Jessie Daniel Ames Historical Marker, Georgetown, Texas

Marker Text Georgetown, Texas

(1883-1972) A native of Palestine, Texas, Jessie Daniel came to Georgetown in 1893. She graduated from Southwestern University in 1902. In 1904 she moved to Laredo, where she married Roger Post Ames (d. 1914), and Army surgeon. They were the parents of three children. Following her husband's death, Jessie operated the Georgetown Telephone Company with her mother and became active in civic projects, including the Woman's Club. She joined the Texas Equal Suffrage Association and worked to acquire voting rights for women. She led a large group of women to the Williamson County Courthouse to register to vote for the first time in 1918. The Texas Equal Suffrage Association reorganized as the Texas League of Women Voters in 1919, and she served as its first president until 1924. A champion of civil rights causes, Ames was active in the Commission on Interracial Cooperation. Opposed to the use of chivalry as a justification for lynching, she moved to Atlanta, Georgia, and formed the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching in 1930. She retired in 1944 and moved to Tryon, North Carolina. Ames later returned to central Texas and died in an Austin nursing home in 1972. She is buried in the I.O.O.F. Cemetery in Georgetown. (1988)

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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.


GPS Coordinates
Latitude: 30.634713 Longitude: -97.676107
North 30o 38' 14.9" - West 97o 40' 40.0"
UTM 14 R - east 0626751 - north 339972

Address: 1004 S Church St

JESSIE DANIEL AMES - - - narrative 1883-1972

Researched and written by:

Dan K. Utley Austin

January 1988

Historians have labeled the period from the late nineteenth century through the first two decades of the twentieth century as the "progressive era." It was a time when reform and change were the operative words in a society struggling to deal with what was viewed as excesses of the Gilded Age. It was also a transitional time when the traditional agrarian way of life was in decline, slowly being replaced by urban, industrial society. It was the era of progressivism in which Jessie Daniel Ames was born, and it was the spirit of the time that influenced her formative years.

Jessie Harriet Daniel was born November 2, 1883, in Palestine, Anderson County, Texas.

She was the third of four children born to James Malcolm Daniel, an employee of the International & Great Northern Railroad, and his wife, Laura Maria Leonard Daniel. The family later moved to Overton, on the line between Rusk and Smith counties. In 1893, they moved to Georgetown, where Jessie completed her high school education and entered Southwestern University in 1897. In 1904, two years after her graduation from college, her father accepted a railroad company position in Laredo, and she moved there with her family. [1]

In Laredo, Jessie met a young army surgeon, Dr. RogerPost Ames, whom she married in 1905.

Ames (1870-1914), of Irish descent, was educated at Tulane Medical School in his hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana. At the end of the nineteenth century, he joined the United States Army Medical Corps and participated in the Spanish-American War. He served in the Philippines and later in Cuba, where he assisted Dr. Walter Reed in the experiments that isolated the cause of yellow fever.

Jessie and Roger soon experienced difficulties in their marriage.

Roger's family, who relied on him for much of their financial support, viewed Jessie as a social inferior and as a threat to their dependent lifestyle. Their cold and impersonal treatment of her never changed, resulting in undue pressures on their son and on his marriage. In addition, Jessie and Roger experienced a sexual incomparability that, despite the birth of three children, remained a hindrance to a successful marriage. [2]

The factors working against the couple were soon enhanced by circumstances surrounding Roger's work.

After their wedding, they moved to New Orleans, where he was assigned to an Army anti-malaria campaign. When he was reassigned, however, because of another outbreak of yellow fever, he sent Jessie back to her family in Texas. Over the ensuing years, they saw each other only on a limited basis. Eventually, in an effort to avoid the responsibilities of his marriage and the demands of his family, he moved to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, and accepted employment as a physician to the American consul and to the American Fruit Company. Despite the marital problems, Jessie made several attempts at reconciliation. As she described the relationship, "I could not live away from him. I could not live with him. I always returned in hope and joy; I was always sent away in despair. [3]

In August 1914, Jessie again visited Roger in Guatemala.

