of women in Texas which revealed that
it was the women who built some
of Texas' most important public
The exhibition, Texas Women-A
Celebration of History, toured the
state for two years and is now permanently
installed at Texas Woman's University
in Denton. It revealed several
important patterns in women's lives
and the significance of their contributions
to Texas history.
"Women were successful public players
long before they ever ran for office,"
In addition to her own strong selfconfidence,
it was the knowledge that
Texas women had a history of political
activism that gave Richards the feeling
she had what it would take to become
the first woman elected statewide in
Texas in modern times. Her election in
1982 ended a fifty-year absence of
women from Texas statewide political
In 1918, educator Annie Webb Blanton
became the first woman to be elected
statewide. She served as Superintendent
of Public Instruction (then an
elected, now an appointed post). In
1925, and again in 1932, votes put
Miriam A. Ferguson into the Governor's
office after the Legislature impeached
her husband Jim.
Why did these and other Texas women
in the early part of this century jump
the gun on political participation before
it was fashionable?
Liz Carpenter, the dynamo writer and
former press secretary to Lady Bird
Johnson, believes part of it has to do
with our frontier experiences and the
fact that the pedestal some people
wanted to place women on was just too
expensive and impractical for most
"When they came into Texas across
the Red River, the men and women
marched side by side," she said. "No
one had time to worry about femininity
when they were trying to get a job
done. And the job was to settle an arid,
When World War I started, Katherine Stinson made a series of fund raising flights for the American
Red Cross. She collected more than $2 million in pledges for war relief. Photo courtesy of Texas
Women's University, Denton.
hostile land and set up some sort of
The women Carpenter describes faced
the Indians, drought, howling wind,
back-breaking work and loneliness.
"If you can master a hostile land, politics
is a cinch," Carpenter believes.
So somehow, Texas women passed to
each generation the seeds of personal
strength, as well as the necessary
skills, to make things happen in the
world. From their frontier experiences,
women learned that if they
wanted something to happen, they had
to do it themselves. As a result, they
came to believe that their actions were
important and significant. They could
use their own personal powers to influence
events. And influence they did.
Beginning in the 1880's women lobbied
the Texas Legislature for pure
food laws, property rights for married
women, public kindergartens, compulsory
school attendance, free textbooks
and a host of other progressive measures.
They were successful.
Texas' budding female politicians first
learned to organize, plan political
strategy and speak out in public because
of liquor. After the despair and
destruction of the Civil War, alcohol
ism touched nearly
threatened to reach
tions. The family
hundreds of women
Texas' first female
every family and
to be done. So,
banded together in
ance Union (WCTU), organized in
1882. Becoming active in the legal
battles to ban the sale of alcohol
opened the eyes of many Texas women
to other areas that needed their attention:
child labor, infant and maternal
health care, education and more.
Women in the WCTU began to see the
correlation between social reform in
their communities and the right of
women to vote. And they were scandalized
because the only Texans who
could not vote were "idiots, imbeciles,
aliens, the insane, and women." As
a result, WCTU leaders became the
leaders in the emerging woman's suffrage
movement in Texas.
Texas Historical Foundation. Texas Heritage, Volume 2, Number 2, Spring 1985. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth46809/. Accessed September 1, 2014.