Today is an exciting time for Texas Women’s History

Ellen Temple
By Ellen Temple
Posted September 15, 2018 to News.

Today is an exciting time for Texas Women’s History—for studying, learning, writing, publishing, enjoying! With productive scholars in the field, with the Handbook of Texas Women in the making, with the rising willingness to hear and listen to women’s voices, this is an exciting moment in the long journey to knowledge about women’s past lives and their contributions to building our society.

I have been fortunate to be on this journey for almost 50 years. And during my years of writing, publishing, and supporting Texas Women’s History, I have learned a thing or two!

The joy of discovery is the exciting time that we had when we developed the Texas Women’s History Project in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  The stories that we learned about women’s community building, about their service in all aspects of our society, about their work, their families, their persistence against the odds, all thrilled us.  And we knew, and the folks who viewed the exhibits and read the works knew, that there was no going back to the days of silence.

The hard work of sustaining the project, of publishing the works, designing curriculum, writing entries about women for the Handbook of Texas revision, and supporting emerging scholars’ publications and teaching had just begun. For me personally, I think it was my new knowledge of the history of the woman suffrage movement in Texas and of the United States that I learned from Eleanor Flexner’s book, A Century of Struggle, that kept me on track.

In her foreword for Citizens at Last: the Woman Suffrage Movement in Texas, edited by Ruthe Winegarten and Judith McArthur (which I first published in 1987 and which remains in print through Texas A&M University Press), historian Anne Firor Scott makes the following observations:

Why, then, has the long, exciting battle for woman suffrage—which in the end doubled the electorate and changed forever the process of politics, propelled women into public life, and shaped the social history of the twentieth century—been virtually unknown? If one walked down the streets of Austin or San Antonio asking citizens, ‘Tell me what you know about the Nineteenth Amendment,’ the results would be startling.  In many cases the answer would be only a blank stare.  And if one asked, ‘Who were Minnie Fisher Cunningham and Jane Y. McCallum?’ ninety percent, at a conservative estimate, would have no idea. Yet the history of the suffrage movement exhibits all the characteristics Texans are said to value: boldness, pioneer spirit, great leaders, hard work—and victory at last.

I still thrill to the recollection of suffragist Jane Y. McCallum when she and others emerged from the Travis County Courthouse after voting for the first time in the Democratic Primary in 1918.  She remembered, “With what high hopes and enthusiasms women stepped forth into a world in which they were citizens at last.” And I can just imagine the thrill that Jane and these new citizens felt with passage of the full suffrage amendment in 1920 when Texas was the first southern state to ratify.  And I can imagine the thrill for Latinas and women of color when the Voting Rights act of 1965 passed and finally gave them full access to the right to vote. 

Knowledge of our hard won success inspires us. It inspired me.  If the 21st century is the “Women’s Century”, as we all hope, then its success will rest on the fact that we have finally found the stories of our past and that those stories help give voice to our future.  We now know our power.  There’s no turning back.