The visit, she believed upon her return to Texas, brought positive changes in the relationship. In less than four months, however, Roger died of a tropical fever. His young widow, then pregnant with their third child, faced an uncertain and difficult future.

Development is often born of adversity and human reaction, and Jessie Daniel Ames began immediately to set new goals for herself and her children.

With her mother, she operated the Georgetown Telephone Company, a business purchased by her father shortly before his death in 1911. Jessie first worked as the bookkeeper and then became the manager, serving as vice-president of the company. Under the leadership of Jessie and her mother, it became a successful enterprise serving a growing city and county. Jessie also developed an interest in improving the quality of life in Georgetown and became active in a number of civic projects. Her activities included leadership of The Woman's Club, a Georgetown organization established in 1893. When the group reorganized in 1917 as a federated woman's club, largely through Jessie's efforts, she served as its first president. [4]

It was in the area of public service, however, that Jessie Daniel Ames emerged as a leader in social action and reform.

According to her biographer, Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, a "fierce and unwilling striving propelled her into the public forums that gave historical significance to her life. . . .she retained a consciousness formed in adversity: competitive, insecure, and, in her own words, 'fighting every step of the way. [5] Her first "cause" was women's suffrage. Efforts to secure voting privileges for the women of Texas began in earnest in 1903. The movement did not gain momentum, however, until 1915, when Minnie Fisher Cunningham became president of the Texas Woman Suffrage Association. Under Mrs. Cunningham's vigorous leadership, the number of local suffrage organizations increased by 400 percent. [6]

Jessie Daniel Ames found the goals and objectives of the suffrage movement reflected her own concerns: "All I wanted was the vote. . .for I was. . .the owner of the property which voters could tax without the consent of the owners.

It was a condition of taxation without representation, and I was a female Patrick Henry. [7] She turned her concerns into action by organizing the Williamson County Suffrage Association in 1916. Later, she hosted the organizational meeting of the Georgetown Equal Suffrage League and was selected to serve as the group's first president. [8] The enthusiasm and dynamism of Jessie Daniel Ames did not go unnoticed by state leaders in the suffrage movement. Her mentor was Minnie Fisher Cunningham, but she also came to be a close associate of Jane Y. McCallum, Eleanor Brackenridge, and others. She first assumed a statewide office in 1918, when she was elected treasurer of the Texas Equal Suffrage Association (TESA). [9]

1918 was also the year the Texas legislature granted women the right to vote in state elections.

The timing of the legislation proved a formidable test for the suffrage associations because it allowed only two weeks of registration before the first primaries. Undaunted by the scope of the task, Jessie Daniel Ames immediately went to work. According to the account in her obituary:

Mrs. Ames and other suffragettes (sic) spearheaded a massive campaign in Williamson County that resulted in 3,300 women making the trip to the courthouse in Georgetown to register.

They came by wagon, hack, and on foot; observers say, 'There's never been anything like it since. [10]'

In October 1919, the Texas Equal Suffrage Association reorganized as the Texas League of Women Voters, and Jessie Daniel Ames was elected to serve as the first president of the new organization. Much of her initial work with the League was devoted to the defeat of Joseph Weldon Bailey in the race for governor. A former United States Senator, Bailey was a conservative Democrat opposed to reforms, notably women's suffrage, and programs of President Woodrow Wilson. Bailey led in the first primary but was defeated in the runoff by Patrick M. Neff. Women were given much of the praise or blame for the outcome. The outspoken Bailey, commenting on a Democratic opposition committee comprised of Jessie Daniel Ames, Minnie Fisher Cunningham, and six men, called it a committee of "six sissies and two sisters. [12]

Jessie Daniel Ames served as president of the Texas League of Women Voters through 1924, directing the early development of the organization.

Her leadership at that time was crucial, since three months after she assumed office, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to vote in all elections. Emphasis turned from the struggle for suffrage to the education of the new women voters. The League launched an extensive program based on voter education and citizenship training. Under the sponsorship of Mary Shipp Sanders of Georgetown, citizenship schools were conducted in Corsicana, Denton, Fort Worth, Georgetown, Houston, Sherman, Taylor, Terrell, and Waco. In addition, the League also developed an evolving legislative program related to issues of particular concern to its membership—education, prison reform, maternity and infancy care, and a minimum wage. [13]

Jessie's leadership in the women's movement influenced her participation in other reform organizations.

