Motl, Kevin Conrad (2006-08). A time for reform: the woman suffrage campaign in rural Texas, 1914-1919. Doctoral Dissertation. Thesis uri icon

abstract

  • This dissertation offers a new narrative for the local woman suffrage movement in nine rural counties in Texas. I argue that, unlike cities, where women used dense organizational networks to create a coherent suffrage movement, conservatism inherent in rural Texas denied suffrage advocates the means to achieve similar objectives. Rural women nevertheless used the suffrage campaign to articulate feminist sensibilities, thereby reflecting a process of modernization ongoing among American women. Rural suffrage advocates faced unique obstacles, including the political influence of James E. Ferguson, who served as Governor for almost two administrations. Through Ferguson's singular personality, a propaganda campaign that specifically targeted rural voters, and Ferguson's own tabloid Ferguson Forum, rural voters found themselves constantly bombarded by messages about how they should view questions of reform in their state. The organizational culture that sustained suffrage organizations in urban Texas failed to do so in rural Texas. Concerned for their status, rural women scorned activism and those who pursued it. Absent an organized campaign, the success of suffrage initiatives in rural Texas depended on locally unique circumstances. Key factors included demographic trends, economics, local politics, and the influence of frontier cultural dynamics. The tactics and rhetoric employed by rural suffragists in Texas generally reflected those used by suffragists nationwide. While rural suffragists mustered arguments grounded in natural and constitutional rights, rural voters responded more to the claim that votes projected woman's feminine virtue into public life, which accommodated prevailing attitudes about woman's place. The First World War supplied rural suffragists with patriotic rhetoric that resonated powerfully with Texans. Rural Texas women successfully reframed public dialogue about women's roles, articulating feminist ideas through their work. Unlike rural clubwomen, suffragists pursued the ballot as a means to improve the status of all women. Feminist ideas increasingly obtained with women in visible leadership, and eventually reached all rural women, as countless hundreds registered to vote, and still more educated themselves on political issues. In doing so, rural women in Texas joined women across America in challenging the limits of domesticity and envisioning a fuller role for women in public life.
  • This dissertation offers a new narrative for the local woman suffrage movement
    in nine rural counties in Texas. I argue that, unlike cities, where women used dense
    organizational networks to create a coherent suffrage movement, conservatism inherent
    in rural Texas denied suffrage advocates the means to achieve similar objectives. Rural
    women nevertheless used the suffrage campaign to articulate feminist sensibilities,
    thereby reflecting a process of modernization ongoing among American women.
    Rural suffrage advocates faced unique obstacles, including the political influence
    of James E. Ferguson, who served as Governor for almost two administrations. Through
    Ferguson's singular personality, a propaganda campaign that specifically targeted rural
    voters, and Ferguson's own tabloid Ferguson Forum, rural voters found themselves
    constantly bombarded by messages about how they should view questions of reform in
    their state. The organizational culture that sustained suffrage organizations in urban
    Texas failed to do so in rural Texas. Concerned for their status, rural women scorned
    activism and those who pursued it. Absent an organized campaign, the success of
    suffrage initiatives in rural Texas depended on locally unique circumstances. Key factors included demographic trends, economics, local politics, and the influence of
    frontier cultural dynamics.
    The tactics and rhetoric employed by rural suffragists in Texas generally
    reflected those used by suffragists nationwide. While rural suffragists mustered
    arguments grounded in natural and constitutional rights, rural voters responded more to
    the claim that votes projected woman's feminine virtue into public life, which
    accommodated prevailing attitudes about woman's place. The First World War supplied
    rural suffragists with patriotic rhetoric that resonated powerfully with Texans.
    Rural Texas women successfully reframed public dialogue about women's roles,
    articulating feminist ideas through their work. Unlike rural clubwomen, suffragists
    pursued the ballot as a means to improve the status of all women. Feminist ideas
    increasingly obtained with women in visible leadership, and eventually reached all rural
    women, as countless hundreds registered to vote, and still more educated themselves on
    political issues. In doing so, rural women in Texas joined women across America in
    challenging the limits of domesticity and envisioning a fuller role for women in public
    life.

publication date

  • August 2006