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Texas suffragists sent questionnaires to congressmen asking for their views on suffrage.
Primary suffrage passed the legislature easily in 1918,
but not everyone was enthusiastic.
In just 17 days, over 386,000 women registered
to vote in the July primary.
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For the first time, there was movement in Congress on a women's suffrage bill that would amend the U.S. Constitution to give women the vote. A vote was scheduled in the House of Representatives for January 1918. Texas suffragists worked on the campaign, spending the fall of 1917 gathering signatures on petitions and writing and lobbying their congressmen to vote for the amendment. The vote came down the wire, with President Wilson endorsing the measure only at the last minute. The amendment squeaked through with barely the required two-thirds vote -- but it had passed and went on to the Senate.
Texas suffragists were not waiting for the passage of a national amendment, however. The new governor of Texas, William P. Hobby, was a prohibitionist and had come to believe in women's suffrage (see Portraits of Texas Governors for more). Texas suffragists pledged to support Hobby in his bid to be elected governor in his own right if he would push for passage of a bill that would grant women suffrage in the Texas primary elections. The women chose to focus on primary suffrage rather than full suffrage for practical political reasons. To win full suffrage, the state's constitution would have be amended, requiring a two-thirds vote of the legislature and approval by the voters in a statewide election. By contrast, primary suffrage could become law with only a simple majority of both houses of the legislature and the governor's signature.
In addition, in those days, Texas was a one-party state, and victory in the Democratic primary ensured election to office. Thus, if women could vote in the Democratic primary election, they would essentially have the ability to elect candidates to statewide office.
Governor Hobby had called a special session for February 1918 to deal with prohibition. The suffragists lobbied the legislators beforehand and secured commitments from them to persuade Hobby that a primary suffrage law could pass. Hobby was reluctant to make women's suffrage part of the agenda for the session and instead submitted another primary reform measure that did not include mention of women. Representative Charles B. Metcalfe of San Angelo introduced primary suffrage as an amendment to the reform bill. It passed both houses by a wide margin and was signed into law on March 26. Women could now vote in the state of Texas.
The law would not go into effect for 90 days, meaning that women would have only 17 days in which to register to vote before the July primary. Once again, the women suffragists swung into action. They had drives and competitions to register as many women as possible, then held classes and distributed literature to educate women about the candidates and issues and on how to cast a ballot. More than 386,000 women registered to vote. They overwhelmingly voted in favor of Hobby's reelection. In another milestone, suffragist Annie Webb Blanton, president of the Texas State Teachers' Association, defeated incumbent Walter F. Doughty for state superintendent of public instruction. Blanton became the first woman in Texas elected to statewide office.
Profile: Annie Webb Blanton (1870-1945)
Annie Webb Blanton was born in Houston. She became a schoolteacher after completing high school in La Grange, then worked her way through the University of Texas. She joined the faculty of North Texas State Normal College (now the University of North Texas). She became the first woman president of the Texas State Teacher's Association in 1916. In 1918, women obtained the right to vote in primary elections, and Blanton ran for state superintendent of public education. She won a tough race and became the first woman in Texas elected to statewide office. She served two terms before making an unsuccessful bid for Congress. She returned to college, earning a master's degree from the University of Texas and a Ph.D. from Cornell. She taught education at the University of Texas from 1927 until her death.
Prints and Photographs Collection, Texas State Library and Archives Commission. #1991/9-3.
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