An Extraordinary Woman: Jessie Daniel Ames

Jessie Daniel Ames

Women have long had a profound effect on the world and politics. The history in this post comes quite a big later than my usual research. But the effect spread all across this nation and especially the south.

Jessie Daniel was born and grew up in rural East Texas in the town of Overton in 1883. When she was young then as she moved into her teen years, black men accused of crimes were executed by local mobs before they ever reached a trial. She heard cases of other atrocities including where a victim lost his sight by a red-hot iron. She was horrified and these incidents fueled a desire to end this hatred.

Her parents came to Texas with basically the clothes on their backs. Her father worked for the railroad and her mother was a nurse for a local doctor. Jessie’s home life was volatile with frequent arguments. Her father proclaimed that he was an atheist. Jessie was the third of four children and her domineering father didn’t show her much love.

In 1905, after graduating from Southwestern College, she married Roger Ames. Instead of making life easier for her, he made it more difficult. His family rejected her and he did little to change their minds. Roger was an army surgeon and spent much of his time abroad. However, he and Jessie had three children.

Roger died in 1914 and she moved in with her mother who was also a widow. They managed a telephone business of her father’s and Jessie found her backbone.

One day, an irate male customer came in. He said, “If you were a man, I’d cuss you out.” Jessie basically told him not to let that stop him and went to toe to toe with him.

Her interest in women’s rights bloomed the first year of her marriage when she could not open a bank account without her husband’s permission. Neither could they buy or sell property. It angered her that women had no voice. The ones with husbands were controlled by them and the ones without were controlled by their bosses or public opinion. Women were expected to be as docile sheep.

So widowed and running her own business, she was in a unique position and she grabbed it. She hosted the first Georgetown suffrage meeting in her home and was immediately elected president of the local organization. She lobbied for women’s rights and helped get into law the right to vote. But it only pertained to white women. Black women still weren’t allowed. Racism angered her and the fact that lynchings were commonplace.

In 1922, she became the chair for the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, an organization to bring blacks and whites together to discuss the particular problem of the South. She traveled all over, giving speeches and galvanizing people. She formed the Association of Southern Women to Prevent Lynching.

She reached out to the women and worked with local sheriffs, telling them to do their jobs. She spoke out for law and order and that everyone deserved a trial before being executed. She asked women to use their pens against lynching. And she empowered them. In 1938 a bill came before Congress making lynching illegal. It was shot down. Shocking to this day, there still is not a specific law against it.

However, due to enactment of civil rights laws in the 1960s and changes in public attitude, the practice that was so commonplace died away.

Still, Jessie Daniel Ames was instrumental in leading women. She urged them to “reject the crown of chivalry that has pressed upon us like a crown of thorns” and they did. She taught them to look beyond their self-interest and to make men not view them as a threat but as an equal.

She died in Austin, Texas in 1972.

It’s horrible to think that women had to wait so long for equal rights. I can’t image being unable to open a bank account or buy or sell property without a man saying it was okay.

My mother saw the right to vote passed and I think that’s why she took her voting responsibility so seriously. From when she registered to the day she died, she never missed but one election. She was in the hospital that November and died two weeks later.

What do women’s rights mean to you?  

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Comments

An Extraordinary Woman: Jessie Daniel Ames — 4 Comments

  1. Linda- a very wonderful article. I can’t imagine not having a right to vote, or a home, vehicle, or even having my own checking account. I wouldn’t have been a very tolerable lady back then. I’m very independent even though I’m married. I have my own checking & savings account separate from my husbands. I’m very independent and I also kept my maiden name when I married.
    I believe women rights is a privilege that all women need to be proud of and our fore- sisters fought for this right for us and we should all embrace it as they would want us too. I too have never missed my right to vote, so every time an election comes up, I make sure I excercise that right that was fought by our fore sisters. We owe it to them and to future generations.

    • Hi Tonya…….You’re always a welcome sight. Women today take our rights for granted and some never even know what generations of women went through before us. The struggles they had and the injustices. Like you, I’m afraid I wouldn’t have been docile. I’d have been very outspoken, damn the consequences. I doubt any man back then would’ve wanted me. Or any boss either giving his consent for me to open a bank account. Nope!!

      Love you, sister cousin!

  2. Great article. Jesse Daniel was a very strong woman at a time when women were to be seen and not heard. I love stories about women who dared to defy the status quo and try and make a difference. Our mother was one of those strong women and I think about her all the time. One of the funniest stories I remember is how she learned to drive. I laughed every time she told it. We’ve certainly come a long way!

    • Hi Jan……I love women like Jessie Daniel too, even though it took her a while to find her voice. Once she did she was a tiger. She reminds me a lot of Jessie Foltry in Knight on the Texas Plains. Yes, Mom was made of this kind of steel also. She had to be though or she’d never have survived her hard life. Yes, that story about her learning to drive was so funny. But she sure didn’t let it best her. I wish I could have her back for a little while so I could ask her more questions.

      Love you, sister!