Ma Ferguson, A Puppet Governor
Miriam Amanda Ferguson, one of the country's first female governors. Source: (library.uta.edu)
The history books list Miriam Amanda Ferguson, or Ma as she was known, as the first female governor of Texas and one of the first women to hold the position of governor in the United States. She took office in 1925, just five years after the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920 that granted women the right to vote. While on paper, Ma Ferguson looks like a trailblazer in the women’s equality movement, in reality, she was a puppet governor for her corrupt husband. Let’s look at the political career of Ma Ferguson.
A Political Marriage
Miriam Ferguson was born on June 13, 1875, and educated at Baylor Female College. In 1899, she married Jim Ferguson, a Texas lawyer. She took on the role of First Lady of Texas in 1915 when her husband became the governor of the state. But his stint as governor was filled with controversy.
An Impeached Governor
The administration of Jim Ferguson was one of corruption and financial mismanagement. He was accused of misappropriating state funds, an impeachable offense. He was convicted and impeached in 1917 and spent the next seven years fighting the Supreme Court to lift his lifetime ban so he could again hold an elected office in Texas. When it finally became clear that his ban would not be reversed, Jim Ferguson began to look of a Plan B to regain control of Texas.
In 1924, Miriam Ferguson announced, with her husband, Jim, standing at her side, that she would be running for the office of governor of Texas. In her announcement speech and every campaign speech she gave after that, Miriam made it clear that she would be the figurehead governor and Jim would be the working governor. She even used the campaign slogan, “Two Governors for the Price of One.” Despite his conviction and impeachment, Jim Ferguson still had a number of staunch supporters in Texas who relished the idea of returning him to the Governor’s Mansion.
Miriam Becomes Ma
To differentiate between the two Fergusons, newspapers in Texas began using Miriam’s initials, M.A. Ferguson, in headlines and news stories. Pretty soon, folks in Texas began calling her Ma Ferguson. The homey, matronly, trustworthy-sounding name was appealing to voters, though Miriam disliked it. Naturally, as Miriam became known as Ma Ferguson, her husband Jim became known as Pa Ferguson.
An Easy Win
When election day rolled around in November of 1924, Ma Ferguson was the clear winner. She had promised her supporters better management of the state’s finances and the voters seemed to rally around this promise. She was sworn into office on January 20, 1925.
Letting Pa Ferguson Run the Show
As governor, Ma Ferguson’s policies mirrored her husband’s stance more than her own. For example, Ma Ferguson personally believed that there should be strong restrictions on the sale of alcohol, but Pa Ferguson was an anti-prohibitionist, therefore she publicly took an anti-prohibition position. She did, however, push her anti-Ku Klux Klan agenda.
Re-Elected … Later
Ma Ferguson ran for reelection in 1926 but lost the governorship. She tried again in 1930 and was, again, defeated. She finally succeeded in being reelected in 1932. During this time in office, Texas and the rest of the country was in the midst of the Great Depression and Ma Ferguson strongly supported the New Deal, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s plan to get Americans back to work. After her term was over, Ma didn’t seek reelection, but she did run for governor one last time, in 1940, but was defeated.
Although it would be wonderful to think that Miriam Ferguson won her elections because of her own merits and ideas, the truth was that she was merely a puppet governor with her corrupt and power-hungry husband, Jim Ferguson, really running the show. From campaign promises to state policies, the governorship of Ma Ferguson was not a step forward for women’s equality, but a step back to a belief that women must follow the orders of her husband.
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