October 30, 2022


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Jessie Daniel Ames was a Georgetown suffragist and anti-lynching advocate in the early 1900s. 

 

A leading lady

Georgetown, Wilco celebrate suffragist Jessie Daniel Ames

By BRIGID COOLEY 

Celebrate the life and work of Jessie Daniel Ames — a suffragist and anti-lynching advocate who spent the early 1900s working to improve the lives of underrepresented Williamson County residents — next month at Lark & Owl Booksellers. 

Coined Jessie Fest by organizers in the League of Women Voters of Williamson County, the event begins at 7 p.m., November 2, at the bookstore, 205 West Sixth Street, Georgetown. 

“We will have a presentation on [Jessie Daniel Ames] with a lot of historical photos,” said Helen Cordes, an event organizer who oversees the League’s First Vote program, which aims to educate graduating high school seniors on how to register to vote within the state. “I think a lot of history buffs might be interested in it just on that account.”

Jessie Daniel Ames was born on November 2, 1893, in Palestine, Texas, and moved to Georgetown with her parents roughly 10 years later. After giving birth to three children and being widowed by her early 30s, Ms. Ames moved back into her childhood Georgetown home — which still stands at the corner of 10th and Church Street — with her mother. 

The two women became business partners together, running the Georgetown Telephone Exchange after her father died.  

“As a business owner, she couldn’t vote on anything affecting her business, her family or her community,” Mr. Cordes said. “That’s what really got her started [working toward voting rights].” 

Ms. Ames played an integral role in launching the Georgetown Equal Suffrage League, which worked diligently to bring women’s suffrage to Texas, in 1916. As the group’s first elected president, Ms. Ames gave speeches and hosted rallies across Williamson County to educate and gain the support of women and men who believed in suffrage efforts. She also wrote a weekly column called “Woman Suffrage Notes” for the Williamson County Sun. 

Before women were granted the right to vote in 1919 by the federal government, Texas Governor William P. Hobby passed a bill allowing women to vote in primary elections in 1918, after being urged to do so by Ms. Ames and other suffragists within the state. 

“At the time [the bill] was granted by the legislature, there were only 17 days until the primary,” Ms. Cordes explained. “Jessie was running around the county and other people helped. She rallied about 4,000 women to come to the [Williamson County] courthouse to register to vote and they had a deadline. 

“That just boggles my mind that 4,000 women in those times came out, especially since not everyone had cars back then.”

Once the 19th Amendment was passed the next year, Ms. Ames helped found and became the first president of the Texas League of Women Voters. 

“She was instrumental in Texas getting the League going and of course, 100 some odd years later, it’s still going strong,” Ms. Cordes said. 

In addition to speaking up for women’s rights, Ms. Ames also advocated against racial violence, especially those in the Black community. She was the director of the Texas Council of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, a job that eventually took her to Atlanta to lead the regional office. It was in this position she founded the Association of Women for the Prevention of Lynching, a group of white women who organized to reduce racial violence within communities. 

“She principally worked with church women,” Ms. Cordes said. “She would have them take a pledge to prevent racial violence by telling the sheriff about it. She would get them to then ask the same thing of the legal system — the judges, the commissioners and law enforcement and sheriffs — to take the same pledge and do their job to prevent lynching because it’s unlawful. It was quite effective. It reduced racial violence like lynching.”

Locally, Ms. Ames is recognized on a historical marker positioned outside her Church Street home, now a private residence. 

The upcoming November 2 celebration, which falls on what would be her 129 birthday, will feature door prizes, a birthday cake and sing-a-longs to songs sung by Texas suffragists. 

Additionally, both the city of Georgetown and Williamson County are signing proclamations named November 2 as Jessie Danial Ames Day, Ms. Cordes said. The city’s proclamation will be read during the October 25 City Council meeting, while the county’s will be shared during the November 1 Commissioners Court meeting. 

The November 2 celebration is free and open to the public. People interested in attending should register in advance via a link posted on the Lark & Owl Booksellers website and Facebook page. 

“[Jessie] wasn’t perfect,” Ms. Cordes said. “But I think the issues surrounding what she did bring up good conversations about how we enact change and do it thoroughly.”