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Texas at the beginning of the 20th century


Dallas in Texas
Dallas in Texas

Many important Texas politicians endorsed moderate reforms that would increase the power of the state government and allow it to take a more active role in preventing social and economic injustice. These Democrats called themselves Progressives and controlled the party before World War I (1914-1918). The reforms they advocated were mostly those of white middle-class Texans, who were not particularly concerned about racial injustice. Nationally, progressivism was largely an urban movement. In Texas, however, there were no particularly large cities: In 1920 fewer than 33 percent of Texans lived in metropolitan areas, fewer than 20 percent lived in cities of 10,000 or more, and only three of those—Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio—had populations between 200,000 and 300,000 inhabitants. As a result, progressivism in Texas stressed reforms that changed state institutions, enfranchised white women, and most importantly prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages, called Prohibition. Texas progressives believed that the sale of alcohol corrupted democratic society and was a moral evil.

Prohibitionists began campaigning for a dry state in 1887. In 1918, influenced by the charge that alcohol interfered with the effort to support World War I, which the United States was fighting in Europe, the legislature passed a law forbidding the sale of alcohol anywhere in the state. In January 1920 the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibited the sale of intoxicating alcoholic beverages throughout the country.

Middle-class Texas women played a major role in the prohibition movement. Although they could not vote, women could campaign for legislation. Their visibility in the prohibition campaigns, and their active participation in organizations that advocated reforms of education and charitable institutions, increased their desire to vote themselves.

The Texas Woman Suffrage Association was organized in 1903 and lobbied hard in 1915 and 1917 to force the legislature to enfranchise women. In 1918 the legislature extended the franchise to women in primary elections, and in 1919 the legislature ratified the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the vote throughout the country.

In 1892 Hogg defeated challenges from both the Populists and the Conservative Democrats, but when he retired in 1894, the Populist Party threatened to defeat the state Democratic Party in 1894 and 1896 by taking advantage of farmer discontent created by a depression in 1893. In 1894 the Populists elected 22 representatives and two senators to the state legislature. Although Democrat Charles Culberson won the election for governor, the Populist candidate, Thomas L. Nugent, ran a very close second.The 1896 race for governor was a particularly vicious one. The Populists formed a biracial coalition with black Republicans to unite all tenant farmers in support of wide-ranging economic reforms. In response, the Democrats charged the Populists with racial betrayal and argued that Populist economic reforms were too radical. In an election marked by ballot fraud and racial violence, the Democrats won the election.

The coalition of progressive Democrats that enacted prohibition in Texas also passed laws creating orphanages and state institutions to care for the mentally ill. Progressives voted money for colleges and universities, in particular for scientific agriculture at Texas A&M College (established in 1876) and professional education at the University of Texas (established in 1883).

The legislature standardized curriculum in the public schools and extended more state control over them. The state also reformed the prison system. The convict lease system, under which criminals were rented out for private labor, was abolished, and the state segregated prisoners by sex, age, race, and nature of the offense. All of these reforms extended state control over social institutions and became politically contentious later in the century. Progressive Democrats also passed other legislation that created agencies to improve roads and conserve forests and other natural resources. "Texas" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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