The Early Years
The earliest organized effort for woman suffrage in Texas began in 1893 when Rebecca Henry Hayes of Galveston issued a call for a convention of interested men and women to meet in Dallas. The Texas Equal Rights Association was founded by the convention to "advance the industrial, educational, and equal rights of women, and to secure suffrage to them by appropriate State and national legislation." After a brief period of activity, however, the Association had ceased to exist by 1896.
In 1903, Annette Finnigan and her sisters Elizabeth and Katherine, attempted to rekindle interest in the issue by organizing an equal suffrage league in Houston. Finnigan was elected president of the Texas Woman Suffrage Association at a convention held in Houston later that year. Although the group met again in 1904, the departure of the Finnigan sisters from Texas in 1905 initiated another period of inactivity.
The next state convention was not held until 1913, when delegates meeting in San Antonio elected Eleanor Brackenridge, then in her seventies, state president. By 1914, Annette Finnigan had returned to Texas and was again at the helm of the state organization. She sent letters to all Texas legislators requesting their positions concerning the issue and urging them to submit "the question of woman suffrage as a constitutional amendment to the voters."
By 1915, when Minnie Fisher Cunningham was elected president at Galveston, there were twenty-one local societies and 2500 individual members throughout Texas. The growing strength of the movement was evidenced by the endorsement of equal suffrage for women and by the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs in the same year. At the 1916 Dallas convention, the Association adopted a new constitution and emerged as the Texas Equal Suffrage Association (TESA). Under Cunningham's stewardship, the group grew to include ninety-eight local chapters, and in 1917, moved its headquarters from Houston to Austin to facilitate lobbying of the Texas legislature.