Women's History Month
by Ted Poe on March 25, 2016 at 9:30 AM
It is an honor to be here to recognize the people who have influenced our lives. Of course, we are talking about the women who have influenced our lives to help us be what we turned out to be. I want to talk specifically about some Texas women whom I consider to be a rare breed. They are tenacious, strong-willed, nurturing, and also kind.
One of those is my mother. I am blessed that my mom and dad are both alive. They are 90 years of age. My mom was a Red Cross volunteer during World War II. She met my dad. He was in World War II, in Germany, coming back to the United States. He was being re-equipped for the invasion of Japan. They met at a Wednesday night prayer meeting. We call that ‘‘church’’ in Texas. They got married, and they have been married now for 70 years. She not only started out as a volunteer, but she has done all remarkable things, including being a schoolteacher, raising my sister and me, and doing other wonderful things.
In the State of Texas, we are proud, as other States are. We have many modern-day influential women, including former First Ladies Laura Bush and Barbara Bush and our late Governor, Ann Richards. These women were influential, powerful, and successful in their own right, but they were not the first of their kind.
There was another generation of pioneers who came before them, women like my grandmother, Lady Bird Johnson, and Ma Ferguson, who paved the way for future generations of Texas women. My grandmother, really, was more influential in my life than were my own parents. She lived to the age of 99. She raised me to be in public service, and I always have been in public service because of her: I taught school; I was in the Air Force Reserves; I was a prosecutor; then I was a judge and a Member of Congress—all because of my grandmother. She taught me many lessons, and she made it very simple. Not only did she inspire me to be in public service—I took that good advice—but she said, until the day she died, that she had failed, for my grandmother was, as we say in the South, a Yellow Dog Democrat. She could not believe that I had crossed over to the other side and become a Republican, and I am not sure that she ever forgave me for being a Republican. She was a strong-minded, no nonsense individual. She used to always say, ‘‘There is nothing more powerful than a woman who has made up her mind,’’ and that is true. For a woman who has made up her mind, get out of the way. We find that true even today. That has proven to be one of the most valuable lessons she ever taught me.
President Lyndon Johnson was a hard-nosed politician, but his contributions to Texas as President were really surpassed, in my opinion, by his dogged First Lady or, as we called her, Lady Bird Johnson. She was one of the finest Southern and politically astute women we have ever had in the State of Texas. While she is best remembered for her love of the environment and the preservation of our natural resources, she was no wallflower in the business and political world either. She was her husband’s strongest supporter and was with him, giving advice, step for step, throughout his entire career while, at the same time, carving out a path for herself in the business world. She turned a debt-ridden Austin radio station into a multimillion-dollar broadcast empire. Her resume reads like that of a superwoman. Among her many achievements, she played a pivotal part in shaping legislation by lobbying and speaking before Congress in support of the highway beautification bill, better known as Lady Bird’s Bill. She oversaw every detail in the creation of the Presidential library, which became a model for other Presidential libraries today. Of course, she served faithfully, and often in awe of her colleagues, as a regent of her alma mater, the University of Texas.
Every spring—this time of the year— people head up from Houston to Austin on Highway 290. They see the wildflowers, and there are bazillions of them everywhere at this time of the year. Every bluebonnet we see throughout Texas Hill Country and every treewe plant here at home, along a place called Will Clayton Parkway, is a tribute to Lady Bird Johnson and her determination that we are going to keep Texas beautiful.
Before there was a Lady Bird, Texas was home to another fiery, inspirational woman. You may have never heard about her. Her name was Ma Ferguson. The year was 1899—over 100 years ago—when Miriam Amanda Wallace married James Ferguson, who later became the Governor of Texas. Ma Ferguson served as the first lady of Texas from 1915 until 1917, which was about 21⁄2 years, until Pa Ferguson got himself in a little trouble. He was impeached by the State of Texas and the legislature during his second term and was barred from ever running for office anywhere again. Then Ma changed history. She did the unthinkable and ran for Governor of Texas—as a woman. Texas had only been run by men before, but Ma didn’t care—she was going to run. She ran on a platform of two Governors for the election of one. Of course, Ma was not in prison like Pa was, but, apparently, they did work together. She ran against Klan-supported Felix Robertson in the Democratic primary and claimed victory with the Democratic nomination. Back in those days, there were no Republicans in Texas. Everybody was a Democrat. The handful of Republicans never admitted it. Winning the Democrat primary was tantamount to winning the general election in November. Ma later became the first female Governor of Texas and only the second female Governor of the whole United States. She defeated a little known candidate in 1924 called George Butte, a Republican. The two Fergusons became known as ‘‘Ma and Pa,’’ and—no surprise—Ma ran the show. However, Ma’s Governorship was tainted by the criticism of her loose policy of pardoning people in the penitentiary. She was not above her critics—she pardoned thousands of inmates during her Governorship. To many, the motive behind the pardons was a little questionable, and allegations of bribery, ultimately, led to her next Governor’s race and its defeat. After she lost the next election, Ma continued her political fight, and she regained her Governor’s seat in 1932— again, for a second term.
One of her best achievements was the signing of Texas House Bill 194. It established the University of Houston as a 4-year institution. Now, I went to the University of Houston Law School. I am glad it got established. Ma would be proud to see the University of Houston today. The Ferguson name lived long after the retirement of both Ma and Pa.
My grandmother, Lady Bird Johnson, Ma Ferguson, Ann Richards, and the Bush women came from a generation of women that were strong and influential. They possessed the grace of an angel, yet led with both forceful and effective political genius. Few women of their later generation worked outside of the home, but few men succeeded without the backing of those ladies. These women did it all. They effortlessly backed their husbands while changing the world all at the same time. March, this month, is Women’s History Month. So it is time we honor those women who lived years and years ago, honor those women who lived back during the Greatest Generation’s time and, of course, the women who live today. All those women now are in every profession, as stated earlier, including the legal profession, acting as judges and prosecutors and, not only that, Members of Congress, Members of Cabinets, and ladies that give a lot of their time and money to the community. So we are thankful for them. I appreciate the time I was given so we could talk about some of these ironwilled, strong-willed women that have made up their minds.