NATIONAL WOMAN'S PARTY
NATIONAL WOMAN'S PARTY. In 1913 a group of the National American Woman Suffrage Association split off and named itself the Congressional Union for Woman's Suffrage. The union established branches in nine states, including Texas, in 1916, before merging with the National Woman's party the following year. When the first 100 Texas members chartered the state branch at Houston in January 1916, they became an affiliate of the National Woman's party. The Texas branch promoted passage of the federal suffrage amendment and brought prominent national suffrage leaders, such as Alice Paul and Doris Stevens, to Texas to speak on its behalf. Austinite Clara Snell Wolfe was the first Texas branch president. She attempted to organize the group based on congressional districts but apparently failed to recruit more than seven district leaders at any time. Houston, El Paso, San Antonio, and Corsicana had active chapters. The party's Texas branch was small but vocal. Most Texas suffragists belonged to the moderate Texas Equal Suffrage Association, whose members generally disfavored the NWP's public demonstrations for suffrage and its antiwar stand. Though the NWP Texas affiliate did not sponsor such activities as picketing or being chained to government property, a few Texas members participated in the party's public demonstrations in Washington, D.C. The TESA leadership avoided publicly denouncing the NWP, to prevent antisuffrage forces from capitalizing on any dissension among suffragists. In appeals to white citizens, the NWP members, like the TESA, sometimes employed antiblack and anti-Hispanic messages to bolster sympathy for their cause. Unlike the TESA, the woman's party activists led the Texas campaign for a federal suffrage amendment, a risky political initiative in the South, where states'-rights sentiment prevailed.
The TESA achieved one of its key goals when women obtained the right to vote in Texas primary elections in mid-March 1918. The same week, NWP activists in Houston rallied local suffragists at the Bender Hotel to demonstrate support for the national woman suffrage amendment. Within days the party also organized a Galveston meeting, at which letters were drafted to President Woodrow Wilson, Senator Charles A. Culberson, and party officials, urging passage of the suffrage amendment. Suffragists of all stripes kept the pressure on federal officials through 1918 and spring 1919. They gained congressional approval for the amendment on June 4, 1919. Mrs. Paul Millett, NWP Texas branch chairman, joined Clara Wolfe, the new legislative chairman, in lobbying Texas state legislators to ratify the amendment during a special session. Texas suffragists used their right to vote in primary elections as leverage to pressure incumbents hoping for reelection. The Texas House of Representatives approved the federal amendment on June 23, 1919, and the Senate unanimously voted it in on June 28. The NWP Texas branch engaged in fund-raising for ratification efforts in other states until the federal amendment became law in August 1920.
Within two years of achieving voting rights for women, the National Woman's party began support for an equal-rights amendment to the United States Constitution. This proposed federal amendment was introduced in Congress in December 1923. During the 1920s the NWP's Legal Research Department analyzed statutes from Texas and others states for sex discrimination. The NWP's Texas branch, headed by Mary Rowena Maverick Green, prepared measures for submission to the 1925 state legislature. These proposed statues were intended to grant men and women the same legal rights in making contracts, obtaining custody of children, serving on juries, and claiming grounds for divorce. It is not known whether the Texas NWP survived beyond the mid-1920s. In most Southern states, the party disappeared during the Great Depression as women scrambled to curb poverty and homelessness locally; the NWP Texas branch seems likewise to have faded away. Texas passed the Texas Equal Rights Amendment in November 1972, seven months after ratifying the federal ERA, which subsequently died after an extended ratification deadline passed.
Christine Lunardini, From Equal Suffrage to Equal Rights: Alice Paul and the National Woman's Party, 1912–1928 (New York University Press, 1986). Anastatia Sims, The Woman Suffrage Movement in Texas (MS, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin, 1974). The Suffragist, July 5, 1919. A. Elizabeth Taylor, Citizens at Last: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Texas (Austin: Temple, 1987).
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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, Sherilyn Brandenstein, "NATIONAL WOMAN'S PARTY," accessed July 10, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/wensq.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on July 25, 2018. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.