Along with bar rooms and bordellos, there has hardly been a more male-focused institution in Texas history than the Texas Legislature. Yet the eighty-six women who have served there have made a mark on the institution through the legislation they have passed, much of which addresses their concerns as citizens who have been inadequately represented by male lawmakers.
This first complete record of the women of the Texas Legislature places such well-known figures as Kay Bailey Hutchison, Sissy Farenthold, Barbara Jordan, Irma Rangel, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Susan Combs, and Judith Zaffirini in the context of their times and among the women and men with whom they served. Drawing on years of primary research and interviews, Nancy Baker Jones and Ruthe Winegarten offer concise biographies and profiles of all eighty-six women who have served or currently hold office in the Texas Legislature.
The biographies describe the women lawmakers' lives, campaign strategies, and legislative successes and defeats. Four introductory essays provide historical and cultural context for the biographies, which are arranged chronologically to give a sense of the passage of time, of relationships among and between women, and of the issues of their eras.
Liz Carpenter AwardTexas State Historical Society
- The Political Context
- Women in Red
- Entering the "Men's Room": Women inside the Texas Legislature
- Texas Women as Politicians: A Historical Overview
- How the Texas Legislature Works
- The 1920s-1930s
- Edith Eunice Therrel Wilmans
- Mary Elizabeth (Margie) Neal
- Laura Burleson Negley
- Helen Edmunds Moore
- Frances Mitchell Rountree
- Cora Gray Strong
- Sarah Tilghman Hughes
- The 1940s-1950s
- Margaret Greer Harris Gordon (Amsler)
- Esther Neveille Higgs Colson
- Rae Mandette Files (Still)
- Florence Fenley
- Mary Elizabeth Suiter
- Marian Isabel (Maribelle) Hamblen Stewart (Mills Reich)
- Persis Jones Henderson
- Dorothy Gillis Gurley (Cauthorn)
- Virginia Elizabeth Duff
- Anita Blair
- Maud Isaacks
- The 1960s-1970s
- Myra Davis Wilkinson Banfield (Dippel)
- Sue Blair Hairgrove (Muzzy)
- Barbara Charline Jordan
- Frances Tarlton (Sissy) Farenthold
- Kathryn A. (Kay) Bailey (Hutchison)
- Sarah Ragle Weddington
- Dorothy J. Chrisman (Chris) Miller
- Eddie Bernice Johnson
- Elizabeth (Betty) Richards Andujar
- Senfronia Paige Thompson
- Susan Gurley McBee
- Wilhelmina Ruth Fitzgerald Delco
- Lou Nelle Callahan Sutton
- Mary Jane Goodpasture Bode
- Lanell Cofer
- Ernestine Viola Glossbrenner
- Anita Dorcas Carraway Hill
- Betty Denton
- Irma Rangel
- Mary J. McCracken Polk
- The 1980s-1990s
- Debra Danburg
- Jan McKenna
- Patricia Ellen Porcella Hill
- Phyllis Robinson
- Gwyn Clarkston Shea
- Nancy Hanks McDonald
- Margaret Anne Becker Cooper
- Maria Elena (Lena) Guerrero
- Cyndi Taylor Krier
- Judith Lee Pappas Zaffirini
- Anna Renshaw Mowery
- Elizabeth Ann (Libby) Andrews Linebarger
- Karyne Jones Conley
- Mary Carolyn Bedgood Park
- Sue Ann Smith Schechter
- Margaret Ann (Peggy) Mulry Rosson
- Yolanda Navarro Flores
- Susan Combs
- Sylvia Romo
- Barbara Rusling
- The 1920s-1930s
- Dianne White Delisi
- Sherri Greenberg
- Peggy Hamric
- Christine Hernández
- Leticia San Miguel Van de Putte
- Patricia Gray
- Diana Dávila
- Yvonne Davis
- Mary Diane Carver Denny
- Helen Giddings
- Vilma Luna
- Nancy J. Jones Moffat
- Jane Gray Nelson
- Elvira Reyna
- Florence Muriel Donald Shapiro
- Dawnna Dukes
- Harryette Ehrhardt
- Jessica Cristina Farrar
- Judy Hawley
- Arlene Wohlgemuth
- Beverly Woolley
- Norma Chavez
- Carolyn Galloway
- Terri Hodge
- Suzanna Gratia Hupp
- Ruth Jones McClendon
- Dora Olivo
- Sue Palmer
- A. The Honorable Women of the Texas Legislature
- B. Statistical Summaries
- C. Number of Female Members of the Texas Legislature by Legislative Session, January 1923-January 1999
- D. Female Members of the Texas Legislature by Legislative Session, January 1923-January 1999
- E. Composition of the 76th Legislature (January 1999-January 2001)
- F. Time Line
- Photo Credits
