ABOUT THE FILM
Citizens at Last is a documentary film that tells the story of the grit, persistence, and tactical smarts of the Texas women who organized, demonstrated, and won the vote for women. Citizens at Last follows the early days of organizing, explores the strategic role Texas suffragists played in the national movement, and exposes the pro-Jim Crow policies of the anti-suffragists who stood in their way. Like all the former Confederate states, Texas saw women’s suffrage as a threat to white male supremacy. Because of Texans such as Minnie Fisher Cunningham, Annette Finnigan, Marianna Folsom, Jovita Idar, and Maude Sampson, Texas became the first state in the South and the ninth in the nation to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. But it was a segregated victory. While white suffragists celebrated in major American capitols, African American women were left without the vote in Jim Crow Texas, and Tejanas were ruled by the South Texas bosses. Exasperated but undaunted, African American women and Tejanas continued their fight for equal voting rights until long after 1920.
Citizens at Last elucidates the crucial role Texas women played in the long struggle for equal voting rights. The words of Suffragist, Jane Y McCallum, captured the thrill of voting for the first time after a long, hard fight, whether for the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920, or the Voting Rights Act in 1965, when she wrote, “With what high hopes and enthusiasms women stepped forth into a world in which they were citizens at last! ”
Learn about the heroes behind the history.
Born in Walker County, Minnie Fisher Cunningham was a Texas leader for woman suffrage and lifelong Democrat. She was president of the Texas Equal Suffrage Association from 1915-1918. Under her shrewd leadership, Texas women won the right to vote in primary elections two years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment.
Cunningham moved to Washington DC in 1919-1920 to work for the National American Woman Suffrage Association. She was part of the team of lobbyists who persuaded President Woodrow Wilson and members of Congress to pass the 19th Amendment. NAWSA then sent her to seven states in the South and Southwest to urge governors to call special sessions for ratification. After women won the right to vote, she helped transform NAWSA into the national League of Women Voters.
In 1928, she was the first Texas woman to run for U.S. Senate, and in 1944, she was a candidate for governor. In both races, she trailed in the polls, but she was blazing trails that other women could follow.
Read more about Minnie Fisher Cunningham in the Handbook of Texas.
Minnie Fisher Cunningham
Christia V. Daniels Adair
Christia Daniels was a schoolteacher in 1918 when she married railroad brakeman Elbert Adair. The couple moved to Kingsville, where she joined a biracial group of women opposed to gambling and became a suffragist. Upon passage of the 19th Amendment, she was eager to vote—and angry to learn that Texas law allowed political parties to bar African Americans from voting in primary elections.
Upon moving to Houston in 1925, she joined the NAACP. Elbert died in 1943, and Christia became increasingly active in civil rights. She was executive secretary of the Houston NAACP when it brought suit against an election judge for denying the vote to a local black dentist. Thurgood Marshall argued the case, Smith v. Allwright, before the U.S. Supreme Court, and its 1944 decision brought an end to the practice of barring blacks from party primaries.
Christia Adair also helped desegregate Houston’s public library, airport, veterans’ hospital and city buses. Partly through her efforts, blacks became eligible to serve on juries and to be hired for county government jobs.
Suffragist, businesswoman, and philanthropist Annette Finnigan was the middle daughter of a prosperous merchant who moved his family back and forth between Houston and New York. She attended Wellesley College and graduated from Columbia University in 1894. She went to work for her father, who cultivated her business savvy and left her in charge when he was away.
In 1903, Annette and her sisters launched suffrage leagues in Houston and Galveston, organized in other cities, and cofounded the Texas Woman Suffrage Association. But the movement languished when they left Texas again, until Annette returned and revived it in 1913.
Finnigan was ready to retire from political organizing by 1915—but not before grooming a successor. She recruited Minnie Fisher Cunningham, the energetic president of the Galveston league, to conduct an organizing tour, and she mentored the younger woman’s leadership skills. Cunningham succeeded Finnigan as president later that year.
Read more about Annette Finnigan in the Handbook of Texas.
Born in Pennsylvania, Mariana Thompson moved with her Quaker family to a peaceful community in Iowa on the brink of the Civil War. In 1870, she earned a theological degree at St. Lawrence University in New York and was ordained a Universalist minister. She led congregations in several states and established a joint ministry with her husband, Allan Folsom, whom she married in 1871.
The Folsoms were activist ministers who translated deeds into faith, and for Mariana, that meant lecturing for woman suffrage. She delivered more than 60 lectures in Texas in 1884 and moved to Texas thereafter. She founded the Texas Equal Rights Association in 1893 and convened 83 meetings across the state the following year.
In the early 1900s, she focused on educating lawmakers and found a champion in state Rep. Jess A. Baker, who introduced suffrage legislation in 1907, 1911 and 1917. Folsom died before Texas women won the vote.
Read more about Mariana Folsom in the Handbook of Texas.
Mariana Thompson Folsom
Born in Laredo, Jovita Idár was a teacher, journalist and political activist. She earned a teaching certificate in 1903 and taught in Ojuelos, but resigned due to frustration with poor conditions and inadequate equipment. She then joined two brothers as writers for their father’s Spanish-language weekly, La Crónica, which featured stories on discrimination against and lynchings of Mexican-Americans. In September 1911, the newspaper convened a conference to discuss social, educational, labor and economic issues. A month later, Tejanas who participated in that meeting formed La Liga Feminil Mexicanista. As its first president, Idar led the league’s efforts to provide education for indigent children and published a piece in La Crónica advocating woman suffrage.
During the Mexican Revolution, she joined La Cruz Blanca, a medical group providing care for injured revolutionaries. In 1913, she joined the newspaper El Progreso and wrote an editorial protesting the dispatch of U.S. troops to the border. When Texas Rangers arrived to shut down the paper, she stood in the doorway barring their entrance.
Jovita married Bartolo Juárez in 1917 and moved to San Antonio. There she established a free kindergarten, served as an interpreter for hospital patients, and was active in the Democratic Party.
Read more about Jovita Idár in the Handbook of Texas.
Maude Craig Sampson Williams
In 1918, civil rights activist Maude Sampson co-founded the Black Women’s Civic and Enfranchisement League in El Paso. She wanted to affiliate with the National American Woman Suffrage Association, but the only way a local group could join was through a state association. NAWSA president Carrie Chapman Catt advised Texas suffragists to tell Sampson it would be easier to win the vote “if they do not embarrass you by asking for membership.” In a letter to Sampson, Texas president Minnie Fisher Cunningham said that because her request was the first of its kind, delegates would have to vote on the matter at the next state convention. Cunningham added that she hoped by then the federal amendment would be ratified, giving all U.S. women the right to vote.
A lifelong member of the El Paso NAACP, Sampson served as vice president from 1917 to 1924 and, as Maude Williams in the 1950s, she chaired a committee that dealt with public housing shortages and black homeowners’ property values. She also played a role in desegregating Texas Western College (now the University of Texas at El Paso).
Read more about Maude Sampson Williams in the Handbook of Texas.