Jessie Daniel Ames Lecture

Jessie Daniel Ames Biography

Jessie 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 age of 88 in 1972.

Jessie 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.