She came to the interview wearing a red chiffon jumpsuit, sequined belt, red patent leather pumps and purse, a red bow in her silver ponytail, and lots of rhinestone jewelry. If Myra Banfield Dippel were serving in today's Texas Legislature, she would be a media star, a reporter's dream—quick with a quip and a quotable quote. She kept our video crew in stitches—a very funny woman with a mind and memory like a steel trap. In her first race for the legislature, her husband had provided matchbooks with her platform printed on them. She had to raise her own money for ads: "I sold my kids' piano; I sold everything in the house I could get by with that he wouldn't miss," she said, to finance her campaign and win. "New male legislators could expect lobbyists to provide them with a case of liquor, a carton of cigarettes, and gorgeous call girls," she told us. She refused a bribe to support a certain candidate for House speaker, and when he won, she lost a chance for choice committee assignments. She refused to support legalized horse racing despite threats from one of its proponents. When asked what advice she would give young people considering a political career, she said firmly, "They need to get 'em a job somewhere, waiting tables, working in a filling station. Learn what it's like to work and make a living." Then, looking at me with raised eyebrows and a throaty chuckle, she asked, "You follow me?" I did, indeed.
Virginia Duff, a tiny woman under five feet and weighing in at ninety pounds, entered wearing a red tailored suit, sensible shoes, and carefully coifed hair. Duff had served throughout the 1950s and into the early 1960s, when she met Myra Banfield Dippel. Duff was a model of propriety, an attorney who had worked almost her whole life as a laboratory assistant for an oil company. During her seven races Duff took no donations, using her own funds and vacation time to campaign. She remembered the hazards of seeking votes door to door—water moccasins, a dog that almost tore her dress off, and one voter (male, we presume) who offered her a dip of snuff. Duff recalled that, after her election, she always wore a hat to the House floor. She and state representative Dorothy Gurley were treated "like ladies," she said, and were showered with flowers by lobbyists and male representatives.
Banfield and Duff, both now in their late seventies, were among my favorites of the women legislators we interviewed. Turn to their entries and see if you don't agree with me that these are two interesting women.
Even though I had been working in the field of Texas women's history for twenty years, beginning with the Texas Women's History Project, sponsored by the Foundation for Women's Resources under the leadership of Ann Richards (later governor) and Mary Beth Rogers, I had never heard of Banfield or Duff. Where were all the biographies, the theses, the dissertations? Inquiring minds wanted to know.
When I wrote Texas Women, A Pictorial History: From Indians to Astronauts in 1986 and included what I thought was a comprehensive list of all the female legislators, I omitted Laura Burleson Negley of Bexar County, the third woman elected, who had served from 1929 to 1931. She had not been on any lists I could find at that time. Who was she and where could I find information about her? In desperation I turned to the San Antonio phone book, intending to call any Negley listed. Luckily my first call reached Negley's son who said, yes, his daughter, Laura Negley Gill, named for her legislator-grandmother, had a collection of papers in an old trunk. Laura Gill and her husband kindly opened their home (where Laura Burleson Negley had lived) and the trunk. Accompanying me on this fact-finding adventure was Jill Jackson, director of the Archives for Research on Women and Gender, the University of Texas at San Antonio. We could barely conceal our excitement as we opened the trunk and began pulling out yellowed and crumbling seventy-five-year-old clippings and flyers of Laura Negley's work as a suffragist in Washington, D.C., where her father had been a U.S. representative and later postmaster general under Woodrow Wilson. We knew we had hit pay dirt. There were not only clippings about Negley's suffrage activities and legislative career but also other valuable materials about her great-grandfather, Edward Burleson, a fighter in the Texas Revolution and a vice president of the Republic of Texas. With these new materials, we were able to produce an informed biographical piece about Laura Negley.
Moving closer to the present, even though most Texas historians are familiar with the careers of Barbara Jordan, Sissy Farenthold, Sarah Weddington, and Kay Bailey Hutchison, we didn't know many of the "behind the scenes" stories of these nationally prominent women. We were determined to interview each of them.
