Texas First—a Woman Leads in Marble Falls
Now that the nation’s witnessed an historic first in witnessing the nomination of a woman for president, perhaps it’s an occasion to remember a “Texas First”—the election of a woman mayor when only men could vote.
As she saw it, with her three sons grown, her husband’s medical practice thriving and a family legacy of public service, it was her time to serve. Ophelia (Birdie) Harwood tossed her hat into the ring for mayor of Marble Falls in January, 1917, three years before women won the right to vote.
NOTE: The Texas legislature convened June 23, 1919, to consider the 19th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. The House voted the next day to ratify the amendment, 96 to 21. The Senate approved the amendment on June 28.
Birdie Harwood surprised local Marble Falls’ power brokers.
“In casting around for some wide-awake progressive citizen to offer for the office we had not dreamed there was a lady in our midst,” said one. He added, “there is no objection if she can ‘deliver the goods’.”
Birdie (Mrs. George) Harwood campaigned hard, buttonholing men on town streets, riding into their fields and pastures to convince them she could do the job, saying, “A woman’s first duty is to her home and children: when she has raised them up to take their place in the world, it is then her duty to turn to her State and there help make and enforce the laws that will make it a fit abiding place for them. No good woman is out of place doing those things which are so vital to the welfare of her children and her home,” she said.
Either inspired by President Woodrow Wilson or latching on to his embrace of women’s suffrage, she quoted the President in her announcement. He said, “I believe every step in that direction (the right of women to vote) should be applauded.”
To her fellow Texans, Birdie Harwood pronounced, “The president of our United States who is recognized all over the world as the grandest man in it today, endorses just this first step I am making in my home town.”
A PERSONAL NOTE: My mother often told the story of her mother taking them to the courthouse square—in Floydada– to vote for the first time. The family stayed to watch the tally on a large chalk board, my grandmother’s first vote, my Mom a 5-year-old but deeply impressed.
Birdie challenged her neighbors. “So gentlemen you see Equal Suffrage is widely recognized as one of the great principals of Democracy, and in making this step I am backed by every broadminded progressive man in our Lone Star State, and in Marble Falls.”
Campaigning for “a bigger town, a better town, a cleaner town, and a more progressive town,” Birdie championed financial prudence. “We are going to try to make two nickels grow where only one grew before.”
She proposed opening the books for public scrutiny and publishing receipts and expenditures in the newspaper. “It is the peoples’ money and they should know what becomes of it,” she said.
Seventy-nine men voted for Birdie Harwood compared to 33 for the incumbent.
She “delivered the goods.” Counted among her accomplishments was a $40,000 bond issue to purchase the water and light plant and secure for Marble Falls, “one of the finest water powers in the South.”
That deal included a 20-acre tract; a pecan tree shaded park fronting Marble Falls Lake. Mayor Harwood gained lighting, “by electricity,” for the town and the new public park. Later, she oversaw construction of a bridge to the park spanning the quicksand that had deterred visitors, and she opened the park to camping, establishing Marble Falls’ destiny as a resort town.
“I am very proud at the age of 70” she said—when she led the annual parade as former mayor in the 1940’s–“to represent a womanhood that helped to fight the Indians…while their men made the grandest state in the Union—what it is today. My mother was one of those lovely characters that lived through an epoch that has added much to the luster and glory of our beautiful Texas,” she continued.
Born in 1872, Mayor Harwood lived until 1954.
THANK YOU for joining me today in a 97-year look back to the first woman mayor on the heels of a major political party nominating a woman for president. Please join the discussion at www.scribblers.tips.