Jessie Daniel Ames (1883 - 1972) Historical Sketch

Noted women's suffragist and social reformer - she had important ties to Georgetown and Williamson County.

Jessie Daniel Ames, who was a leader in the women's suffragist movement, had important ties to Williamson County. Jessie Harriet Daniel was born on November 2, 1883, in Palestine, Anderson County, Texas, a child of employee James Malcolm Daniel and his wife, Laura Maria (Leonard). In 1893, the Daniel family relocated to Georgetown, where Jessie completed her high school education and entered Southwestern University in 1897. In 1904, two years after her graduation, her father accepted a railroad company position in Laredo, and she joined her family there.

Jessie met a young army surgeon, Dr. Roger Post Ames, of Laredo, whom she married in 1905. He was a veteran of the Spanish American War. Dr. Ames helped in important medical experiments to isolate the causes of yellow fever and malaria. Following his death in 1914, Jessie returned to Williamson County and joined her mother in operating the Georgetown Telephone Company. Jessie and her mother built the operation into a successful company serving a growing city and county.

Jessie was an active member of several civic groups, including the Georgetown Woman's Club; Mrs. Ames became a champion for women's rights. She organized the George-town Equal Suffrage League and directed an eleventh-hour Williamson County voter drive that registered over 3,000 first-time women voters, in just seventeen days, for the 1918 election. She was a leader in several statewide organizations, including the Texas League of Women Voters, the Texas Committee on Prisons and Prison Reform, and the state affiliate of the American Association of University Women. She also served as a delegate-at-large to the Democratic National Conventions of 1920 and 1924.

Jessie Daniel Ames learned of important programs in a Dallas meeting of women social reformers in 1922, conducted by the Commission on Interracial Cooperation. In 1930 as an employee of the commission led her to form the affiliated Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching (ASWPL). Her organization used both education and direct action in programs to eradicate racially motivated killings. It specifically targeted in­dividuals who claimed to promote lynching as legitimate means for defending chivalry and womanhood.

Despite fierce opposition and threats of personal violence, Mrs. Ames persevered. She continued to work with the ASWPL and its successor, the Southern Regional Council, until the time of World War II.

Jessie Daniel Ames retired from the Commission on Inter-racial Cooperation in 1944 and moved to a Tryon, North Carolina cottage she called Wren's Nest. From there she participated in Methodist Church activities, black voter registration drives, and a women's study group on world politics. Later, in frail health, she returned to Texas, to live with a daughter, Lulu Daniel Ames. She died in Austin on February 17, 1972, and is buried in the IOOF Cemetery in Georgetown, the city where she began her life as an active leader of progressive social reform.

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Special thanks to the Mood-Heritage Museum for their help - please feel free to visit the Southwestern University to see the wonderful donation of 1,200 books that she donated to the University.


Jessie Daniel Ames Biography by Southwestern University

Jesse Daniel Ames was 10 years old when her family moved to Georgetown. In 1897, at the age of 13, Ames enrolled in Southwestern University, where women were segregated in the Women’s Annex. She graduated in 1902.

Ames was thrown into the world of business and independence by circumstances beyond her control. In 1914, Ames’ army surgeon husband died, leaving her a widow at 31 with three children. Out of financial necessity, she went to work at the Georgetown Telephone Company, owned by her mother, also a widow. Both emerged as competent, tough-minded competitors in a male-dominated business community.

Sensitive to the inequalities suffered by women, Ames entered the public world of politics. She organized the Georgetown Equal Suffrage League in 1916 and was treasurer of the Texas Equal Suffrage League by 1918. That year, the State passed a bill allowing women to vote in state primaries. Ames and her co-workers registered 3,800 women in 17 days and provided voting instructions and mock elections to prepare the women to responsibly use their new franchise. In 1919, Ames became the first president of the Texas League of Women Voters.

During the 1920’s, Ames gradually broadened her concerns from women’s rights to black rights and interracial cooperation. In 1922, she was selected to chair a women’s committee of the newly formed Texas Interracial Commission. Through this work, she came into contact with the horrors of lynching. In 1930, Ames founded the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching. By February of 1937, 81 state, regional, and national groups had endorsed the anti-lynching platform. By the early 1940’s, Ames felt the movement had been successful enough to allow the Association to be dissolved and, in 1944, she resigned from the Commission on Interracial Cooperation and went into retirement. Ames died in Austin, Texas at the age of 88 in 1972.

Jesse Daniel Ames devoted 30 years of her life to the public as a crusader for racial and sexual liberty and equality in a time when neither topic was accepted by the society in which she lived. Her pioneering efforts helped lay the groundwork for the flowering of black rights and women’s rights movements in the 1960’s and 70’s.

Material for this profile was compiled by Gayle Guffey, a 1984 graduate of Southwestern University.