women were in college, earning over 30 percent of all baccalaureate degrees granted. Many of these women worked in teaching and other professions. Others were activists, working in settlement houses for immigrants or organizing crusades against child labor and for prohibition and pure food and drug laws. On the other end of the spectrum, five million women were in the workforce, many of them laboring in hellish sweatshops for low wages. In both cases, the old notion of a woman leading her life under the protection of a man had less and less relevance to the realities of everyday life.

March 25, 1911, would prove to be a turning point for the women's suffrage movement in America. It was Saturday -- a work day for the many young immigrant women who made their living in New York's garment district. Near quitting time, a fire broke out on the upper floors of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory. Within 15 minutes, 146 people were dead, almost all of them young women aged 16 to 23. Horrified New Yorkers looked on as women jumped from the 9th floor, their dresses on fire, many of them holding hands as they desperately sought to escape the inferno. The investigation revealed that fire exits had been blocked with a total disregard for the safety of the workers. The public sorrow and outrage over the incident galvanized the labor movement and the women's movement as never before.

In much of Texas, however, the Triangle Shirtwaist factory and the conditions that created it seemed a world away. Although Texas cities were growing rapidly, most of Texas remained rural, segregated, and poor. Life for farm women was hard. It had changed little from generation to generation, and it was hard for the women to imagine that it ever would. Rural women had little sympathy with the women suffragists with their fancy town ways and their college educations, and women's suffrage remained an unpopular issue among the folks who lived "at the forks of the creeks."

One Texas Methodist minister summed up the feelings of the folks who lived at the "forks of the creeks," saying, "The leaders of the Suffragette movement, as a rule, are divorced women, women who prefer pug dogs to children, and supernumerary spinsters, bankrupt in sentiment and possessors of worthless assets of faded charm, who, failing to capture a man, propose to remedy this misfortune by turning [into] men themselves."

Prohibition

There was one issue that united city and country women -- prohibition. While the temperance movement sought to reduce the demand for alcohol by persuading people not to drink, the prohibition movement advocated making the manufacture and sale of liquor illegal. A sizable number of Texans had been prohibitionist for decades. Back in the days of the Republic of Texas, a "local option" law had been passed that allowed counties, cities, or even individual neighborhoods to declare themselves "dry." Local option remained on the books under the Texas Constitution. In 1895, fifty-three of 239 Texas counties were dry, and another 79 were partially dry. Increasingly, the only wet areas were those with large numbers of African, Hispanic, or German Americans.

In 1887, 1908, and 1911, Texas prohibitionists tried and failed by narrow margins to get a statewide prohibition law passed. It was then that male prohibitionists realized that Texas women were overwhelmingly in favor of prohibition. For the first time, significant numbers of men began to work for women's suffrage. Naturally, brewers and the liquor industry opposed women's suffrage and devoted considerable resources to fighting against it.

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Page last modified: August 24, 2011