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 Ferguson

(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 the first female Governor of Texas, serving 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, who was then a lawyer.

She got her nickname "Ma" partly from her initials "M. A.", and also because her husband was known as "Pa" Ferguson. They had two daughters, Oudia and Dorris.

James Ferguson served as Governor of Texas from 1915 to 1917. However, after an investigation by attorney general Dan Moody,[2] he was impeached, convicted, and removed from office during his second term. As part of his conviction, he was not allowed to hold state office in Texas again.[3]

1924 election and first term[edit]

After her husband's impeachment and conviction, Ma Ferguson sought the Democratic nomination for governor and was elected to office. During her campaign, she made it clear she was a puppet candidate with her husband James E. Ferguson as the real voice; at rallies, her speaking was limited to introducing him before letting him have the platform.[4] She told voters that she would follow the advice of her husband and that Texas would get "two governors for the price of one."[5] A common campaign slogan was, "Me for Ma, and I Ain't Got a Durned Thing Against Pa."[6]

After her victory in the Democratic primary, she defeated George C. Butte, a prominent lawyer and University of Texas dean who emerged as the strongest Republican gubernatorial nominee in Texas since Reconstruction in 1869. The widespread corruption of her husband's term led thousands of voters to cross party lines in the general election; where Republican candidates usually grabbed between 11,000 and 30,000 votes, Butte came out with almost 300,000 votes, many of them women and suffragists.[4] Ferguson received 422,563 votes (58.9 percent) to Butte's 294,920 (41.1 percent). Butte had been supported by former Governor William P. Hobby, who had succeeded James Ferguson in 1917. Ma Ferguson was the second female state governor in the United States, and the first to be elected in a general election. Just two weeks before her inauguration, Nellie Tayloe Ross had been sworn in as governor of Wyoming to finish the unexpired term of her late husband.[7]

In 1924, Ma Ferguson was elected governor, becoming the first female chief executive of Texas.[6] Ferguson was elected with the help and support of her campaign manager, Homer T. Brannon of Fort Worth, Texas.

In 1926, 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 and defeated her to become the next and youngest governor of Texas.[citation needed] Suffragist activism provided a major contribution to her defeat as they rallied behind Moody and campaigned for him.[4]

1932 election and second term[edit]

Ferguson ran again in 1932. She narrowly won the Democratic nomination over incumbent Ross S. Sterling. She then soundly defeated Republican Orville Bullington in the general election, 521,395 (61.6 percent) to 322,589 (38.1 percent). Bullington, who was a cousin of the first wife of future U.S. Senator John G. Tower, fared more strongly than most Texas Republican candidates did at that time but still polled behind Butte's 1924 showing against Mrs. Ferguson. Ferguson's second term as governor was less controversial than the first.[5]

According to rumor, state highway contracts only went to companies that advertised in the Fergusons' newspaper, Ferguson Forum. A House committee investigated the charge but nothing ever came of it.[6]

In October 1933, she signed into law Texas House Bill 194, which was instrumental in establishing the University of Houston as a four-year institution.[8]

Views and policies[edit]

"Fergusonism," as the Fergusons' brand of populism was called, is still 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 and took a firm stand against the Ku Klux Klan. She 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 spoken in reference to bilingualism in Texas schools: "If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it ought to be good enough for the children of Texas."[9] However, variations of this going back to 1881 were often used to ridicule the claimed backwardness of various unnamed Christians, which supports the argument that the attribution to Ferguson is false.[10]

Mrs. Ferguson's infamously generous granting of pardons was her way of relieving the overcrowded conditions in Texas prisons.[citation needed] During two non-consecutive terms in office, Mrs. Ferguson issued almost 4,000 pardons, many of them to free those convicted of violating prohibition laws.[11] 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.[12] 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).[11]


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 that campaign, she trailed O'Daniel's principal rival, Texas Railroad Commissioner Ernest O. Thompson of Amarillo.[5]

Ferguson Cut Off, between Hwy. 290 East and the old Manor Road, in Austin, Texas, is named after Ma Ferguson.[13]

James Ferguson died of a stroke in 1944.

Miriam Ferguson died from congestive heart failure in 1961 at the age of eighty-six.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Portraits of Texas Governors: The Politics of Personality". Texas State Library. Retrieved April 13, 2007.
  2. ^ Bishop, Curtis (31 August 1953). "Mrs. Jane McCallum Still Fights for Old Ideals--Recognition of Women" (PDF). The Austin Statesman. Retrieved 31 October 2017.
  3. ^ 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]
  4. ^ a b c "Votes for Women! - Aftermath - Page 2 - Texas State Library | TSLAC". www.tsl.texas.gov. Retrieved 2018-08-09.
  5. ^ a b c d John D. Huddleston. "Ferguson, Miriam Amanda Wallace". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association.
  6. ^ a b c Coppedge, Clay (March 25, 2007). "'Ma' elected governor of Texas". Temple Daily Telegram.
  7. ^ Ferguson and Ross actually both won election on the same day, but Wyoming inaugurated its governor before Texas.
  8. ^ "Discover UH's Heritage & History". UH Alumni Organization. Archived from the original on May 14, 2008. Retrieved May 29, 2008.
  9. ^ Cárdenas, José A. (1994). All Pianos Have Keys and Other Stories. Intercultural Development Research Association. ISBN 1-878550-53-5.
  10. ^ Zimmer, Benjamin (April 29, 2006). "Ma Ferguson, the apocryphal know-nothing". Language Log. University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved September 25, 2007.
  11. ^ a b Texas State Libraries and Archives Commission: "Pardons and Paroles" retrieved October 20, 2011.
  12. ^ McCallum, Jane Y. (1930-07-21). "Do Such Acts of Fergusonism Assure Your Home, Your Sister and Your Friends Safety...? (Campaign pamphlet)" (PDF). Dallas News. Retrieved 2018-08-09.
  13. ^ "ferguson cutoff map, austin, tx – Google Search". google.com. Retrieved September 14, 2015.

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