El Paso, circa 1910. Image from the Southern Methodist University DeGolyer Library, Real Photographic Postcards of Texas Collection.
Since its formation in 1914, the El Paso branch of the NAACP has played an important role in the voting and civil rights movements in Texas, beginning with its establishment as the state’s first NAACP chapter.
Another key moment took place a few years later during a critical time period in the Texas fight for women’s suffrage.
The year was 1918, and Texas women had just made history by winning the right to vote for the first time ever in the upcoming Texas primary election. In the flush of excitement that followed this victory, *Maude Edith Sampson, president of the El Paso Colored Woman’s Club and a member of the El Paso NAACP, wrote to the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and requested membership information for her club’s recently-formed civic enfranchisement offshoot.
NAWSA referred Maude’s inquiry back down to the state organization, the Texas Equal Suffrage Association (TESA)—along with a letter strongly discouraging the state association from approving the application, citing “political” concerns.
TESA dodged the issue by informing Maude that her application, as the first that the all-white TESA had received from an African-American woman’s club, required consideration from TESA state convention delegates who were not due to meet until the following spring.
It’s not clear what happened next, but in the end, the El Paso Colored Woman’s Club was not granted membership. In fact, no African-American women’s groups were ever admitted into TESA membership, thus effectively barring African-American women from full participation in the Texas suffrage campaign.
Discrimination against El Paso’s African-American suffragists did not end with this incident. During the same period, the county chairman of the El Paso Democratic party asked Belle Critchett, president of the El Paso TESA chapter , to recommend a few women to serve as clerks for the upcoming historic primary election.
Since Belle had some history of cooperation with the El Paso Colored Woman’s Club, she sought Maude’s assistance in the matter. But when she forwarded a handful of names that Maude suggested, the county chairman flatly refused to consider them, thus putting Belle in the unpleasant position of having to relay the outcome to Maude.
These injustices must have been bitterly disappointing to Maude and her sister clubwomen and NAACP members who had championed the cause of votes for women. But the El Paso chapter would live to fight another day. In later years, chartering member Dr. Lawrence A. Nixon would took part in two important Supreme Court cases that tested the constitutionality of Texas’s whites-only primary election law, thus paving the way for the law’s ultimate demise in the 1940s, a major leap forward for minority voting rights in Texas.
“Black Women in Texas History” by Merline Petre and Bruce Glasrud
*Sources variously indicate Mrs. Sampson’s first name as both “Maude” and “Maud”