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Born/Died: 1900 and 1993 (Nacogdoches, TX)
Noted For: Lera Millard Thomas is noted as the first woman to represent Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Early in her legislative career, U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson was frequently obliged to correct people who referred to her as the “second woman in Texas” (after Barbara Jordan) to be elected to Congress.
That’s because she wasn’t the second, nor was Barbara the first. Though the fact has largely been lost from the pages of history by now, the honor of being the first Texas woman to join the U.S. House of Representatives actually went to Lera Millard Thomas in March 1966, when she won a special election held to fill the congressional seat occupied by her late husband Albert Thomas since 1936.
While in office, Lera served on the congressional Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee, where she advocated for funds to expand the Houston Ship Channel, and she also continued her husband’s championship of the Houston-based space program and other economic issues benefiting Texans. Near the end of her tenure, Lera completed a tour of war-torn Vietnam, and returned after she left office to distribute letters to U.S. troops and pen a wartime correspondence column for the Houston Chronicle.
Prior to her time in the House, Lera helped manage her husband’s election campaigns and coached him on the important public policy issues of the day. In 1963, she sat next to President John F. Kennedy on his last night alive, following a day of campaigning in Fort Worth.
Lera left Congress after her husband’s term expired the year after her election, and declined to run again despite being urged by supporters to do so. In later life, she served as a consultant in the Vietnam Bureau of the U.S. State Department’s Agency for International Development and also helped establish the Millard Crossing Historical Center in Nacogdoches. Lera died in 1993 following a battle with cancer.
Additional Learning: “History of the U.S. Voting Rights Act”—National Geographic