A Foot in the Door
[Jessie Daniel Ames], circa 1910, AR.E.004(009). Jane Y. McCallum Papers.
Jessie Daniel Ames
Ames was born in 1883 in Palestine, Texas, but her family moved to Georgetown in 1893 where she attended high school and Southwestern University. Her family then moved to Laredo where she met and married Dr. Roger Ames. They had a son and two daughters. Her husband died in 1914 and she moved back to Georgetown where she and her mother ran a telephone company.
In 1916 Ames formed the Georgetown Equal Suffrage League and became its first president. She worked closely with Minnie Fisher Cunningham, president of the Texas Equal Suffrage Association and became treasurer for the group in 1918. That year she also helped local women register to vote for the first time, and later was a key player in helping to get the 19th Amendment ratified by Texas.
When the Texas Equal Suffrage Association dissolved in 1919, Ames helped found the Texas League of Women Voters and was the first president of the organization. She served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1920 and 1924. She was an officer for Jane McCallum’s Joint Legislative Council, and in 1924 she became the women’s division director of the Texas Council of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation.
In 1929 Ames moved to Atlanta where she continued to be active in social causes. She founded the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching and directed the organization until 1942. She returned to Texas in 1968. She died in Austin in 1972 and is buried with her family in Georgetown.
Minnie Fisher Cunningham
Cunningham, born in 1882, was involved in politics from her childhood as her father, a state Representative, often took her to political meetings. At 16 she earned a teaching certificate, but then went to the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston to become one of the first women in Texas to receive a degree in pharmacy. She left the field, though, because of the inequity in pay which turned her into a “suffragette.”
She was a founding member and president of the Galveston Equal Suffrage Association in 1912 and in 1915 became president of the Texas Equal Suffrage Association. In 1917 Cunningham moved to Austin so that she could open suffrage headquarters near the Capitol to have better lobbying power.
Cunningham proved to be a shrewd negotiator. She promised prohibitionist legislators that if they supported primary woman suffrage, women would then vote to support “dry” legislators and William Hobby for governor. Hobby did not outright support woman suffrage, afraid it would cost him votes (he would soon be up for re-election). Suffragists gathered a petition of signatures from legislators promising a majority vote for suffrage in both houses should a bill be introduced. Representative Charles Metcalfe then introduced a primary suffrage bill, it passed by a large majority, and Governor Hobby signed it into law on March 26, 1918. Those women able to vote in the primary in turn helped to re-elect Hobby as Governor in a landslide.
In 1927 Cunningham became the first woman in Texas to run for the U.S. Senate. In the 1930s she worked for the Texas A&M Extension Service and then in Washington, D.C. for the Women’s Division of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration. In 1944, angered by divisions in the Democratic party, Cunningham decided to run for governor of Texas, though she lost. Cunningham continued to campaign for the Democratic party, helped found the Texas Observer in 1954, and managed the local campaign headquarters for John F. Kennedy in 1960. She died in 1964.
[Minnie Fisher Cunningham], circa 1920s, AR.E.004(113). Jane Y. McCallum Papers.
[Governor Miriam A. Ferguson], December 31, 1925, C02912, Chalberg Collection of Prints and Negatives.
Miriam A. “Ma” Ferguson
Miriam Ferguson was not a suffragist or women’s rights advocate, but she holds the distinction of being Texas’ first woman governor.
Born in 1875 in Bell County, Ferguson attended Salado College and Baylor Female College. She married James Ferguson in 1899 and served as Texas’ first lady during his term as Governor from 1915 to 1917. Because Miriam was a devoted wife and mother to their two children, and her initials were “M” and “A,” and James was familiarly known as “Pa,” Miriam soon earned the nickname “Ma.”
James Ferguson was impeached during his second term, in part due to the efforts of suffragists, and was prevented from running for state office again. In 1924, “Ma” decided to vindicate her husband and run in his stead for the governor’s seat. She campaigned on an anti-Ku Klux Klan ticket, but also bragged that with her election Texas would get “two governors for the price of one.” She won the election, becoming the first woman in Texas elected governor, and the second woman in the U.S. to be sworn in as a state governor.
“Ma” Ferguson’s administration proved to be controversial. She pardoned or paroled about 100 convicts a month and was accused of taking bribes. Attempts to impeach her failed. She did not seek reelection in 1928, but when her husband was prevented from running again in 1930 she ran again in his place. She lost that race, but won her second term in 1932. While in office during the Depression she supported loans for cotton farmers and “bread bonds” to help mothers and children. In 1940, she tried but failed to get a third term in office. She and James remained in Austin during their retirement. He died in 1944, and she in 1961. Both are buried at the State Cemetery.
Click on the thumbnails in the image gallery below to view more manuscript materials and photographs related to Jessie Daniel Ames, Minnie Fisher Cunningham, and "Ma" Ferguson.