She was appointed to the Texas Committee on Prisons and Prison Labor, a state division of a national committee, and served as its recording secretary. As a result of a prison survey conducted by the committee, she developed a deep concern for the conditions faced by young black women prisoners. She lobbied, successfully, for the establishment and funding of a state training school for delinquent black girls. She also helped organize the Texas affiliate of the American Association of University Women and was elected as its first president in 1926. [14]

Despite her participation in various reform activities, Jessie Daniel Ames continued to maintain an interest in politics.

She served as political science chair of the Texas State Federation of Women's Clubs, as an executive committee member of the Joint Legislative Council, as a delegate-at-large to the Democratic National Conventions of 1920 and 1924, and as an alternate delegate-at-large to the 1928 convention. In time, however, she became disenchanted with the political aspect of the women's movement. "We were idealists. . . . We thought that when we got the vote, the whole pattern of politics would be greatly improved and would be dominated by women. [15]

Toward the end of the 1920s, Jessie faced another transition in her life.

Jacquelyn Dowd Hall calls it "the psychological bridge over which Ames moved from social feminism to the interracial movement. [16] Whether the transition resulted from the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, her awareness of inequities within the women's movement, or her concern for equality in education and social reforms, Jessie became as strong an advocate in the field of civil rights as she was in the formative years of the women's movement.

Jessie's entry into the arena of interracial work came in 1922 when she attended a meeting of Texas women social reformers in Dallas.

The meeting was conducted by Carrie Parks Johnson, Director of Women's Work for the Commission on Interracial Cooperation (CIC) in Atlanta, Georgia. The CIC was an independent coalition of Southern civil rights groups under the leadership of Will Alexander, a former Methodist minister and later a member of the New Deal administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. As a result of the meeting in Dallas, the CIC organized the Texas Interracial Commission with Jessie Daniel Ames as chair of the women's committee. In 1924, she became a paid field worker for the organization and later was named the first executive director of a state interracial committee. [17]

Through her association with the Texas Interracial Commission, Jessie developed far-reaching programs that advocated equality in employment and housing, judicial reform, and an end to mob violence. To meet the aims of the organization, she worked with civic groups, legislators, newspaper editors, and local law enforcement officials, including Williamson County District Attorney Dan Moody, later elected Governor of Texas on a platform that denounced the political rise of the KKK. She also worked to enhance her effectiveness in interracial matters by enrolling in sociology correspondence courses from the University of Chicago.

The success of Jessie's work impressed Will Alexander and, when the office became available, he named her the new Director of Women's Work for the Commission on Interracial Cooperation.

Again, her decision to accept the position came at a crucial time in history. One of the commission's major concerns was mob violence against blacks in the South. Although there had been a gradual decline in the number of incidents over several years, there was a dramatic increase in 1930. That year, there was a lynching in Texas that proved particularly influential in spurring the CIC to sustained action against mob violence. The incident occurred in Sherman and involved a black man accused of raping a white woman. The police arrested the man and held him in the courthouse jail for trial. Wilman Dykeman and James Stokely, in their biography of Will Alexander, described the following events:

An infuriated crowd set fire to the building.

By late afternoon the courthouse, once considered one of the finest in Texas, was gutted. Some of the mobs were still not satisfied; their quarry was dead. They blasted their way into the vault, found the Negro's body, and dumped it through a window to the mob below. A chain was fastened about the neck, and the corpse was dragged through town, hanged from a cottonwood tree, and burned. [18]

Alexander's shock was matched in gravity only by his awareness of a judicial system that would probably not convict the lynchers.

Across the South, apathy, overriding public sympathy for the mobs, and duplicity on the part of local officials combined to end most opposition to lynchings.

In light of the increased mob activity in 1930, Alexander vowed to mount a campaign that would challenge the fundamental causes of lynchings.

