Written by Nancy Baker Jones
Read by Angela Shelf Medearis
In 1910, Hortense Ward became the first woman in Texas admitted to the state bar. A former teacher and court reporter, she practiced civil law with her husband but did not appear in court, concerned that her appearance would offend male juries. Active in women’s rights, Ward supported suffrage, a married women’s property law, and the reduction of the work week to 54 hours. She was born near Victoria in 1872, but lived most of her life in Houston.
In 1917, Ward and other suffragists lobbied the Texas Congressional delegation to support the 19th Amendment for woman suffrage. The next year they lobbied Gov. William P. Hobby to support Texas women voting in state primaries. Both efforts succeeded, and Ward’s newspaper articles were instrumental in getting over 380,000 Texas women to register in the summer of 1918.
In 1925, Gov. Pat Neff appointed Hortense Ward the chief justice of an All-Woman Supreme Court. Along with attorneys Ruth Brazzil of Galveston and Hattie Henenberg of Dallas, Ward heard one case involving a fraternal organization with so many members that Gov. Neff could find no male judges without conflicts of interest. Ironically, while Ward and her colleagues could serve as judges, women could not serve on Texas juries until 1954.
Hortense Ward remained politically active and practiced law until 1939. She died in Houston in 1944.
Janelle D. Scott, "WARD, HORTENSE SPARKS," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fwa83).
Debbie Mauldin Cottrell, "ALL-WOMAN SUPREME COURT," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/jpa01).
Audio Source Information
Our project, "Texas Women's History Moments," received the 2012 National Council on Public History Outstanding Public History Award and the American Association for State and Local History Leadership in History Award. The audio clips were broadcast on KUT radio from 2011-2016 during Women’s History Month.