Miriam A. Ferguson

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Ma Ferguson
Miriam A. Ferguson.jpg
29th and 32nd Governor of Texas
In office
January 17, 1933 – January 15, 1935
LieutenantEdgar Witt
Preceded byRoss Sterling
Succeeded byJames Allred
In office
January 20, 1925 – January 18, 1927
LieutenantBarry Miller
Preceded byPat Neff
Succeeded byDan Moody
First Lady of Texas
In role
January 19, 1915 – August 25, 1917
GovernorJames Ferguson
Preceded byAlice Colquitt
Succeeded byWillie Hobby
Personal details
Miriam Amanda Wallace

(1875-06-13)June 13, 1875
Bell County, Texas, U.S.
DiedJune 25, 1961(1961-06-25) (aged 86)
Austin, Texas, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)James Ferguson (1899–1944)
EducationSalado College
University of Mary Hardin-Baylor

Miriam Amanda Wallace "Ma" Ferguson (June 13, 1875 – June 25, 1961) was an American politician and one of the first two women (along with Nellie Tayloe Ross) to be elected as governor of a state. She served two non-consecutive terms as the first female Governor of Texas, from 1925 to 1927 and 1933 to 1935.[1]

Early life[edit]

Ferguson was born Miriam Amanda Wallace in Bell County, Texas, she studied at Salado College and Baylor Female College. When she was 24, she married James Edward Ferguson, a lawyer, he later became a politician and was elected as Governor of Texas.

Her nickname, "Ma," came from her initials, "M. A.," and the fact that her husband was known as "Pa" Ferguson. They had two daughters, Ouida Wallace Ferguson and Dorrace Watt Ferguson.[2]

Political life[edit]

Her husband served as Governor of Texas from 1915 to 1917. During his second term, he was investigated by state attorney general Dan Moody for actions taken against faculty at the University of Texas;[3] the Texas State Senate convicted him on ten charges, impeached him, and prohibited him from holding state office in Texas again.[4]

1924 election and first term[edit]

After her husband's impeachment and conviction, Ma Ferguson ran in the primary for the Democratic nomination for governor and was successful, openly supported by her husband, whom she said she would consult for advice, she was elected to office in the 1924 general election.

During her campaign, she made it clear she was a puppet candidate for her husband, saying voters would get "two for the price of one",[5] her speeches at rallies consisted of introducing him and letting him take the platform.[6] A common campaign slogan was, "Me for Ma, and I Ain't Got a Durned Thing Against Pa."[7]

After her victory in the Democratic primary, Ferguson defeated George C. Butte, a prominent lawyer and University of Texas dean who emerged as the strongest Republican gubernatorial nominee in Texas since Reconstruction. Due to the widespread corruption of her husband's term, resulting in his impeachment, thousands of voters crossed party lines in the general election to vote for the Republican candidate. Republicans usually took between 11,000 and 30,000 votes for governor, but Butte won nearly 300,000 votes, many of them from women and suffragists,[6] it was still primarily a Democratic state, and Ferguson received 422,563 votes (58.9 percent) to Butte's 294,920 (41.1 percent). Butte had been supported in the general election by former governor William P. Hobby, who had succeeded James Ferguson in 1917 and won a full term in 1918.

In 1924, Ma Ferguson became the first elected female chief executive of Texas,[7] she was the second female state governor in the United States, and the first to be elected in a general election. Nellie Tayloe Ross had been sworn in as governor of Wyoming to finish the unexpired term of her late husband two weeks before Ferguson's inauguration, though Ross and Ferguson won their respective elections on the same day. Ferguson's campaign manager was Homer T. Brannon of Fort Worth, Texas.

In 1926, state attorney general Dan Moody, who had investigated her husband for embezzlement and recovered $1 million for Texas citizens, ran against her in a run-off election, he defeated her to become the next and then-youngest governor of Texas.[8] Suffragist activism provided a major contribution to her defeat, as these women rallied behind Moody and campaigned for him.[6]

1932 election and second term[edit]

Ferguson ran again in 1932, she narrowly won the Democratic nomination over incumbent Ross S. Sterling, then soundly defeated Republican Orville Bullington in the general election, 521,395 (61.6 percent) to 322,589 (38.1 percent). It was a year of Democratic successes as Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected as President of the United States. Bullington was a cousin of the first wife of John G. Tower, future U.S. Senator from Texas. He fared more strongly than most Texas Republican candidates did in that period, but did not match Butte's 1924 showing against Ferguson.[5]

Ferguson's second term as governor was less controversial than her first, it was rumored that state highway contracts went only to companies that advertised in the Fergusons' newspaper, the Ferguson Forum. A House committee investigated the rumors, but no charges were ever filed.[7]

In October 1933, Ferguson signed into law Texas House Bill 194, which was instrumental in establishing the University of Houston as a four-year institution.[9]

Views and policies[edit]

Bust of Ferguson by Enrico Cerracchio

"Fergusonism," as the Fergusons' brand of populism was called, remains a controversial subject in Texas. As governor, she tackled some of the tougher issues of the day. Though a teetotaler like her husband, she aligned herself with the "wets" in the battle over prohibition, she opposed the Ku Klux Klan. This was on the decline after 1925 due to a national murder and sex scandal by its president.