Barbara Jordan agreed to give us just thirty minutes. Because it usually takes that long or longer for a video crew to set up equipment for a "shoot," we were challenged for time. To speed the process, one of us posed as Jordan so that we would not use precious interview time adjusting cameras, lights, and props. When Jordan was wheeled in, we all felt somewhat intimidated. We had boiled down our questions to the absolute minimum as we knew time was limited. But when Jordan opened her mouth and that sonorous voice emerged, we were mesmerized. Her face lit up as she talked about how exciting it was when hundreds of residents of Houston's Fifth Ward "closed the town down to come to Austin to see me take the oath of office." There was one poignant moment when one of her earrings fell to the floor and her assistant picked it up and put it back on. Jordan bristled when asked about her identity as a female politician. She retorted, "I'm not a black politician. I'm not a female politician. I'm a politician. And a good one." The interview stretched to almost an hour, and we left with memorable footage. As it turned out, this would be one of her last interviews. It was September 1995, and Jordan died four months later. I admire Jordan most for her work in extending the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to cover Mexican Americans in the Southwest, despite opposition by the Texas congressional delegation, the Texas governor, and the secretary of state.
Sissy Farenthold spent almost all day with us answering questions. We met on the University of Texas campus in the Tarlton Law Library, named for her grandfather, Benjamin Dudley Tarlton. Farenthold came from a family of leaders; an aunt, Lida Dougherty, was the first female school superintendent in Texas (Beeville). Farenthold and Jordan had each been the only woman in their respective chambers from 1969 to 1973. Whereas Jordan consciously decided to be an insider and make friends with her fellow senators to facilitate the passage of legislation she thought was important, Farenthold embarked on a course of reform. She said she came to the legislature knowing that blacks and Mexican Americans weren't represented, but that within two weeks she had concluded "that Texans weren't even represented." Her colleagues tried to trivialize her. On February 14, 1969, they declared her their "valentine." That infuriated her. She didn't want to be a "pet." Although she initially opposed a state Equal Legal Rights Amendment (ELRA), she changed her mind and co-sponsored ELRA legislation with Jordan. Farenthold led a successful revolt of other reform-minded legislators known as the Dirty Thirty to uncover the roles played by legislative and statewide leaders who accepted bribes in order to pass favorable legislation for a Houston banker. Those efforts eventually ended the political careers of the speaker of the House, governor, and lieutenant governor.
U.S. senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who was a member of the largest class of female legislators (six) ever elected when she won in 1972, had such a busy schedule that it took weeks for us to pin her down. But the wait was worth it. We were fascinated with her account of how she, Weddington, and the other new women legislators drove through significant legislation because they were united. Other women serving in the House were two African American women, the first there—Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas and Senfronia Thompson of Houston—and Chris Miller of Fort Worth. "The Democratic women could work the Democratic side of the aisle, and I could work the Republican side of the aisle," she said with pride, "and because of that, we overwhelmingly passed a landmark piece of legislation for the victims of rape." Although Hutchison has contributed to the improvement of the legal status of women, she shies away from the feminist label. "My gender does not determine my ideology." But, she said, "as a woman in the Texas Legislature, I thought of and pursued issues that men often would not think of pursuing."
Sarah Weddington is best known for having successfully argued Roe vs. Wade (which legalized abortion) before the U.S. Supreme Court. She got news of the decision the same month she was sworn into the legislature in 1973. The women's movement was "in the air," and certain issues affected Weddington directly. She was outraged when, after graduating from law school and supporting her husband, who was still a law student, she was denied credit. She explained that she was a licensed attorney, she was putting her husband through law school, the couple were living on her salary, "and I didn't think I ought to have to have his signature." She refused to accept credit on that basis and "passed the Equal Credit Bill and went back and got my credit card." Weddington was named one of the top ten freshmen during her first term and one of the ten best legislators in the state her second. She recalled, "They were wonderful years, and part of what made it so wonderful was that the injustices involving women were so clear and that some of the women were Republicans and some of the women were Democrats, but anytime all of the women in the Texas Legislature could agree on a piece of legislation, it passed."
I was delighted with these examples of women working together across party lines. Did their gender interests override other philosophical differences, and how did they negotiate these spaces? Why does it seem so surprising today, and even heart-warming, that Sarah Weddington and Kay Bailey Hutchison, one a Democrat, the other a Republican, could work together so effectively? It all seems so long ago. Yet why has it been so difficult for female legislators to organize a formal women's caucus, as Hispanic and African American legislators have? Would such a caucus be valuable? Will it ever be organized?
