First Female Governor of Texas
Today there are numerous female state governors, women who have won their office on their own efforts & with little influence. But it was very different when Miriam Amanda Ferguson became the first woman governor of Texas in 1925. This was because at that time the first few women governors usually acquired their office as a follow up to a husband who had once held the office. Indeed, James Ferguson had been governor from 1915 to 1917, but when he was banned from seeking reelection because of some gubernatorial shenanigans that was when Mrs. Ferguson campaigned and won the office.
She was to serve two terms in 1925 & 1932. In both, her husband was a consistent manifestation. In fact they toured as a couple while he did the speaking & she stood aside. So it was widely assumed that if Miriam was elected then Texans got them as a sort of package deal. Or as some put it “two governors for the price of one”. However, though she accomplished what she did not entirely on her own, Mrs. Ferguson was
in many ways certainly a pioneer for her gender and for those who would follow her. Perhaps it could be said that one way she was an influence was because she stepped forward to be governor when few women entered politics.
Miriam Amanda Wallace was born in Bell County, in central Texas in June, 1875 as a member of a prosperous family. She attended local schools, occasionally had tutors then, enrolled in what was then Baylor College for Women, She and James E. Ferguson were married in December 1899 and they would have two daughters, Ouida and Dorias.
The family moved to the town of Temple in 1907 where Jim grew prosperous as he founded a bank, practiced law & invested in land. When he was elected governor in 1915, as the state’s first lady Mrs. Ferguson successfully entertained the important people in Austin, the state capital, despite the rivalries existing in the community. She engaged a social secretary, though that brought its critics. Also, since she was a dedicated Prohibitionist, she did not serve alcohol.
As her husband left office in 1917 the Ferguson’s returned to their home in Temple where he established a newspaper, the Ferguson Forum as a way to keep his name before the public. Then in 1924 when he could run for governor, she did instead, saying that she was doing so to vindicate the Ferguson name. As they campaigned though Jim did the speaking, Miriam did pose for newspaper pictures, often in a domestic setting. She proved to be good copy due to her gender! Though she disliked the headgear Miriam often was depicted wearing a bonnet.
Also, probably because of her initials, campaign posters began to call her “Ma” as her husband became “Pa”. Supporters would often chant: “Me for Ma” to which opponents responded “No Ma for Me” “Too Much Pa”.
When she took office in 1925 Governor Miriam Ferguson’s legislative agenda was largely ignored while her husband was still very much a part of her administration. From his position on the state textbook commission Jim was known to have influenced contracts with major book suppliers. Also, though he had no official connection with the state Highway Commission, he still had influence over the contracts they awarded & later it was discovered that often school systems paid too much for their orders.
There were also critics of Mrs. Ferguson’s policy on pardons. While campaigning she promised to be generous in this area but once in office some considered her more liberal than proper. During this term she granted some 3000 pardons and there was a widespread belief that some had actually been purchased.
Miriam did not win re-election in 1927 and the Ferguson’s remained in Austin as Jim stayed active in politics
Her second term in 1933 was less controversial but since the Great Depression was under way that affected state government. Again, the legislature failed to act on her programs, but while she continued to liberally issue pardons this time the practice was not controversial since every convict pardoned or released meant less expense by the state.
Also, the cutting of state expenses affected the renowned Texas Rangers and their numbers were reduced, possibly inspired because the Rangers perceived preference for Mrs. Ferguson’s opposition. A result was how some believed that Texas became a place where outsider criminals—like Pretty Boy Floyd and George “Machine Gun Kelly” as well as native Texas criminals as Bonnie and Clyde—ran loose. Mrs. Ferguson did not seek reelection until 1940 and her campaign then not successful. Jim Ferguson died in 1944, and Mrs. Ferguson continued to live in Austin until her death in 1961.
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The Chief Executives of Texas from Stephen F. Austin to John B. Connally Jr. Kenneth E.
Hendrickson Jr. Texas A&M Press, College Station 1995
Anne Adams is a retired church staffer. She lives in East Texas and has an historical column for a local newspaper. She has published in Christian and secular publications for more than 40 years.