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Women in the United States now vote more often than men, a fitting tribute to the women who fought for the right to vote in the late 19th century. During this time, Texan women formed franchise clubs in cities like Denison, Taylor, Granger, Dallas, and Fort Worth. The Texas Equal Suffrage Association (TESA), led by New Waverly native Minnie Fisher Cunningham, took over in 1915. Its members wrote letters to state and state lawmakers, courted neighborhoods, marched in parades, and distributed literature in support of the cause. But it was behind the scenes of the 1918 gubernatorial race where Cunningham had the greatest influence.
In the race for governor that year, former Governor James Ferguson competed against incumbent William Hobby. Cunningham offered Hobby a deal: if he could get the vote for women, TESA would back him to Ferguson, who spoke out against the right to vote. Hobby convened a special legislature to discuss granting women the right to vote, and on March 26, 1918, he signed the law. The measure only applied to primaries, so that the change would not require an amendment to the state constitution. At the time, Texas was a one-party state controlled by Democrats, and the primary state effectively determined the outcome of the general election.
The women kept their promise and secured Hobby victory. They also called on the Texas Congressional Delegation and its lawmakers to support the 19th Amendment. The Texan legislature voted to ratify the amendment on June 28, 1919. That made Texas the ninth and first southern state to do so. It became law nationwide on August 26, 1920. A century later, female candidates run for every office from school board to vice-president.
(According to the Texas Equal Suffrage Association, circa 1917)
“Be polite no matter what provocation you seem to have otherwise.”
“Try to avoid lengthy or controversial arguments. It will likely confirm men in their own opinion. “
“Find a chance to take notes on one interview before starting another. If necessary, enter the ladies’ changing room. “
9th – Texas’ order among the US states to ratify the 19th Amendment
1918 – year white Texas women get the right to vote in the primary elections
386,000 – number of women who registered to vote in democratic elementary school in 1918
Like other facets of southern life in the first half of the 20th century, the franchise movement was separate. White women knew that white men would not support any measure that would allow black women to vote – or that would encourage interaction between white women and black men at polling stations – so they excluded black women from their suffrage organizations. In practice, the 1918 law that allowed women to vote in primary elections only applied to white women, as the Democrats who ruled the state restricted primary voting to white people. Women of color got better access to polls after Smith’s v Allwright ruling in 1944 abolished white-only primaries and after the landmark 1965 Suffrage Bill, signed by Lyndon B. Johnson, was passed. The law made the electoral laws of states with a history of discrimination in elections, such as Texas, subject to federal review. The oversight continued until the Supreme Court lifted this provision in 2013.
These prominent activists changed the way Texans thought about women’s suffrage.
Minnie Fisher Cunningham, a trained pharmacist, worked in Galveston on public health and urban beautification projects before heading the Texas Equal Suffrage Association. After Texas ratified the 19th Amendment, Texas helped organize the National League of Women Voters to educate women about their new right and encourage them to run for office. Cunningham ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1928 and for governor in 1944 when she was second out of nine candidates.
Christia Adair collected signatures for suffrage motions in Kingsville, but after the movement’s victory she was banned from the elections because she was black. She decided to put her energy into efforts to promote racial justice and became a senior executive in the Houston NAACP, which in 1944 sued a local electoral judge for preventing a black man from voting. The US Supreme Court ruled Smith against Allwright in favor of the voter, ruling the practice unconstitutional and ending the practice of “white primaries” in Texas.
Jovita Idár was an activist for women’s and Mexican-American rights at the beginning of the 20th century. As a journalist for Laredo newspapers, she supported women’s suffrage and encouraged women to participate in public. In 1911, she and her family coordinated a conference where Mexican Americans organized to work for their civil liberties. In the same year Idár founded the La Liga Femenil Mexicanista, a feminist organization that focused on women’s rights and raising children.
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