In the Seat of Power
From the first woman in the Governor’s Mansion to the first seated at the bench of a district court, women’s voices have grown more numerous and commonplace in Texas politics. Women advocated for social welfare causes and were the catalyst for a series of early 20th century legislative measures addressing issues such as child labor and aid, the juvenile court system, sanitation and hygeine, education and school attendance, public libraries, women’s property rights and working conditions.
Women’s clubs were a political force early on, and these groups developed focused strateges, including forming the Texas Women’s Legislative Association. Once they obtained the legal right to vote and moved into spaces once the exclusive domain of men, more women began serving in elected and appointed government positions and were better able to influence both legislation and culture. Suffrage was instrumental in giving women direct access to legislation, governance and the judiciary.
U.S. Rep. Barbara Jordan was the first African American woman elected to the Texas Legislature, first African American state senator in Texas since 1883 and first African American Texan in the U.S. Congress. In 1967 she earned her seat in the state Senate, where she endorsed legislation for minimum-wage laws, voter registration and chaired the Labor and Management Relations Committee. Jordan was unanimously elected President Pro Tempore of the Senate in 1972 and served as Governor for a Day on June 10 of that year. In 1973, she was elected U.S. Representative from the 18th Texas District. Click or tap on thumbnails for larger images.
Myra McDaniel was the first African American to serve as Texas Secretary of State (1984-1987) and worked to increase voter participation. McDaniel served as general counsel from 1983 to 1984, at which point Gov. Mark White appointed her Secretary of State. “As a woman and an African American, you have a lot of pride in being able to say that you can do what everybody else does, that you didn't bump into the glass ceiling and that you have the opportunity to fully utilize your talents,” McDaniel said in a 1995 interview with the Austin American-Statesman. Click or tap on thumbnails for larger images.
Rep. Irma Rangel was the first Mexican American woman to be elected to the Texas Legislature and the first Mexican American to head the Texas House Committee on Higher Education. She was a proponent of equal rights for women, minorities and the poor. Rep. Rangel served in the Texas House of Representatives from 1977 to 2003. She was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994 and named Legislator of the Year in 1997 by the Mexican American Bar Association.
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First Lady Anita Perry helped develop and host the first Texas Conference for Women in 1999 and continued her role through 2014. The mission of the Texas Conference for Women, now in its 20th year, is to promote, communicate and amplify the influence of women in the workplace and beyond.
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Mrs. A. D. Ballard to Governor Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, April 6, 1925. Texas Governor Miriam Amanda Ferguson records, Box 301/419-28.
Miriam “Ma” Ferguson became the first woman elected Governor of Texas in 1924. Her husband, Gov. James Ferguson, had been ousted from office for corruption, and many suspected the same of her administration. One controversy was the large number of pardons she granted to prisoners-- an estimated 4,000 in all. In this letter, Mrs. A. D. Ballard requests a pardon on behalf of her friend Mrs. Annie Weaver so that her only son John Weaver might return home to help his ill and aging mother. Gov. Ferguson pardoned John Weaver on January 14, 1927, “because of an aged mother dependent upon him for support” (Proclamation #20543). After being defeated by Dan Moody in 1926, Ma Ferguson was again elected governor in 1932, thus serving two, staggered terms before largely retiring from political life in 1935. Click or tap on thumbnail for larger image.
W. R. Hegler to Gov. James V. Allred, Feb. 5, 1935. Governor James V. Allred records, Box 1985/024-17 and Business and Professional Women’s Club, Brownwood, Texas to Senator E. M. Davis, undated. Governor James V. Allred records, Box 1985/024-17.
Judge Sarah T. Hughes was the first woman judge appointed to a Texas district court (Dallas, 1935). Prior to this appointment, she was the youngest woman elected to the Texas Legislature in 1930, where she served three terms in the House of Representatives. Following her judicial appointment, she was re-elected state district judge six more times. In 1961, she was appointed by President John F. Kennedy as federal district judge, the first woman in Texas to hold such a position.
While Judge Hughes was being considered for appointment as Dallas district judge, Texans sent letters to the governor expressing both support and opposition. This letter, in opposition, states that, “she or no other woman is fit to sit on the bench and judge her fellow man.” This resolution supporting the appointment of Judge Hughes states that, “it is ability, and not sex, that is considered when an office is to be filled.” Click or tap on thumbnails for larger images.
“A Woman’s Place is in the Dome,” button, undated. Inaugural Committee Richards-Bullock inaugural records, Box 1991/185-5 and “A Woman's Place is in the Dome,” photograph, undated. Virginia Whitten papers, Box 1998/140-2.
Gov. Ann Richards was the first woman to win a statewide race since 1932 when elected Texas state treasurer in 1982 — the first woman to hold that office. She was elected governor of Texas in 1990 and advocated for public school reform, prison reform and substance abuse initiatives. Richards appointed unprecedented numbers of women and minorities to government posts. Click or tap on thumbnails for larger images.