WATSON, MARGARET L.

Jessica Brannon-Wranosky and Samantha Leihsing

WATSON, MARGARET L. (1843–1927). Margaret L. Watson, journalist, political reformer, clubwoman, and suffragist, was born on April 9, 1843, in Jasper County, Texas, to Simeon C. Watson and Mary (McNutt) Watson. Her father was a grocer and postal carrier who served in the Mexican War and was subsequently awarded land in San Augustine County, Texas, for his military service. Margaret Watson married Claudius Samuel Watson (referred to often as Samuel or Sam Watson) on January 8, 1864, in San Augustine County. At the time, Sam served in Company B of the Eleventh Texas Infantry Battalion (often referred to as Spaight’s Battalion) as a cannoneer aboard the steamer Uncle Ben stationed at Sabine Pass. 

Some twentieth century records claim that Margaret Watson helped soldiers load guns during the battle of Sabine Pass in 1863 and subsequently was put in charge of making the first Confederate flag for the captured gunboat, the Sachem, for which Sam Watson later served as first engineer after the boat was captured. While there were women at the battle of Sabine Pass, these women are usually listed as Catherine “Kate” Magill Dorman, the owner of the Catfish Hotel, and her friends Sarah Vosburg and Sarah Ann King. Other women were likely present at the time and were called in to help nurse soldiers and citizens from the area through a terrible bout of yellow fever and other illness that plagued those stationed there. There is no way to know what role Margaret Watson played in the battle, if any. Company B was stationed at Sabine Pass for the remainder of the war. At Sabine Pass, Margaret lived at the Catfish Hotel, owned and operated by John W. and Kate Dorman—the latter known as the “Confederate Heroine of the Battle of Sabine Pass.” 

By 1870 Sam and Margaret Watson lived in Orange, Texas, and he was working as a blacksmith. By 1880 the couple moved to Galveston, and Sam was listed in the census that year as a laborer. Sometime in the 1880s or 1890s, the Watsons moved to Beaumont, Texas, where Sam worked as a hardware dealer, and during the next decade, the couple rented space in their home to at least seven boarders. In 1893 Margaret L. Watson, as she started using as her penname, signed the call to organize and was one of the charter members of the Texas Equal Rights Association (TERA), the first statewide woman suffrage association in Texas. At the May 10, 1893, inaugural meeting of the TERA, Watson was elected recording secretary of the association and as one of three delegates to attend the National American Woman Suffrage Association’s (NAWSA) national convention in Washington, D.C. On the association’s call to organize, Watson was listed as a correspondent to the New Orleans Delta. She was very involved in the suffrage movement and wrote often about issues such as the power to vote and the effort to attract more women’s support for the movement. When TERA leaders publicly split over the issue of whether or not to invite Susan B. Anthony on a speaking tour in Texas, Watson supported the tour in opposition to her friend TERA president, Rebecca Henry Hayes. For the four-year life of TERA, Watson remained central in the organization’s activities, which included speaking in public and reporting on the state’s suffrage activities to state newspapers and to NAWSA leaders. 

In 1896 Margaret Watson ran for the seat of Beaumont city secretary, and suffragist Mariana Thompson Folsom reported to the The Woman’s Column, “Influential men, both white and colored, are working for her election.” There is no record of the result, and as such, it is likely that Watson did not win. In 1898 Watson joined as a member of the Texas State Historical Association within a year of the association’s founding. She was also a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) Dick Dowling Chapter in Beaumont and served as its president in the chapter’s first years. The information about Dick Dowling and the battle of Sabine Pass that historians continued to cite into the twenty-first century often includes pieces from the first-hand veteran accounts gathered and written by Margaret L. Watson. She played a key role in interviewing the two last survivors of the battle of Sabine Pass and sharing their stories with Mrs. Hal Greer to preserve historical accounts of the Confederate perspective of the battle. Margaret Watson wrote in the Confederate Veterans Column of the Galveston Daily News  in order to raise money for veterans’ train tickets, and she published an article about her recollections of Kate Dorman, owner of the Catfish Hotel. She wrote about Dorman that she “was the friend of the private soldiers as well as the officers; she nursed them when sick, gave the best she had to feed them. She was always on hand in the hour of peril to express faith in their success, to give an enthusiastic welcome in the hour of victory.”  

About 1902 the Watsons returned to Galveston to live, and Margaret moved her membership to Galveston’s newly-formed Veuve Jefferson Davis Chapter of the UDC. There she served as chapter historian, and from 1907 to 1909 was elected historian to the Texas UDC and subsequently historian emeritus to the state association. In 1921 she was elected president of the Galveston UDC chapter.

Sometime after 1921 Sam Watson became increasingly ill, and his care was too much for Margaret. Texas UDC leaders, Texas State Senator Thomas Jefferson Holbrook, and a number of Civil War veterans who served with Sam Watson in the war petitioned the superintendent of the state Confederate Veterans Home (see TEXAS CONFEDERATE HOME) in Austin to make space available for Margaret and Sam to live there together. By the 1920s the facility started allowing veterans along with their wives in residence. In 1923, shortly after admission, Margaret wrote to a friend that Sam refused to leave the Confederate Men’s Home, and as such, she lived in the veterans’ home but not by choice. Sam Watson died in 1924. After his death Margaret lived at the St. Anthony Home in Houston. She continued to be active until her death at the John Sealy Hospital in Galveston on December 13, 1927. She was buried beside her husband in Holy Cross Cemetery in Houston, Texas.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

W. T. Block, "Catherine Magill Dorman: Confederate Heroine of Sabine Pass,” in Texas Escapes (http://www.texasescapes.com/WTBlock/Catherine-Magill-Dorman-Confederate-Heroine-of-Sabine-Pass-Texas.htm) accessed October 1, 2017. Jessica S. Brannon-Wranosky, Southern Promise and Necessity: Texas, Regional Identity, and the National Woman Suffrage Movement, 1868–1920 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Texas, 2010). Dallas Morning News, December 15, 1927. Galveston Daily News, November 6, 1921. Jane Y. McCallum Papers, Austin History Center, Austin Public Library. A. Elizabeth Taylor, Citizens at Last: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Texas (Austin: Temple, 1987). Mrs. Margaret Watson, Confederate Pension Application No. 40067, Harris County, Texas.

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Handbook of Texas Online, Jessica Brannon-Wranosky and Samantha Leihsing, "WATSON, MARGARET L. ," accessed May 24, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fwats.

Uploaded on February 2, 2019. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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