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Texas-based Holland's women's magazine supported the club movement but made fun of women suffragists.
Mexican American women formed clubs but were not included in the suffrage movement. Tejanos faced
poverty and discrimination and were often denied the
right to vote by force.
Dr. Sophie Hertzog became the first woman to serve as head surgeon for a major American railroad.
Leffler Corbitt was president of the Texas Women's Bankers Association.
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Women's clubs had begun to grow in the cities and towns of Texas in the 1890s as an outlet for educated women to meet and share knowledge, culture, and comradeship. The women's club movement was part of a national trend for continuing education that included home-study associations and the lyceum and chautauqua movements. At first, the clubs were nonpolitical. Most of the women shared a great interest in education and civic work. They worked to assist orphans, to develop home-economics programs for public school girls, to raise money for libraries, and to sponsor art exhibitions, historic preservation, and other cultural events. The "mother's clubs" they founded to assist schools eventually became the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA).
After the demise of the early women's suffrage organizations, which were heavily dependent on a few individuals, Texas suffragists realized that they needed to build a solid organization if they were going to go head-to-head with male politicians. The women's clubs formed a ready-made organization for political action.
The Woman's Club of San Antonio blazed the trail. They successfully lobbied to get women on the school board, promoted the creation of a juvenile court, and secured the hiring of policewomen and jail matrons to deal with female law breakers. Determined to elevate the city from its "Wild West" past, they forced passage of an ordinance against spitting on the sidewalk, demanded that stores close at 6 p.m. to encourage family time, and blocked the establishment of a dance hall at Brackenridge Park.
In ways large and small, the women were making their wishes felt, even without the vote. But the women wanted more. In 1912, 75 San Antonio clubwomen formed the Equal Franchise Society to concentrate on winning the right to vote. By the end of the year, they had almost 400 members. In 1915, the statewide Texas Association of Women's Clubs endorsed women's suffrage.
African-American women also had clubs that, like the clubs for white women, worked hard to improve their communities. Facing overwhelming political discrimination, few black women felt safe in speaking out for suffrage. To do so, they felt, would jeopardize their chances of improving conditions in the black community for a cause that had no chance of success.
Hispanic women also participated in the club movement. In 1911, Laredo women formed La Liga Femenil Mexicanista (the League of Mexican Women) to help form schools, assist poor children with their education, and provide food and clothing for the needy. La Liga was the first attempt by Mexican-American women to organize politically. As with the black women, their main concern was not suffrage. Mexican-American women were motivated by the deteriorating economic conditions and loss of culture faced by their people. White party bosses controlled the Hispanic vote and ruled politically with an iron hand. It would not be until the 1920s that Mexican Americans organized to begin their fight for political and civil rights.
Profile: Eleanor Brackenridge (1837-1924)
Eleanor Brackenridge was born in Indiana and moved to Texas with her family in 1855. In 1866, she and her mother moved to San Antonio to live with her brother George, a wealthy businessman. Brackenridge used her considerable energy to become active in numerous women's clubs, church, and the temperance movement. She helped found Texas Woman's University, traveled widely, and became one of the first women in the nation to serve as a bank director.
Brackenridge founded the Woman's Club of San Antonio and became its president, guiding the club's activities from literary subjects to civic reform and women's rights. In 1912 she became president of the San Antonio Equal Franchise Society and helped organize the Texas Woman Suffrage Association in 1913. In 1918 she became the first woman to register to vote in Bexar County.
Photo from The Delineator, November, 1912. Erminia Thompson Folsom Collection, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
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