I was particularly interested in fund-raising, an area where women have had not only less experience but also fewer "old boy" business and professional networks to solicit for funds; what's more, they have felt that asking for money might not be "ladylike." So we interviewed an expert, former governor Ann Richards, whom I had known for almost forty years—since the 1960 Kennedy-Johnson presidential campaign. Richards had worked for Democrats for decades at the grassroots level, then had run the winning campaigns of former state representatives Sarah Weddington and Wilhelmina Delco before winning her own races for Travis County commissioner, state treasurer, and governor. Richards is one of the most popular speakers in the country today and one of the most successful fund-raisers. "There's no secret to fund-raising," Richards told us. "It's all asking. And the worst thing that could happen is that they say no, and then you go on and ask someone else.... If you can't sell yourself to a person who might give you $10 or $10,000, you're not going to be able to sell yourself to the public." Richards' two campaigns for statewide office in the 1980s and 1990 paved the way for the successful candidacies for statewide office of Republican women like Kay Bailey Hutchison and Susan Combs. In 1990 Hutchison succeeded Richards as treasurer, and in 1993 she became the first female U.S. senator from Texas. In 1998 Combs was elected Texas' first female state commissioner of agriculture.
For the first forty years of female presence in the legislature—from 1922. when the first woman was elected until 1966 when Barbara Jordan won—the twenty women were all white Democrats. As the face of the legislature, male and female, has changed, so has the ethnic and political composition of its members. Today the legislature is much more diverse. How have redistricting, urbanization, the women's and civil rights movements, and the rise of the Republican Party contributed to a changing legislature, both in terms of increased numbers of women, more blacks and Hispanics, and an emphasis on different issues?
Can women ever achieve 50 percent parity instead of the almost 20 percent they now have? Will reclaiming the history of women legislators stimulate careers in public service? We don't have all the answers, but we still have lots of questions. We encourage future researchers and writers to pay more attention to women who have served in the legislature, not only as elected officials but also as staff members, aides, administrative assistants, speech writers, fund-raisers, lobbyists, and more. We hope that comparisons will be made between the backgrounds and achievements (or failures) of women legislators with their male counterparts. There are biographies to be written and plays to be produced, plus lots of materials for graduate theses and dissertations. We look forward to those works.
HOUSE: 41st Legislature (1929-1931) Democrat, San Antonio
COMMITTEES: Criminal Jurisprudence; Education; State Affairs
DATES: November 7, 189o-January 23, 1973
FAMILY: Richard van Wyck Negley; three children
EDUCATION: University of Texas at Austin (B.A., 1911)
Laura Burleson Negley and Helen Moore were the first two women to serve in the Texas Legislature at the same time, and Negley was the first woman to be elected from San Antonio. Her parents were Adele Lubbock Steiner Burleson, a well-known author and playwright, and Albert Sidney Burleson, Texas congressman and postmaster general for President Woodrow Wilson. Her great-grandfather, Edward Burleson, fought in the Texas Revolution and was vice president of the Republic of Texas as well as a member of the republic's congress and legislature. As a young woman in Washington, D.C., Laura Burleson actively supported woman suffrage and appeared as a speaker at one of the city's largest prosuffrage rallies with others such as attorney Belva Lockwood and Idaho senator William E. Borah. Laura and Richard Negley moved to San Antonio where she cared for their three sons and was active in the Red Cross, Daughters of the American Revolution, and the Equal Franchise Society. Her family remembers her as a principled but gentle mother who succeeded in getting English taught as a subject in her children's school. She also refused to brand the polled Hereford cattle on the family ranch near Kyle, preferring instead to name each one and attach collars with numbered tags on them. She hired the ranch staff and kept its logs. Richard Negley, an engineer, founded and operated Negley Paint Company. Two of their sons died in World War II.
Believing that women should use part of their leisure time for public service, Laura Negley accepted an invitation from Bexar County judge Arthur Seeligson to run for the legislature in 1928. "I have no idea why they picked me," she said, "but now that I am in the race, I am going to fight until the last vote is counted." Her name's appearance on the ticket surprised others as well. According to newspaper accounts, district court judge Robert W B. Terrell suggested the socially prominent Negley when the idea of running a woman was raised during a Democratic Party caucus. She ran as part of a slate of candidates called the "People's Progressive Ticket." As a result of the fractious 1928 presidential campaign, in which prohibitionist ("dry") Texas Democrats bolted the party, deserting the Catholic, "wet" Al Smith for the victorious Republican Herbert Hoover, Negley decried factionalism, saying, "I am just a plain, old-fashioned Democrat.... I have no prefixes for the word." She also claimed no association with "any women's organization which either have their purposes outlined for them by others or which outline them for themselves." The same year, Negley was an alternate Smith delegate (and the only woman in her congressional district's delegation) to the Democratic National Convention in Houston and served on the Democratic Party presidential campaign committee. After the convention, Negley criticized Democratic women thinking of bolting the party because of Smith's stand against prohibition. "Governor Smith is for temperance," Negley said. "The Prohibition laws as they now stand are responsible for much of the crime of the day because crime now, for the first time, is profitable. Prohibition has given criminals money and power."
