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

etd chair
publication date
2006