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Collective Power: Women's Organizations

The path for women to hold elected office was achieved not only through the efforts of individuals but with collective work through organizations. Social clubs for women existed in the 19th century, but toward the end of the century an increasing number of women’s groups began to form with political leanings. Various organizations have helped raise awareness about women’s rights issues, educate voters, lobby legislative bodies, and support women running for office. Some groups dissolved after their particular causes were no longer relevant, while other groups have been longer lasting. Political groups for women continue to play a role in politics today.


Women's Christian Temperance Union


Formed at a national level in 1873, local chapters of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in Texas began forming in 1881. The group’s agenda focused on total abstinence from alcohol and a Christian life. It also promoted social welfare reform related to issues such as prostitution, sanitation, and prisons. In 1888 the organization promoted woman suffrage, believing that women voters would support the goal of prohibition. When the Texas Equal Rights Association formed in 1893 many of their members also belonged to the WCTU. In the 1920s, the WCTU formed part of the Joint Legislative Council, but after the end of Prohibition the group’s membership began to decline. The last president in Texas died in 1978.



Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs


The Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs grew out of local literary clubs which unified in 1897 to promote literary study and establish public libraries. In 1899, after the demise of the Texas Equal Rights Association, the organization shifted its focus to public affairs and improving the status of women. For the next few decades, the group was very much an activist organization, influencing legislation on child labor, juvenile courts, maternal health, public education, and women’s property rights, among many other things. The group still exists and focuses on helping women better themselves, their families, and their communities. “The Fed,” as its headquarters is known, is located on San Gabriel Street in Austin.



[Group portrait of TFWC members in front of their headquarters], circa 1920s-1930s, C07960, Chalberg Collection of Prints and Negatives



League of Women Voters as lobbyists, March 17, 1959, AS-59-22268-01, Austin American-Statesman Negative Collection.

Members of the League of Women Voters of Texas pass out informational materials to other women. (Deterioration to the cellulose acetate negative is visible in the image.)



League of Women Voters of Texas


The League of Women Voters of Texas formed in October 1919 after the dissolution of the Texas Equal Suffrage Association and the passage of the 19th Amendment. Jessie Daniel Ames acted as the first president and Jane McCallum was an officer during the early years. The group focused on educating newly enfranchised women by leading “Citizenship Schools,” conducting “Get out the Vote” campaigns, and issuing voting guides. Active with the Joint Legislative Council, the grouped helped lobby for a minimum wage for women, to allow women to serve on juries, to get more women on delegations to national party conventions, and on other social issues. The League continues to be active and follows a mission of encouraging informed participation in government and influencing public policy through education and advocacy. The group’s offices are in Austin. Their archives (AR.1994.093) reside at the AHC.


Joint Legislative Council


Also known as the “Petticoat Lobby,” the Joint Legislative Council was a consortium of women’s groups that worked together to lobby the Texas Legislature. Initial meetings about a lobbying group began in 1920, but the organization began working in earnest in 1922 under Jane McCallum’s leadership. They lobbied the Legislature on such issues as school funding, stricter prohibition laws, mother-infant health programs, and prison reform, and helped establish a state board of education. The group also helped get 32 women appointed to state boards, four women elected to the Texas House, and the first woman elected to the state Senate before disbanding in 1930.



PICA 07117

[University Women’s Political Caucus], Circa 1970s, PICA 07117.

Dotty Griffith of the University Women’s Political Caucus hands out informational materials to Carol Bennett of Austin and Margaret Carter of Fort Worth.



Texas Women’s Political Caucus


The National Women’s Political Caucus formed in 1971 along with Texas and Austin chapters. Texan writer and activist Liz Carpenter co-founded the group and gave the keynote address at the national convention. The goal of the organization was to help get more women of any party into politics, whether in elected or appointed office, as delegates to party conventions, as judges, as lobbyists, or as voters. The group also focused on getting the Equal Rights Amendment passed. The local organization’s work met with early success: six women were elected to the Texas Legislature in 1972 and Texas ratified the ERA in 1973. Later the group helped elect Austin Mayor Carole Keeton McClellan and supported Ann Richards’ campaign for governor. Their headquarters remain in Austin.


Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas


The Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas was founded in 1986 in order to promote the participation of Hispanic women in public, corporate, and civic life. Martha Hinojosa-Nadler, State Representative Lena Guerrero and Travis County Voter Registrar Amalia Rodriguez-Mendoza brainstormed the idea for the group. They pulled together a steering committee which then organized a conference in Dallas in 1987 where 200 Hispanic women from across the state converged to discuss Latina issues. The organization focused on political appointments, voter registration drives, and lobbying the Legislature. Today the organization provides professional development opportunities, has a scholarship fund, and holds annual conferences. They have a chapter in Austin as well as seven other Texas cities and a student chapter at UT-Austin.


Click on thumbnails in the image gallery below to view manuscript items related to women's organizations.