On Negley's first day in the House, Secretary of State Jane Y. McCallum presided over the election of a speaker by passing around a ten-gallon Stetson hat into which ballots were tossed. Negley seconded the nomination of Edinburg representative W R. Montgomery, but he lost to Bryan representative W. S. Barron. Within her first month, Negley startled her colleagues with an "anti-bolter" amendment that would have abolished primary elections and made party executive committees the authority for choosing candidates. It was ruled out of order, but the subsequent bill sponsored by Negley and Seguin senator A. J. Wirtz (which gave party state executive committees the power to decide voter and candidate qualifications in primaries) passed the House (in "an uproar of cheers") and the Senate. It went to Governor Dan Moody's desk amid charges that it was a "dripping wet" measure that would bar 300,000 "Hoovercrats" from voting in the primary, drive "preachers and the drys" out, and wreck the Democratic Party. Moody vetoed it.
The first debate on the floor in which Negley participated concerned the creation of junior college districts around the state, which she opposed as an unnecessary burden on taxpayers and because she thought children should go to college away from home. Another debate in which she participated concerned a bill prohibiting the teaching of evolution in schools and prohibiting teachers from declaring the story of Genesis to be false. "You will make illegal the teaching that the world is round," Negley said. In addition, she proposed a bill that exempted women working in state orphanages and eleemosynary institutions from a law limiting the number of hours in a work day and work week because she believed the women were "merely on call in 'motherly duty.'" This measure was denounced by the state labor commissioner as unfair to these women. Another effort, House Bill 59, was a successful attempt to equalize, if only partially, the property rights of husbands and wives. Co-sponsored by New Boston representative R. M. Hubbard and Georgetown representative H. N. Graves, and supported by the Joint Legislative Council and the League of Women Voters, the bill made the income from the husband's as well as the wife's separate property a part of the couple's community property. "Marriage is a contract to share lives," Negley said. "Why shouldn't that mean to share incomes?" Although the act still required a husband's signature before the wife could convey or encumber her property, stocks, or bonds, it was a step forward from the husband's having complete control over his wife's property. This bill, eventually signed into law by Governor Moody, was one of many passed before married women finally achieved fully equal property rights in 1967. As a member of the Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, Negley helped kill a bill in that committee that would have permitted a wife testifying on behalf of her husband to be cross-examined by the state prosecutor. Negley said the bill ran counter to the natural law of a woman's loyalty to her husband. Both Negley and Texas City representative Helen Moore, the only other woman in the House, had the opportunity to sit briefly as speaker of the House. Negley presided over a discussion about prison reform. Neither Negley nor Moore supported bills advanced by the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, a signal that the influence of the Joint Legislative Council, the women's lobby to which the WCTU belonged, was waning.
Although she had been active as a suffragist in her youth, Laura Negley was not inclined to identify with her gender. By 1928, she objected to the term "women voters" because she believed women had been in politics long enough that their vote did not need to be distinguished from men's. "We should all be classed as citizen voters," she said. After House Bill 59 passed, the Houston Chronicle assured its readers, "Woman legislator takes job seriously but she is not out to remake world" and added, "Don't get the idea that this handsome daughter of former Postmaster General A. S. Burleson is a feminist. She denies it." Negley also rejected any identity as a club woman and claimed not to seek reform through "trick legislation." At the end of her seventh week in the House, she said of her colleagues that they had "extended me every courtesy of Southern gentlemen." The standard of chivalry inferred by Negley's assessment was also understood as a criterion among her male colleagues. When Dallas representative George Purl was charged with "unchivalrous" procedural action toward Negley, he defended himself by saying, "I considered the greatest act of chivalry was to treat Mrs. Negley like any other member.... I think [the women members] realize we are not here to pass laws by courtesy."
Although Negley was regarded as a "chip off the old block" of her father, and she was discussed as a potential candidate for lieutenant governor, her term in the House apparently caused strains in her marriage. She nevertheless encouraged her children to inform themselves on political issues and to support the best available candidates. In 1958 Negley and her sisters endowed the Albert Sidney Burleson professorship at the school of law at the University of Texas in honor of their father.