How Did Texas Women Win Partial Suffrage in a One-Party Southern State in 1918?

Abstract

 

   Women suffragists in Texas skillfully worked within the state's one-party system to exploit a rift in the Democratic Party in their successful campaign to win primary suffrage. The president of the Texas Equal Suffrage Association (TESA), Minnie Fisher Cunningham, convinced leaders of the progressive-prohibitionist faction in the party that they needed women's votes in order to win the gubernatorial election. In a classic political bargain, Cunningham promised influential legislator Charles Metcalfe that she would deliver the woman's vote to the candidate he favored in the upcoming gubernatorial election, the state's acting governor William Hobby, if he would shepherd a woman's suffrage bill through a special session of the legislature. The bill passed in March 1918 and Hobby won by a landslide in a victory that was widely attributed to women voters.

   The documents in this project are a rich historical record of the power politically astute women exerted before and immediately after gaining suffrage at the state level. Cunningham and TESA's correspondence with national and state suffrage leaders, Democratic Party members, and local networks of women's organizations documents a skillfully waged campaign that exploited each political opportunity that presented itself in the second decade of the twentieth century. The project makes the interesting historiographical argument that although women suffragists in Texas were very skilled political actors, they took care to create a public image that credited male supporters with their victory.

   
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