As part of a comprehensive program of education and prevention, he set up an all-male Southern Commission on the Study of Lynching. When he later asked Jessie Daniel Ames to participate in the proceedings, she said she preferred the formation of a women's group with a similar focus. As she recalled wryly, "The men were out making studies and surveys of lynchings. . . and so the women had to get busy and do what they could to stop lynchings." With the full support of the CIC, she formed the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching (ASWPL) on November 1, 1930. Twenty-six women, representing such groups as the League of Women Voters, the Young Women's Christian Association, the Parent-Teacher Association, and members of the Methodist, Southern Baptist, and Presbyterian churches, participated in the meeting. A central concern addressed by the group was the prevailing thought in the South that lynching existed, in part, because it was a means of protecting white women. Armed with statistics that showed the overwhelming majority of Southern lynchings did not involve sexual assault, the women drew up a declaration of purpose:

We declare lynching is an indefensible crime, destructive of all principles of government, hateful and hostile to every ideal of religion and humanity, debasing and degrading to every person involved. . . . We believe this record has been achieved because public opinion has accepted too easily the claim of lynchers and mobsters that were acting solely in defense of womanhood. In the light of facts, this claim can no longer be used as a protection to those who lynch. [20]

As Dykeman and Stokely observed, "Southern chivalry was not the shining armor of lynchers; it was a masquerade behind which hid sadism and savagery. [21]

The ASWPL was a direct-action coalition of women's groups representing fifteen states (the thirteen states of the Confederacy plus Oklahoma and Kentucky). Jessie Daniel Ames defended the decision to keep the ASWPL a "whites only" organization by noting that it was "set up by white women to cancel the claim of Southern white men that lynching was necessary for the protection of white women. [22] There was no national membership; all programs were implemented through the network of existing organizations. Because the ASWPL was comprised mainly of conservative, religious groups, its programs were based on slow reform through education. Of primary concern was a drive to secure pledges of compliance and support from individual women, women's groups, sheriffs, governors, and other elected officials.

The ASWPL also maintained a file of women who could be called on in emergency situations to confront lynch mobs.

Other programs included the publication and distribution of educational materials, including booklets such as "This Business of Lynching" (1935), "Death by Parties Unknown" (1936), and "With Quietness, They Work" (l938). In 1933, representatives of ASWPL also began investigating lynchings. Within two years, Jessie Daniel Ames had personally investigated twenty lynchings that allegedly involved sexual assaults on white women. [24]

As expected, the activities of the ASWPL met with considerable opposition.

It ranged from public ridicule to threats of violence or retaliation. A Georgia newspaper reported derisively on the group's first annual meeting:

Twenty delegates from 11 southern states, all fat and forty, were present to reaffirm their conviction that lynching is not a defense of womanhood, etcetera, and so on.

We cannot imagine an association of 20 prize fighters and wrestlers being more independent or able to protect themselves than the group picture indicates these women to be. [25]

"Hate" mail was common, as were verbal attacks during public meetings and talks.

Jessie described her reaction to the opposition:

At last, when my children all went away to college, I realized for the first time the hidden anxiety I had lived with during those years. Suddenly I felt free. Now the bullies could threaten only me. [26]

Opposition to the ASWPL even resulted in the formation of a counter-group, the National Association for the Preservation of the White Race, formed by Mrs. J. E. Andrews of Atlanta.

On one occasion, after viewing an anti-lynching play funded by the ASWPL, Mrs. Andrews confronted Mrs. Ames and told her she would slap her face for just a nickel. Jessie replied: "Well, I have a nickel. [27] Mrs. Andrews continued her attack in print, however, in her publication Georgia Woman's World:

Mrs. Jessie Daniel Ames of Negro fame, and a few others of the birds of a feather that put on such disgusting appeals to the beast in Negro men. . . . I told the Ames woman that she was a tool of Negroes, and she is; and that the rest, everyone that applauded that unjust and filthy thing, were the sum (sic) of the earth, and they are; and that the preacher who permitted such a beastly thing to be put on in his church was a Judas Iscariot of his Lord and Master and to his race. [28]

The real threat to the ASWPL came, not from without, but from within.

