LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF TEXAS

Dorothy D. DeMoss, rev. by Katherine K. Walters

LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF TEXAS. The League of Women Voters of Texas, a nonpartisan political organization, was formed on October 19, 1919, at the St. Anthony Hotel in San Antonio, when the Texas Equal Suffrage Association was dissolved to reorganize for a new purpose. Earlier the same year Carrie Chapman Catt, head of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, had urged the formation of the League of Women Voters as the successor to NAWSA and as the official support organization for newly enfranchised American women. Under the forceful leadership of its first president, Jessie Daniel Ames of Georgetown, who served from 1919 to 1923, the LWVT focused its efforts on educating the newly enfranchised women voters of the state. To this end it published a monthly newspaper, the New Citizen.

In early years the group urged women to pay poll taxes, conducted citizenship schools, held "Get Out the Vote" campaigns, issued a "Voter's Calendar," queried political candidates and published the results, and printed a booklet entitled Know Your County. The league was active in the Joint Legislative Council, known as the "Petticoat Lobby," a consortium that lobbied for women's welfare, and in the 1920s it lobbied for legislation to establish a minimum wage for women, provide maternity and infant care, prohibit child labor, allow jury service for women, reform the state prison system, improve rural education, and give women equal representation in delegations to national party conventions. Notable officers during the early years included Helen E. Moore of Texas City, Alice Merchant and A. Louise Dietrich of El Paso, Jane Y. McCallum of Austin, Jeane Bertig Kempner (Mrs. D. W. Kempner) of Galveston, and Louise Jane Masterson (Mrs. Harris Masterson) and Oveta Culp Hobby of Houston. As a nonpartisan organization, the LWVT did not endorse or oppose candidates or political parties; it studied political issues and issued position papers. After tenaciously working for more than eight years, in 1949 the organization secured legislation ensuring increased integrity of the secret ballot for Texans. The group also labored for a constitutional amendment, which finally passed in 1954, enabling Texas women to serve on juries.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s the LWVT supported the establishment of a system of family courts in Texas, urged elimination of legal discrimination against women based on marital status, and compiled a comprehensive "Know Your State" survey that became the highly acclaimed high school and college textbook Texas Constitutional Review. In later years the league gave sustained attention to the need for a revised state constitution, studied the selection and tenure process for appellate judges, and the establishment of a permanent voter-registration system (see ELECTION LAWS). The league worked toward the abolition of the poll tax achieved in national elections in 1964 with the passage of a federal constitution amendment and in state elections in 1966.  It also analyzed relationships among federal, state, and local governments, especially cases in which the state relied on the federal government to solve urban problems.

From its origin the LWVT has remained a member-directed organization. Like other state arms of the league, it is affiliated to the national organization through some shared finances, common goals, and structure, but establishes its own program. The state board, which establishes policy, is elected at biennial conventions, and the organization's budget and programs are governed by a council composed of local league presidents. Membership became racially integrated and reached a peak of 5,000 in the mid-1950s; it stabilized at about 4,100 in thirty-seven local leagues by the late 1980s. The group opened membership to men when the national organization did in 1974, and Tom Gooch of Fort Worth became the first state board member in 1989. 

The league publishes the Voters Guide to inform voters of the qualifications of candidates in statewide elections and sponsors televised debates between gubernatorial candidates. The Leagues in Texas first hosted televised debates for congressional races in 1964 and gubernatorial races in 1982, and as early as 1986 they provided a Spanish translation for the televised debates. In 1990 they televised gubernatorial debates in English, Spanish, and with closed captioning for those with hearing impairments. In 2002 the LWVT held the first debate conducted in Spanish for a statewide office when it held a debate between Dan Morales and Tony Sanchez, both running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Although local leagues had produced all-Spanish Voters Guides as early as 1970 and the state league provided portions of their Voters Guide in Spanish before 2002, that year they began creating a version of their Voters Guide written entirely in Spanish. The LWVT also made available audio cassettes of its Voters Guide for those with sight disability through the state library as early as 1985. In 1986 it published the Texas Government Handbook for use in secondary schools and colleges. The permanent offices of the LWVT, established in 1974, are located in Austin, and its records were deposited in the Southwest Collection, Texas Tech University in 1971.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Austin American-Statesman, May 8, 1974; April 2, 1985; January 24, 2002. Mrs. D. R. Bowles et al., comps., “History: Texas League of Women Voters, 1903 to 1940” (MS, Jane Y. McCallum Papers, Austin History Center). Dorothy Brown, “Sixty-five, Going on Fifty: A History of the League of Women Voters in Texas, 1903–1969” (MS, League of Women Voters of Texas Files, Austin, 1969). Brownsville Herald, October 28, 1973. El Paso Herald-Post, September 30, 1964; February 20, 1970. Longview News-Journal, October 11, 1982; February 20, 1986. Odessa American, January 11, 2002. San Antonio Evening News October 6, 1919. San Antonio Express, October 28, 1964. Diane Sheridan, ed., with Betty Anderson, Evelyn Bonavita, and Diana Clark, “A Potpourri of Texas League History in Celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the League of Women Voters,” April 1995 (https://my.lwv.org/sites/default/files/lwv-texas_history_75_years.pdf, accessed June 15, 2019). Texas League of Women Voters, October 10, 1919-December 6, 1923 (MS, Texas State Archives, Austin). Victoria Advocate, January 24, 2002.

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Dorothy D. DeMoss, rev. by Katherine K. Walters, "LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF TEXAS," accessed October 14, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/wel05.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on June 27, 2019. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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