Today state political candidates usually don’t go on speaking tours though small towns, especially when they can make their appeals on TV. However, it was very different in the past and one example of this was in 1930 when former Texas governor James Ferguson and his wife Miriam came to Athens. Yet what was unique then was that James Ferguson wasn’t the actual candidate at the time – it was Mrs. Ferguson and she was seeking her second term as governor.
Certainly there have been other women governors in Texas since then but they ran on their own, not depending on a husband’s name or influence – factors commonly used by the first women gubernatorial candidates. So when Mrs. Ferguson became the first female Texas governor in 1925 she campaigned and attained the office due to the influence of her husband, who had been banned from seeking office himself because of gubernatorial shenanigans from his 1915 term.
Still, Ferguson continued to be a constant presence even later as evidenced in the Athens Weekly Review headline of July 17, 1930 which included them both: “Mrs. Ferguson and Farmer Jim to Be Here Next Tuesday.” As sit turned out, this 1930 campaign for governor was ultimately not successful.
Mrs. James Ferguson was born Miriam Amanda Wallace in 1875 in Bell County, her parents prosperous landowners. She attended local schools, then what is now the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, and she and Ferguson were married in December 1899. They had two daughters, Ouida and Dorias.
In 1907 they settled in Temple, where Ferguson founded a bank, practiced law, and invested in land. When he became governor in 1915 she proved an able first lady, entertaining prominent personalities, though her engagement of a social secretary brought criticism, as did her refusal to serve alcohol since she was an ardent Prohibitionist.
After her husband left office the Fergusons returned to in Temple where he established a newspaper, the “Ferguson Forum,” as a way to keep his name before the public.
Then when Ferguson failed to be re-elected as governor in 1918, he and Miriam announced themselves as candidates for the U.S. Senate, though Miriam withdrew and her husband lost in the primaries. In fact, many observers believed that either he or Miriam would run for governor in 1924.
When her husband’s ban on running for public office was upheld, Miriam entered the race, saying she was doing so to vindicate the Ferguson name. Also, in her campaign, according to one biographer, “She never hid the fact that Jim would rule with her so that Texans would actually get two governors for the price of one.”
As they toured, Ferguson did the speaking, lambasting his political enemies as Miriam usually remained silent. Still, she did pose for newspaper pictures, often in a domestic setting, and she proved to be good copy due to her gender. Though she reportedly disliked the headgear Miriam often was depicted wearing a bonnet.
Also, possibly because of her initials, campaign posters began to call her “Ma” and her husband became “Pa.” Supporters would often chant: “Me for Ma” to which opponents responded “No Ma for Me – Too Much Pa.”
Mrs. Ferguson’s 1925 term had started out with her asking the legislature to pass infrastructure measures as well as a few taxes. However, her ideas were ignored, as her husband’s antics proved a distraction for the governor’s office.
During this time “The Ferguson Forum,” Jim’s newspaper, proved controversial since advertisers seemed to get a major share of favors from the governor’s office but, despite a committee investigation, no charges were ever filed.
There were also critics of Mrs. Ferguson’s policy on pardons. While campaigning she promised to be generous in this area but once in office some considered her more liberal than proper. During this term she granted some 3000 pardons and there was a widespread belief that some had actually been purchased.
Her later second term in 1933 attracted less controversy than her first but one troubling issue was state funding for the Texas Rangers – or the lack of it. With funding for Rangers reduced this made for fewer officers and because of this, Texas became, according to one source, a safe hideout for Depression-era national criminals such as Pretty Boy Floyd as well as locals such as Bonnie and Clyde.
Mrs. Ferguson did not seek reelection in 1934, though she did enter the race again in 1940. However, she did not even place in the primaries and she and her husband retired to live quietly in Austin until his death in 1944 and hers in 1961.