By the end of the 1930s, there was considerable dissension within the ASWPL, and much of it was centered around the leadership of Jessie Daniel Ames. As executive director, she had tremendous power over the committee structure, as well as the daily operation of the organization. She used that power to form committees that would support her goals for the ASWPL. Unfortunately, her goals were sometimes counter to the majority opinion.

A major confrontation developed over a proposed federal anti-lynching bill supported by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Jessie opposed federal intervention, citing the slow process of education as the best and most comprehensive means of true reform. Her opposition to federal legislation put her at odds with such important civil rights leaders as Walter White, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Eleanor Roosevelt. Despite mounting pressure, she refused to support the bill and even worked to aid those in Congress (notably Texan Tom Connally) who were filibustering against it.

On the surface, Mrs. Ames' opposition to anti-lynching legislation appears to contradict her early accomplishments in the interracial movement.

Her stand, however, should be viewed in the context of the time. Jessie Daniel Ames was a product of the Old South. Although liberal in some regards, especially in comparison to the Southern women of her era, she was nevertheless a conservative who believed in the tradition of states' rights. She wanted changes for her homeland, but she wanted them to come from within and not to be coerced by police action. Forced compliance, she felt, would result in even more retaliation against blacks. In addition to her fears, she believed the proposed bill was unenforceable. It should be noted, also, that she represented a stand adopted by the CIC as early as the 1920s. Whatever her motives, Jessie Daniel Ames remained true to her convictions. And, no federal anti-lynching legislation was ever adopted.

Julius Wayne Dudley, in his thesis on the ASWPL, lists four reasons for its decline.

First, there was the growth of similar organizations, most significantly the NAACP. The NAACP was not averse to confrontation and used the courts and the legislatures to bring about change. Second, World War II disrupted most of the organization's activities. When the war was over, nothing remained the same. Third, the goal of securing pledges had probably reached its saturation point in the South. In nine years, over 40,000 individuals, including 1200 sheriffs, signed the pledges. The numbers were commendable, but they fell short of projections that reached 100,000. Fourth, there was a stagnation within the organization. There was no active recruitment of younger women, and there was an inflexibility in leadership that prevented a broadening of scope that would include issues other than lynching. By Mrs. Ames' own figures, lynching was on a rapid decline by 1939. In fact, in a report disputed widely by several civil rights groups, she proclaimed the period from May B, 1939 to May 8, 1940, as a "lynch less" year. [28]

In 1942, as a result of reorganization within the CIC, the ASWPL was disbanded in favor of a Southern Regional Council.

Relegated to a limited role, Jessie Daniel Ames retired in 1944 and moved to a Tryon, North Carolina cottage she called "Wren's Nest." There, she participated in Methodist Church activities, black voter registration drives, and a women's study group on world politics. She also wrote some of her remembrances and worked successfully for congressional recognition of her husband's contributions in the field of medicine. [30]

Although Jessie loved her children dearly and supported their achievements with pride and encouragement, she did not maintain close ties.

Her son, Frederick Ames, became a pediatrician in Houston but did not survive his mother. A daughter, Dr. Mary (Mrs. E. C.) Ames Raffensterger also became a pediatrician and practiced in Philadelphia. The third child, Lulu Daniel Ames, a victim of polio, lived in Austin and operated a news clipping service. When Jessie became ill of health, she returned to Texas and lived for a while with Lulu before being placed in an Austin nursing home where she died February 17, 1972. She was buried in the IOOF Cemetery in Georgetown, the city where she first began her life of social reform.

To expand on the title of a popular television show of the 1950s, Jessie Daniel Ames led three lives.

She was a wife and mother, a suffragette, and a civil rights leader. Her legacies are the reforms and changes that resulted in the school desegregation cases of the 1950s, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the proposed Equal Rights Amendment, and greater participation by women in the political process. Some of the reforms she lived to see; others she could only hope for. In the end, however, she must have known that the spirit of the progressives would provide encouragement to later reformers who would continue "fighting every step of the way."

Researched and written by:

Dan K. Utley Austin
January 1988