Inside TWU is taking a look at the people who shaped Texas Woman’s University in a new series titled “Pioneers in TWU History.” There are many who made a mark on the university since its founding more than 120 years ago, and we’ll learn more about them in this occasional series.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Higher education for women was a revolutionary idea in the late 19th century when the State Grange and Patrons of Husbandry led the campaign to establish a state industrial college for women.
Archibald Johnson “A.J.” Rose, worthy master of the organization and a strong advocate for education in Texas, had joined the Texas A&M board of directors in 1887 (and served as board president from 1891 to 1896). He pointed to the success of that institution in making the case for a college for women during the Grange’s 1889 annual meeting:
“Do (girls) not need an industrial college, too, where they can receive a practical education which will prepare them for some vocation in life … Certainly the State will not do less for her girls than her boys when appealed to.”
The first bill to establish a women’s college was introduced in 1891. It passed the Senate, but failed in the House. Legislators continued to debate the bill – and vote it down – for 10 years. The Texas Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, led by Helen Stoddard, joined the campaign in 1893. (Look for more on Helen Stoddard in a future series article.) The Democratic Party added the issue to its platform in 1900.
When a measure finally passed in 1901, it was by the narrowest of margins – a tie vote in both the House and the Senate. The presiding officers of each branch cast the deciding votes in favor of establishing a women’s college, and the measure was signed into law by Gov. Joseph D. Sayers on April 6, 1901.
As required by statute, Sayers appointed a commission comprised of one member from each of the state’s 13 congressional districts to choose a location for the newly authorized college. The commission traveled to San Antonio, Austin, Taylor, College Station, Waco, Walnut Springs, Dublin, Hillsboro, Denton, Amarillo, Greenville, Terrell, Jefferson, and Huntsville, ultimately choosing Denton as the site for the new college.
Sayers subsequently appointed three members of the commission to the college’s board of regents: A.P. Wooldridge, attorney, bank president, and mayor of Austin; Helen Stoddard, a teacher and prohibition advocate from Fort Worth; and Rosser Thomas, a legislator from Bonham. Wooldridge was elected president of the board; Stoddard was elected secretary.
Information for the article is gathered from online searches and Marking A Trail: A History of the Texas Woman’s University.