Emancipation and Participation
Early Office Holders
After women had won the vote and thus could be more directly involved in politics, it became more viable for women to hold elected office. Annie Webb Blanton was the first Texas woman elected to statewide office as the Superintendent of Public Instruction. It is not surprising that this elected position was the first to be held by a woman, as education was traditionally a woman’s field.
Annie Webb Blanton
Born in 1870 in Houston, Blanton attended high school in LaGrange. In 1888 she moved to Austin and studied at UT. After graduating, she served on the faculty at North Texas State Normal College. During this time she became active in the Texas State Teachers Association and was elected as its first woman president in 1916.
In the late 1910s, suffragists encouraged Blanton to run for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Minnie Fisher Cunningham helped write her campaign materials and stumped for her in East Texas. Though her campaign was difficult, with women now able to vote in primaries Blanton was able to defeat her rivals and then go on to win the general election in 1918, becoming the first female statewide office holder.
As Superintendent, Blanton instituted a system of free textbooks, revised teacher certification standards, raised teacher salaries, improved rural education, and worked for equality for women teachers. She was reelected in 1920 at which time her proposed Better Schools Amendment also passed. She did not run for a third term, and ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Congress in 1922.
Later she earned her master’s degree from UT and then her Ph.D. from Cornell University. She was a professor of education at UT for the remainder of her life. She died in 1945 and is buried in Oakwood cemetery. Public schools are named in her honor in Austin, Dallas, and Odessa.
[Annie Webb Blanton], circa 1900, PICB 00764
Elizabeth Howard West
Born in Mississippi in 1873, West attended the Industrial Institute and College in Columbus, Mississippi. She taught in Mississippi public schools before moving to Austin to study history and Spanish at the University of Texas, where she earned a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree in 1901. She completed coursework in librarianship at UT in 1905. Her first library job was at the Library of Congress.
In 1911, West became archivist at the Texas State Library. While archivist, she traveled to Cuba and Mexico to transcribe historical documents and to collect Texas-related materials. She resigned her position in 1915 after James Ferguson became governor. She took on a head librarian position at a public library in San Antonio, where she expanded services to non-English speaking patrons.
She returned to Austin in 1918 where, after Governor Ferguson had been impeached, she was appointed State Librarian, becoming the first woman in Texas to head a state government department. As State Librarian, she worked to expand services beyond historical work to providing support for libraries across the state. Under her leadership, new libraries were founded in several counties. She also initiated services for the blind in the state library. In 1924, when “Ma” Ferguson was elected governor, West resigned her position and went to work as head librarian at Texas Technical College where she worked until her retirement in 1942. She and her sisters later moved to Florida where she died in 1948.
[Emilie Limberg], PICB 05216
Limberg was born in 1884 in Ohio to German immigrant parents, but moved to Austin with her family as a baby. She attended the old Wooldridge Elementary School and then Austin High. She took a business course at Griffith’s Commercial College in Austin before beginning her long career at the County Clerk’s Office.
“Miss Emilie,” as she was known, first began working at the Travis County Clerk’s office around 1903 in the lowest position in the office, earning $25 a month (about $600 in today’s dollars). She held several positions in the office over the next couple of years, and then became a deputy clerk—the only woman deputy clerk in Texas at the time. After 28 years as deputy and working under four Clerks, she decided to run for Clerk herself. She was elected as County Clerk in 1934, becoming the first woman in the position. She ran in 12 more election cycles, but was only opposed three times.
During her tenure, Limberg maintained the office with few deficits and oversaw the modernization of record-keeping practices, from hand-written logs to photostatic copies to microfilm records. Because she had such a good reputation, she was often consulted by state legislators about new laws relating to county governance.
Limberg retired in 1970 after more than six decades at the Clerk’s office. To celebrate her many years of service, Travis County Commissioners declared her 86th birthday as “Emilie Limberg Day.” She died in 1973.
Click on the thumbnails in the image gallery below to view more items related to early women office holders from Austin.