Edith Wilmans. Image from the Texas State Historical Association.
Edith Therrel Wilmans
Born: 1882 in Lake Providence, LA
Died: 1966 in Dallas
Noted For: Edith Wilmans is noted as a suffrage leader who was also the first woman elected to the Texas State Legislature.
Two years after the adoption of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote, Dallas elected the state’s first woman legislator.
Edith Wilmans was a lawyer and mother of three who helped create the Dallas Housewives League, the Dallas Equal Suffrage Association, and the Democratic Women’s Association of Texas. She was one of eight women who ran for the Texas Legislature in 1922, but the only woman to win her race. In doing so, she unseated a long-time male incumbent.
While Edith served on a number of committees during her single term in office, she focused her efforts on policy related to children, including mandatory school attendance, child care and child support.
She also lobbied for the creation of a family court in Dallas County. Edith’s own experiences as a domestic abuse survivor may have informed her advocacy her area, as she likely recognized the need to provide a legal system where domestic violence victims could seek protection.
After leaving the legislature, Edith twice ran for governor, campaigning on a platform of prison and political reform. In 1928, she declined a nomination from the National Woman’s Party to run for vice-president in the upcoming presidential election.
Although Edith’s legislative career was short, her election and those of “first” women legislators in other states marked the beginning of an era of increased gender inclusiveness in state government. Today, more than 2,100 women serve as state legislators across the U.S., the largest number of women ever to serve at one time in state legislative bodies. Learn more.