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Wise As It Was: Here for Hobby – Texas women gain the right to vote in primaries

By Racey Burden | Published Saturday, June 16, 2018
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In a Tight Spot

IN A TIGHT SPOT – A political cartoon criticizing former Gov. James Ferguson runs in the Messenger prior to the 1918 primary. Ferguson was accused of taking $156,000 from an unnamed source, and his rival, William P. Hobby, attempted to get the new women voters on his side. From the Wise County Messenger, July 12, 1918

One hundred years ago, women in Texas earned the right to vote in primary elections.

Immediately, women were seen as a prime source of votes for a variety of issues, from war stamps to the gubernatorial election. Ads directed to women voters began popping up in the Messenger in the summer of 1918, charging “the pure womanhood of Texas [to] assert itself at the ballot box” by registering to vote.

In June, the Texas senate approved a national amendment calling for women’s sufferage.

With a primary coming up fast in July, not all women were even required to register before voting. Those in towns with a population of less than 10,000 could simply show up at the ballot box on primary day, as long as they were 21 or older.

On June 8, 1918, a meeting was held at the Wise County Courthouse for women who were interested in voting for the first time.

“If women cast their votes according to the dictates of their conscience, they will cast them right,” Mrs. D.W. Frazer told the room.

Many of the women present pledged their support to Gov. William P. Hobby, that he “might be elected governor and politics made pure.” Hobby pushed for women’s suffrage in Texas to bolster support for his own 1918 campaign against former Gov. James Ferguson. Ferguson was impeached in 1917 for misuse of government funds, among other accusations, and Hobby was appointed governor. Ferguson refused to bow out of Texas politics, running against Hobby in the 1918 Democratic primary.

The women who formed the Decatur Women’s Democratic Club encouraged their fellow ladies to vote in the primary election and “all elections thereafter that may pertain to morals, good government and the good of the country” – possibly a subtle dig at Ferguson.

The next week an estimated 500 women from all over Wise County gathered at the courthouse to hear speakers discuss women’s suffrage and to organize a countywide democratic league. They formed automobile committees for the purpose of going out to conduct polls and encourage voter registration.

Of course, even though women could vote, they wouldn’t yet be voting for other women to take office. A Mrs. Curtis from Dallas, who the Messenger called “one of the South’s most gifted and talented women,” spoke at the meeting to remind the ladies to vote for honest men like Hobby.

Hobby went on to win the governor’s race that year with the help of Texas’ first women voters. He would serve as governor until 1921.

Texas would inaugurate its first female governor a short four years later, in 1925 – Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, the wife of Hobby’s great rival James Ferguson.

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