Texas Women and the Right to Vote

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The question of whether women should be granted the privilege of voting rights was first raised in Texas during the Constitutional Convention of 1868-1869. The proposal was rejected by a vote of 52 to 13. As the women's suffrage movement became more organized over the next four decades, supporters realized that the issue was perceived to be more of a social threat, rather than a political one. Many argued that enfranchisement would cause women to neglect their homes, children and other domestic responsibilities. It was up to the suffragists to articulate that women were citizens, too, and entitled to a say in governmental affairs. To generate support at the grassroots level, it became vital to educate and inform public opinion in an accessible manner. Women's suffrage clubs sponsored lectures, conducted debates, organized essay contests, managed booths at fairs and department stores, marched in parades and wrote music, plays and newspaper articles to spread awareness.

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While these efforts helped make women's enfranchisement an active issue, concrete results were not achieved until the governorship of William P. Hobby from 1917 to 1921. Texas suffragists had pledged support to Hobby during the election if he would push for the passage of a bill that would grant women the right to vote in Texas primary elections. Primary suffrage was a more realistic goal than full suffrage as it required only a simple majority of both legislative houses and the governor's signature. The bill passed by a wide margin and was signed into law on March 26, 1918, offering women the right to vote in the state of Texas.

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By May 1919, Hobby recommended that the Texas Constitution be amended to offer full voting rights to women, but the amendment was defeated by a majority of 25,000 votes. On June 4, the U.S. Senate passed the "Susan B. Anthony" amendment, which stipulated that if three-fourths of the states ratified the amendment, women would have the vote nationwide. The Texas legislature convened in special session and Hobby placed the women's suffrage amendment on the agenda. By this point, women suffragists had become part of the mainstream, and in spite of some opposition, the amendment was approved by the Texas Senate on June 28. Texas became the ninth state in the Union, and the first state in the South, to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment.

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Items on display in this exhibit

The links shown below to the items displayed in this exhibit will open in PDF format in a separate window or tab. The documents are shown here in their entirety so some of the files contain multiple pages.

Thumbnail image of the first page of this old typewritten document Letter to Erminia T. Folsom from C.B. Randell, November 25, 1910. Erminia Thompson Folsom papers, 1985/119-1. Randell, a Texas Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, raises his concerns in giving women the right to vote. His main concern is that black women would be able to vote if the suffrage movement succeeds. This was a common argument in the South against women's suffrage.

 

Thumbnail image of the first page of this old handwritten document "Woman's Rights in Texas" song lyrics, about 1917. Erminia Thompson Folsom papers, 1985/119-2. Suffrage supporters brought attention to the issue through music and plays. Song writers often borrowed tunes from popular songs to create pro-suffrage music. The song was set to the tune of "Dixie Land."

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Photograph of the women voters of Travis County 1918Travis County Women Register to Vote, 1918. William Deming Hornaday collection, 1975/070-5449. Women could not just show up and vote; they had to register first. The first election women could vote in was the July 1918 primary. The deadline to register for this election was 17 days after women were granted the right to vote. Suffragists used their organizational skills to register more than 386,000 women to vote in the primary.

 

A map of the United States showing the states where women's suffrage was in effect.Suffrage map, Austin Woman Suffrage Association, about 1913. Erminia Thompson Folsom papers, 1985/119-2. This suffrage map illustrates the progress of the movement in other states, especially in the West. Some opponents claimed that if the suffrage movement succeeded, African-American women's votes would threaten white supremacy in the South. Suffragists refuted this argument by pointing out that the number of white voters would be doubled.

 

Thumbnail image of the first page of this old typewritten document 19th Amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 1, 36th Texas Legislature, 2nd Called Session, ratified June 28, 1919. Bill files, Texas Legislature, 2-8/900. The 19th Amendment states that one's gender should not be the basis for denying someone the right to vote. This resolution is Texas' proposed amendment to pass the 19th Amendment. This resolution passed both houses of the Texas Legislature.

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Thumbnail image of the first page of this old campaign material"Do Such Acts of Fergusonism Assure Your Home, Your Sister and Your Friends Safety." Campaign material, Miriam A. Ferguson, 2-22/701. In the years following the 19th Amendment, Texas women became more involved politically as well as in the reform movement. In this anti-Ferguson campaign pamphlet, McCallum's quote on prisoner pardons and a political cartoon criticize Miriam Ferguson for pardoning unfavorable persons. Note Jim "Pa" Ferguson holding "Ma's" arm and stating the prison problem does not exist once she opens the state prison's gates.

 

Thumbnail of this colorful flyer campainging for Minnie Fisher Cunniingham for US Senate"Texas Women Cannot Forget Minnie Fisher Cunningham" flyer, about 1928. Jessie Daniel Ames papers, 1971/053. Cunningham, a leader in Texas women's suffrage, lobbied Congress to create and to pass the 19th Amendment at the federal and state levels. In 1928, she became the first Texas woman to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate. This flyer is for her campaign stop at Austin's Wooldridge Park.

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Page last modified: May 20, 2016