Hobby to Samuel Cooper, March 25, 1918
Women had no right to vote or participate in politics in early Texas. While a number of prominent individuals spoke out for women's rights, an organized suffrage movement was slow to get started. Finally, the movement began to gain momentum with the organization of woman suffrage societies in Austin and San Antonio, and in 1913 about 100 women from several Texas cities formed what would become known as the Texas Equal Suffrage Association (later the League of Women Voters).
Their task was a formidable one. Many people, including some women, still felt that "a woman's place is in the home." It was the man's job to protect women and to operate in the wider world. Participation in politics would make women coarse and crude and would threaten the family.
The suffragists battled these stereotypes at the grassroots, sponsoring lectures, forums, debates, and essay contests that showed how the right to vote would aid women in their traditional roles as wives, mothers, teachers, and working women. They advocated issues of special interest to women, such as better schools, playgrounds, parks, sanitation, and workplace safety. The suffragists marched in parades, operated booths at county fairs and department stores, went door-to-door, and lobbied legislators, congressmen, and newspapers. With the coming of World War I, they sponsored projects and activities on behalf of the war effort. While suffragists elsewhere were becoming more militant, chaining themselves to the White House gates and burning President Wilson in effigy, the Texas suffragists steered clear of confrontational tactics, believing they would backfire in the conservative state.
In the 1915 and 1917 legislative sessions, resolutions to give women the vote passed the Texas House but fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to amend the Texas constitution. Ironically, vehement opposition to women's suffrage came from Governor Ferguson (whose wife would later become Texas' first female governor). The suffragists actively supported the movement to impeach Ferguson, rightly believing that Lieutenant Governor Hobby was favorable to their cause.
In March 1918, a special session of the legislature gave women the right to vote in primary elections in Texas. In the first 17 days after the act passed, 386,000 women registered to vote. When the primary was held in July 1918, the women helped give Hobby a smashing victory and elected Annie Webb Blanton the first female officeholder in Texas as state superintendent of public instruction. Texas women finally won the right to vote in all elections when the Texas legislature ratified the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution in June 1919.
In this letter to his father-in-law, Samuel Bronson Cooper, Hobby reflects on the passage of the women's suffrage bill. Cooper was a former state senator and U.S. representative. In 1910, he had been appointed to Board of General Appraisers, a customs court that sat at New York. Hobby had married Cooper's daughter Willie in 1915. After her death in 1929, Hobby would marry Oveta Culp, who went on to lead the Women's Army Corps during World War II and serve in the cabinet of President Eisenhower.
Hobby to Samuel Cooper, March 25, 1918, Records of William P. Hobby, Texas Office of the Governor, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.