Table of ContentsTexas Joins the BattleThe Battle Lost and WonAftermathBeginnings of the MovementHome

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Onion farmers

Texas farmers enjoyed unprecedented prosperity
in the first two decades of the 20th century.

World War I cover for Holland's magazine

With the coming of the Great War, the support and cooperation of women was universally recognized as being vital to the war effort.

Patriotic rally at Ft. Brown

Women and men alike on the home front found an outlet in volunteerism and patriotism.

J.J. Farley

The war solidified changes in women's roles that had been underway in Texas since the 1890s. J.J. Farley was a captain in the Dallas Police Department.

Marjorie Stinson

Marjorie Stinson of San Antonio trained men for the Canadian Royal Flying Squadron for service in France.

 

 

The Battle Lost and Won

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The Fall of Pa Ferguson

As Texas mobilized for the national crisis of the Great War, the political crisis caused by the war between Governor Ferguson and the University of Texas had only grown. The Board of Regents had fired a number of professors who had met with Ferguson's disapproval. The professors tried without success for reinstatement, while students and ex-students staged protests at the capitol. The governor was still not satisfied with the university's response to his demands for change. In June he vetoed the entire legislative appropriation for the university. Outraged alumni called for Ferguson's impeachment, but the governor was unabashed. In July, the regents complied with his wishes and fired the university secretary and six more faculty members. Later in the month, a Travis County grand jury indicted Ferguson on nine charges of misuse of public funds and embezzlement.

The speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, F.O. Fuller, called a special session of the legislature for August 1 to consider Ferguson's impeachment. Although such a call was actually beyond Fuller's constitutional powers, he was able to maneuver Ferguson into calling a session to take up the matter of the university's appropriation. As the legislators arrived in town, so did thousands of farmers, drawn to Austin for the annual Farmers' Institute, a convention at which farmers gathered to exchange ideas on the latest in agricultural methods. "Farmer Jim" saw the Institute's gathering as the perfect opportunity to rally his constituents against the legislature.

But Austin women beat him to the punch. Jane Y. McCallum and others organized a huge public demonstration on the capitol grounds that reached legislators, farmers, and students. The suffragists were joined by more conservative women who were opposed to Ferguson. Under a huge orange-and-white banner reading, "Women of Texas Protest," male and female speakers spoke for a marathon 16 hours. As McCallum proclaimed, Ferguson was the "implacable foe of woman suffrage and of every great moral issue for which women stood." By reaching Ferguson's strongest supporters, the rally helped turn public opinion against the governor. Ferguson resigned from office on August 25, 1917.

In addition to removing one of the chief opponents of women's suffrage, the Ferguson impeachment had another, unexpected effect. As Minnie Fisher Cunningham noted, the exposure of so much venality and corruption made it difficult for male politicians to look the suffragists in the eye and tell them that they were not fit to vote.

Profile: Jane Y. McCallum (1877-1957)

Jane Y. McCallumJane Yelvington was born in La Vernia, Texas. She married Arthur McCallum in 1896, eventually settling in Austin, where Arthur served as school superintendent from 1903-1942. They had a daughter and four sons. She became interested in women's suffrage and prohibition and in 1915 was elected president of the Austin Women's Suffrage Association. She also worked on the statewide campaign for suffrage, lectured, and wrote a suffrage column for the Austin newspaper. During World War I, she led Austin women in raising nearly $700,000 for the war effort.

After suffrage was achieved, McCallum continued to be active in the "Petticoat Lobby," working for education, prison reform, prohibition, mother and child health, literacy, and the elimination of child labor. She was a leader in campaigning for Dan Moody against Miriam "Ma" Ferguson in 1926, and became Texas secretary of state after Moody's victory. While in office, she discovered the original Texas Declaration of Independence, long thought lost, locked in a vault in the Capitol. She served as secretary of state until 1933. In later years, she continued to be active in civic affairs, in writing about Texas women, and in numerous other clubs and causes.

Photo from Texas Women's Hall of Fame, by Sinclair Moreland. Biographical Press, Austin, Texas, 1917. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

The Great War

The Ferguson battle might have been all-consuming for Texas in the summer of 1917, but far more important events were affecting the future of Texas and the nation. On April 6, 1917, the United States had declared war on Germany, in part because of Germany's efforts to stir up trouble along the Texas-Mexico border. The entry of the United States into the most violent conflict the world had yet witnessed would prove a final turning point for the women's suffrage movement.

The militant suffragists of the National Women's Party vowed not to let their work be interrupted by the war. They continued to hold parades, demonstrate, get arrested, and chain themselves to the fence of the White House. While these tactics made them extremely unpopular with mainstream Americans, they helped the suffrage movement as a whole by driving lawmakers and other public opinion makers into the relatively moderate arms of Carrie Chapman Catt and the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

Texas suffragists participated actively in war work. They sold liberty bonds, planted victory gardens, knitted and sewed for the troops, and worked in Red Cross auxiliaries. Minnie Fisher Cunningham organized an effort to improve moral conditions near army camps. Other women took the place of men gone to war as farmers, mechanics, munitions workers, nurses, and doctors. The war work made a difference in turning public opinion in Texas in favor of the suffragists. These were women who had served their country in time of crisis. They were no longer a fringe group but part of the mainstream of American society.

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Page last modified: August 24, 2011