Representation and Responsibility: State Legislators

 

Representation and Responsibility

State Legislators

 

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[Sarah Weddington], circa 1970s, PICB 14019

 

 

Sarah Weddington

Weddington was born in Abilene in 1945. She graduated from McMurry College and then received her law degree from UT in 1967. At the time, there were only 40 female students out of 1600 at the law school. She opened her own practice and then teamed up with Dallas lawyer Linda Coffee to work on the case Roe v. Wade, which argued for a woman’s right to have an abortion. Weddington argued the case successfully before the U.S. Supreme court in 1971 and 1972. During this time she also lobbied the Texas Legislature to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and helped found the Texas Women’s Political Caucus.

She decided that the best way to pass laws on women’s issues would be to become a legislator herself. In 1972, political activist Ann Richards managed Weddington’s successful campaign, and she became the first woman to represent Austin and Travis County in the Texas House. While in office Weddington worked to pass many laws related to women’s rights. She worked on bills allowing women to get credit in their own name, to prevent pregnant teachers from being fired, and to provide compensation to rape victims, and she fought anti-abortion legislation. She also co-sponsored the Kidney Health Bill, supported increased benefits for public employees, and supported funding for the arts. In 1975 Texas Monthly named her one of the ten best legislators in the state.

In 1977 President Carter appointed Weddington as general counsel to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A year later she became adviser to the president on women’s issues and then worked on his reelection campaign. Governor Mark White appointed her as director of the Office of State-Federal Relations in 1983. After she resigned in 1985 she worked in private practice in Austin and continued to teach and speak about women’s leadership.

 

 

Wilhelmina Delco

Born in 1929 in Chicago, Illinois, Delco attended school there and then received her bachelor’s degree from Fisk University in Tennessee in 1950. She married Exalton Delco in 1952 and they had four children. They relocated to Austin where she became active in the Parent Teacher Association for her kids’ school. She ran for a position on the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees in 1968, winning just three days after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, and becoming the first African American on the board. Her presence on the board helped speed up the desegregation process.

Wanting to have a wider impact on her community, she won a seat in the Texas House of Representatives in 1974, becoming the first African American to represent Travis County. She served ten terms in the Legislature and worked on more than twenty committees. While in office she focused on issues relating to education and child welfare. In 1979 she was appointed Chair of the House Higher Education Committee, a position she held until she became Speaker Pro Tempore (the first African American in the position) in 1991. She retired in 1995 after 20 years in the House.

Delco helped found Austin Community College in 1973, served on the Board of Trustees at Huston-Tillotson College, and was an adjunct professor at UT with the Community College Leadership Program. Buildings have been named in her honor at Prairie View A&M University and in AISD. In 1986 she was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame, and in 1988 she was named Austinite of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce.

 

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Mrs. E.A. Delco, June 23, 1972, AS-72-81338-06, Austin American-Statesman Negative Collection

 

Mary Jane Bode

Mary Jane Bode was born in 1926 in Chicago, Illinois. She studied at the University of Houston. She worked as a journalist for many years, including several years for the Austin American-Statesman and for a decade as a Capitol correspondent for Long News Service (run by Emma Long’s husband Stuart).

In 1968 she ran for a seat in the House for the first time under the slogan “We need a woman in the House,” but she lost the election. She then worked as a press secretary for Attorney General John Hill. In 1977, when there was a special election to fill Sarah Weddington’s vacated seat, Bode ran again and won by only 66 votes. She won another full term in 1978. In 1980 her district changed, and the GOP swept many seats, including Bode’s.

While in office, Bode was dedicated to helping the disabled, public employees, and children. She helped pass a school finance package, helped create a separate probate court for juveniles, and worked on the Driver’s License Code. She served on the Transportation Committee and supported the development of a rapid rail transit system in Austin.

After her time in office, she returned to her journalism career, working in San Antonio, Corpus Christi, and Del Rio. She died in 1998 near Chicago and is buried in the Texas State Cemetery.

 

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[Mary Jane Bode in the House], circa 1980, PICB 18891

 

Click below to hear an excerpt from an oral history interview with Mary Jane Bode conducted by Lynn Cooksey on February 24, 1980. [Tape 0331]

 

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[Representative Guerrero announces the introduction of two cave protection bills], January 5, 1989, PICB 19755

 

 

Maria Elena “Lena” Guerrero

Lena Guerrero was born in 1957 in Mission, Texas. She came to Austin in 1976 to attend UT. As a student she became active in politics and with the Democratic Party. She became president of the Texas Young Democrats in 1970. She worked on mayoral races for Carole Keeton McClellan and Ron Mullen, Mary Jane Bode’s successful legislative campaign in 1976, Ann Richards’ winning bid for Travis County Commissioner, and Bob Armstrong’s failed gubernatorial run.

In 1984 she decided to run herself for the Legislature and won a seat for District 51. She became only the second Hispanic woman elected to the Legislature and the first from Travis County. During her time in the Texas House, Guerrero worked for the rights of migrant farm workers, the prevention of teenage pregnancy, strengthened benefits to public workers, stronger child abuse prevention measures, and she helped regulate property tax increases. In 1989 Texas Monthly named her one of the ten best legislators, and in 1990 Newsweek cited her as one of the up-and-coming Hispanic leaders in the country.

In 1991 newly elected Governor Ann Richards named Guerrero to the Texas Railroad Commission, becoming the first woman and first minority in that position. She resigned from the position in 1992. Guerrero died in 2008 and is buried in the Texas State Cemetery.

 

 

Click on the thumbnail images below to view more photographs and items related to Travis County's first female legislators.

Representative Sarah Weddington resigns to become chief counsel to U.S. Agriculture Dept.
Sarah Weddington lecturing at Ann Fears Crawford’s seminar in Texas politics, UT
Sarah Weddington at UT student Union
Campaign flyer – Sarah Weddington
Flyer – “Roe vs. Wade, Past, Present and Future”
Pamphlet – “White House News on Women”
Three members of the Black Caucus discuss legislation on the floor of the House
Representative Delco announces that she will run again for the House in a new single member district
Representative Delco prepares to debate the state employees pay raise bill
Austin women effect change in Texas politics
State Representative Wilhelmina Delco Legislative Report: 69th Session
Mary Jane Bode announces for House of Reps. at speakers Committee Room at Capitol
Mary Jane Bode
Women urged to serve
Artwork – campaign advertisement by Ben Sargent
Bumper Sticker – “Mary Jane Bode for State Representative”
Flyer – “Representative Bode”
Flyer – “Austin American-Statesman endorses State Rep. Mary Jane Bode”
Governor-elect Ann Richards announces that she will appoint Lena Guerrero to the Texas Railroad Commission
Lena Guerrero & Wilhelmina Delco
Flyer – “Lena Guerrero for State Representative”
Pamphlet – “Lena Guerrero State Representative District 51 Legislative Report”
Campaign Button – “Lena Guerrero State Representative”
Bumper Sticker – “Lena Guerrero Texas Railroad Commissioner”
Button – “A Woman’s Place is in the Dome”