Ferguson has been described as a fiscal conservative, but also pushed for a state sales tax and corporate income tax.[5] Miriam Ferguson is often credited with a quote allegedly referring to bilingualism in Texas schools: "If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it ought to be good enough for the children of Texas."[10] Variations of this statement have been dated to 1881, and were often used to ridicule the claimed backwardness of various unnamed Christians. Ferguson did not originate the quote.[11]

Ferguson issued almost 4,000 pardons during her two non-consecutive terms in office, many of them to free persons who had been convicted of violating prohibition laws.[12] In 1930, between Ferguson's terms, the Secretary of State of Texas Jane Y. McCallum published a pamphlet criticizing the former governor's numerous pardons of prisoners.[13] Though never proven, rumors persisted that pardons were available in exchange for cash payments to the governor's husband. In 1936, voters passed an amendment to the state constitution stripping the governor of the power to issue pardons and granting that power to a politically independent Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles (see Capital punishment in Texas).[12]


Except for an unsuccessful bid to replace Governor W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel in 1940, the Fergusons remained retired from political life after 1935. In the 1940 campaign, Ma Ferguson trailed O'Daniel's principal rival, Ernest O. Thompson of Amarillo, who was Texas Railroad Commissioner.[5]

Ferguson Cut Off, between Hwy. 290 East and the old Manor Road, in Austin, Texas, is named after Ma Ferguson.[14]

Her husband, James, died of a stroke in 1944. Miriam Ferguson died from congestive heart failure in 1961 at the age of 86, she was buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Portraits of Texas Governors: The Politics of Personality". Texas State Library. Retrieved April 13, 2007.
  2. ^ "Miriam Amanda". geni_family_tree. Retrieved April 1, 2019.
  3. ^ Bishop, Curtis (August 31, 1953). "Mrs. Jane McCallum Still Fights for Old Ideals – Recognition of Women" (PDF). The Austin Statesman. Retrieved October 31, 2017.
  4. ^ Coppedge, Clay (February 25, 2007). "A city grows up: Temple matures into a regional medical and agricultural hub". Temple Daily Telegram. Retrieved April 13, 2007.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ a b c d John D. Huddleston (June 12, 2010). "Ferguson, Miriam Amanda Wallace". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association.
  6. ^ a b c "Votes for Women! – Aftermath". www.tsl.texas.gov. Texas State Library | TSLAC. p. 2. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c Coppedge, Clay (March 25, 2007). "'Ma' elected governor of Texas". Temple Daily Telegram.
  8. ^ "Junior Chamber Honors Youngest Texan Governor (1936)". Texas Archive of the Moving Image. Retrieved March 30, 2019.
  9. ^ "Discover UH's Heritage & History". UH Alumni Organization. Archived from the original on May 14, 2008. Retrieved May 29, 2008.
  10. ^ Cárdenas, José A. (1994). All Pianos Have Keys and Other Stories. Intercultural Development Research Association. ISBN 978-1-878550-53-8.
  11. ^ Zimmer, Benjamin (April 29, 2006). "Ma Ferguson, the apocryphal know-nothing". Language Log. University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved September 25, 2007.
  12. ^ a b Texas State Libraries and Archives Commission: "Pardons and Paroles" retrieved October 20, 2011.
  13. ^ McCallum, Jane Y. (July 21, 1930). "Do Such Acts of Fergusonism Assure Your Home, Your Sister and Your Friends Safety...? (Campaign pamphlet)" (PDF). Dallas News. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  14. ^ "ferguson cutoff map, Austin, tTX". Retrieved September 14, 2015 – via google.com seartch.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Honorary titles
Preceded by
Alice Colquitt
First Lady of Texas
Succeeded by
Willie Hobby
Party political offices
Preceded by
Pat Neff
Democratic nominee for Governor of Texas
Succeeded by
Dan Moody
Preceded by
Ross Sterling
Democratic nominee for Governor of Texas
Succeeded by
James Allred
Political offices
Preceded by
Pat Neff
Governor of Texas
Succeeded by
Dan Moody
Preceded by
Ross Sterling
Governor of Texas
Succeeded by
James Allred