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Miriam FergusonMiriam Ferguson

the second woman ever to be elected Governor

Miriam Amanda Wallace was born to Joseph L. and Eliza (Garrison) Wallace in Bell County, Texas, on June 13, 1875. She studied at Salado College and Baylor Female College, and married James Edward Ferguson, a lawyer, in 1899.

Ferguson spent the first years of her marriage raising two daughters and supporting her husband's legal, banking, and real estate careers. She became First Lady of Texas when her husband was elected Governor in 1914. As Governor, James Ferguson began a policy of state aid to rural schools and tried to make attendance at school compulsory. The increased spending on education resulted in the tax rate in Texas being increased from 12 to 30 cents.

Elected to a second term in 1916, Ferguson continued with his policy of increased education spending and the tax rate reached the constitutional maximum of 35 cents. On July 21, 1917, he appeared before the Travis County grand jury, which indicted him on 7 counts of misappropriation of public funds, 1 count of embezzlement, and 1 count of unlawful diversion of a special fund. He was subsequently convicted of all counts by a Court of Impeachment, removed from office, and barred from holding any office in the state of Texas.

The Fergusons spent the first Years after James' removal from office more or less out of the public eye, but in 1924 Miriam announced that she was running for Governor. Her campaign sought vindication for the Ferguson name, promised extensive cuts in state appropriations, condemned the Ku Klux Klan, and opposed passing new liquor legislation. After trailing the Klan-supported prohibitionist candidate, Felix D. Robertson, in the July primary, she easily defeated him in the August run-off to become the Democratic gubernatorial candidate. In November 1924 she handily defeated the Republican nominee, George C. Butte, a former dean of the University of Texas law school. Inaugurated fifteen days after Wyoming's Nellie Ross, Miriam Ferguson became the second woman Governor in United States history.

Despite a campaign pledge to cut the budget by $15 million, state expenditures were slightly increased during Miriam Ferguson's term. The most signifcant accomplishment of her term was enactment of legislation prohibiting the Ku Klux Klan from wearing masks in public (which was later overturned by the courts). Her administration is best known, however, for alleged irregularities in the granting of pardons and paroles, as well as in the letting of road contracts by the state highway department. Ferguson pardoned an average of 100 convicts a month, and she and her husband were both accused of accepting bribes of land and cash payments. Critics also charged that the Ferguson-appointed state highway commission granted road contracts to Ferguson friends and political supporters in return for lucrative kickbacks. Though a threat to impeach Miriam Ferguson failed, these controversies helped Attorney General Daniel James Moody defeat Ferguson for renomination in 1926 and win the governorship.

After sitting out the 1928 elections, Ferguson decided to run for another term as Governor in 1930. She lost the Democratic nomination to Ross Sterling, however, and he was subsequently elected Governor. Unfortunately for him, the Great Depression hit Texas during his term and by 1932 he had lost popular support.

In February 1932, Ferguson again declared for the governorship, promising to lower taxes and cut state expenditures, and condemning alleged waste, graft, and political favoritism by the Sterling-controlled highway commission. After leading Sterling in the May primary by over 100,000 votes, Ferguson narrowly won the Democratic nomination in the August primary. She then defeated the Republican nominee, Orville Bullington, in November to secure her second term as governor. This time Governor Ferguson held the line on state expenditures, and even advocated a state sales tax and corporate income tax, although the state legislature did not act on either proposal. Ferguson continued her liberal pardoning and parole policies, but even they did not stir nearly as much controversy as in her first administration, since every convict paroled or pardoned represented that much less fiscal strain on the state during the depression.

Ferguson chose not to run for re-election in 1934, nor did she seek any office in 1936 or 1938. In 1940, however, she decided to make another run for Governor, but was defeated in the first primary. She never ran for office again, and retired from public life completely after her husband's death in 1944. She died in Austin on June 25, 1961, and was buried next to her husband in the Texas State Cemetery.

SEE ALSO
Nellie Ross

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This page was last updated on April 30, 2017.