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Dallas Women Suffrage Movement
In the years before the passage of the 19th Amendment on Aug. 18, 1920, the National Women’s Suffrage movement organized peaceful marches in the streets of cities including New York and Washington.
Those marches, in many ways, set the stage for the Women’s March of 2017, with supporters wearing sashes and carrying banners emblazoned with “Votes for Women.”
In Dallas, though, the suffrage strategy was different. Members of the Dallas Equal Suffrage Association, or DESA, pursued quieter tactics. They intentionally chose a more socially acceptable path, holding indoor meetings and participating in organized community events where their presence was accepted.
In 1915, for example, DESA organized Suffrage Day at the State Fair on Oct. 23. But it was also German-American Day, Boys and Girls Club Day, Texas Presbyterian College Day, and Traveling Men’s Day. DESA held its rally inside the civic auditorium and later walked the fairgrounds handing out Votes for Women pins. DESA also entered a Votes for Women car in the 1916 Style Show in Dallas, a huge fashion event that sponsored an automobile parade and fashion shows along Main, Elm, and Commerce streets downtown. Although they were prohibited from displaying banners or placards, they decorated their parade entry in yellow flowers that spelled “Votes for Women” – and they did not win the prize for best decorated car.
DESA was an organization run by white, educated, upper-class women, and they successfully collaborated with similar local civic groups to push the passage of partial suffrage rights for women through the Texas Legislature in 1918, two years before the 19th Amendment was ratified. They did not, however, campaign for black or Latina women’s right to vote, and black women were turned away from the voter registration tables in Dallas. It would be decades before their right to vote was ensured, when civil rights demonstrations across the country again used the power of protest to demand political change.
The history of women’s suffrage in Dallas was written almost entirely by Elizabeth York Enstam, and you can read more in her article in Legacies here:
Kathryn Holliday, PhD is director of the David Dillon Center for Texas Architecture at the University of Texas at Arlington.