Image from the W.D. Hornaday Collection, Prints and Photographs Collection, Texas State Library & Archives Commission.
Hortense Sparks Ward
Born: 1872 in Matagorda County, TX
Died: 1944 in Houston, TX
Noted For: Hortense Ward is noted as one of the first women admitted to the Texas Bar, the president of the Houston Equal Suffrage Association, and the first woman in Harris County to register to vote. She was also instrumental in the passage of the 1918 Texas primary suffrage bill and a state law expanding property rights for married women.
“The time for flowers, platitudes, and flattery is past; we are fighting for democracy.” —Hortense Sparks Ward.
In 1918, Hortense Ward served as president of the Houston Equal Suffrage Association, but that post was far from the first time that the Houston mother of three broke new ground for women’s leadership or advocated for women’s rights. Here’s a look at some of the career highlights of this important leader (and lawyer) in the fight for votes for Texas women:
Hortense was one of the first women admitted to the Texas State Bar.
Following careers as a school teacher and court reporter, Hortense Ward successfully passed the state bar exam and set up practice with her husband, who later became a judge. They were both admitted to practice in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1915, making Hortense the first woman from Texas (and possibly from the South) to earn that distinction.
She was noted for both her legal advocacy and her writing.
An eloquent writer, Hortense’s compelling articles urging public support of votes for women appeared in pamphlets and newspapers across Texas. She quickly emerged as one of the prominent voices in the movement, taking her place among leaders like Jane McCallum, Eleanor Brackenridge and Minnie Fisher Cunningham.
Hortense was equally noted for her prowess in legislative advocacy. In 1913, she helped pass a state law giving married women control over the income from their own real estate, bank accounts, and other properties. She also advocated for a 54-hour work week and access to worker’s compensation for Texas women.
She played a starring role in the passage of the historic primary suffrage bill.
In 1918, the Texas Equal Suffrage Association sent Hortense to Austin to help advance proposed legislation that would allow Texas women to vote in the upcoming Texas primary election. Following the law’s passage, Hortense became the first woman in Harris County history to register to vote.
On the left: The Houston Post, June 28, 1918. Image from the University of Houston Digital Library.
Hortense also authored a pamphlet, “Instructions for Women Voters” that was distributed in the suffrage movement’s historic 17-day voter registration drive, in which they registered an estimated 386,000 women across the state in time to vote in the Texas primary.
She didn’t sit back after the 19th Amendment.
In 1925, Hortense was named as chief justice of the All-Woman Supreme Court of Texas, a special court convened to hear a complex and high-profile real estate case involving a men’s fraternal organization. She continued to practice law for the next two decades, writing frequently for the Woman Lawyer’s Journal, and remained active in state and national politics (including campaigns against Klan-backed political candidates) until she passed away in 1944 at the age of 72.
“Women in Texas History: Hortense Ward” from the “Texas Women’s History Moments” project of the Ruthe Winegarten Memorial Foundation for Texas Women’s History. Contains audio clip.