Jessie Daniel Ames
|Jessie Daniel Ames|
November 2, 1883|
Palestine, Texas, U.S.
February 21, 1972 (aged 88)|
Austin, Texas, U.S.
|Alma mater||Southwestern University|
Jessie Daniel Ames (November 2, 1883 – February 21, 1972) was a suffragist and civil rights activist based in Texas, who built a movement in the Southern United States. She was one of the first Southern white women to speak out and work publicly against lynching of blacks, murders which white men claimed to commit in an effort to protect women's "virtue." Despite risks to her personal safety, Ames stood up to these men and led organized efforts by white women to protest lynchings. She gained 40,000 signatures by southern women to oppose lynching, helping change attitudes and bring about a decline in these murders in the 1930s and 1940s.
Born Jessie Daniel in Palestine, Texas, she attended local schools before going to college. She studied at Southwestern University, and thereafter, despite her father's objection, converted to Methodism following her mother and sister. She had joined them in church activism from an early age. In 1905, she married Roger Post Ames, a doctor with the United States Army. During much of their married life, he worked on assignment in Central America, fighting yellow fever with Walter Reed. Among the reasons the military was struggling to control this and other tropical diseases was that planning for construction of the Panama Canal had been renewed. Historically, workers had suffered extremely high death tolls due to tropical diseases. Roger Ames died in Central America in 1914.
Ames, then a 31-year-old widow with three children to support, moved in with her mother and helped with the family business. She also became involved with several Methodist women's groups. This led to her participating in the women's suffrage movement.
In 1916, Ames organized a local women's suffrage association in Texas; she contributed to the state becoming the first to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. In 1919, she was the founding president of the Texas League of Women Voters. She also served as a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions of 1920, 1924, and 1928. In 1929 she became the director of the women's committee of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation (CIC).
In 1930 Ames founded the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching (ASWPL). One of their efforts was to appeal directly to white women to help stop this abuse, and they gained the signatures of 40,000 women to their 'Pledge Against Lynching' (see below). Despite encountering hostile community opposition and physical threats, the women conducted petition drives, lobbying and fundraising across the South to work against lynching.
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...[P]ublic opinion has accepted too easily the claim of lynchers and mobsters that they are acting solely in defense of womanhood. In light of the facts we dare no longer to permit this claim to pass unchallenged, nor allow those bent upon personal revenge and savagery to commit acts of violence and lawlessness in the name of women. We solemnly pledge ourselves to create a new public opinion in the South, which will not condone, for any reason whatever, acts of mobs or lynchers. We will teach our children at home, at school and at church a new interpretation of law and religion; we will assist all officials to uphold their oath of office; and finally, we will join with every minister, editor, school teacher and patriotic citizen in a program of education to eradicate lynchings and mobs forever from our land.
Ames opposed a federal anti-lynching law, however. She believed that it would be better to get state laws enforced against lynchings than have the national government step in. Southern Senators filibustered the proposed federal law, in any case. White Democrats of the Solid South commanded powerful congressional positions due to having disenfranchised most blacks across the South, but Senator Tom Connally of Texas used a letter written to him by Ames to show widespread Southern opposition to the anti-lynching bill. Ames meant the letter to be private, and wanted to speak out in opposition to lynching when the bill failed.
The number of lynchings decreased as the strain of the Depression eased, although notable lynchings took place in the postwar era, including of black men in uniform. Ames' group disbanded in 1942 and merged back into the CIC.
Jessie Daniel Ames died on February 21, 1972 in Austin, Texas.
- Dickson D. Bruce, Jr. "Antilynching Campaign" excerpted from The Oxford Companion to Women’s Writing in the United States.  Accessed 15 January 2008.
- Angela Y. Davis, Women, Race & Class. New York: Vintage Books, 1983, p.194
- Angela Y. Davis, Women, Race & Class. New York: Vintage Books, 1983, pp. 194-195
- Bowman, John S. The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995) p. 15
- Davis, Angela Y. Women, Race & Class. (New York: Vintage Books, 1983, pp. 194–195)
- Reid, Daniel G. et al. Dictionary of Christianity in America. (Westmont, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1990). ISBN 0-8308-1776-X.
- Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd. The Revolt Against Chivalry. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974/ reprint University of North Carolina Press, 1993, pp. 239–249)
- Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd. "Live Through Time: Second Thoughts on Jessie Daniel Ames", pp. 140-158 in The Challenge of Feminist Biography: Writing the Lives of Modern American Women, Sara Alpern, Joyce Antler, Elizabeth Perry Israels, and Ingrid Winther Scobie, eds., (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1992)
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