Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

FERGUSON, JAMES AND MIRIAM (1871-1944; 1875-1961)

James and Miriam "Ma" Ferguson were dominant political figures in Texas between World Wars I and II. James Edward Ferguson was born on a farm near Salado, Bell County, Texas, on August 31, 1871, and was educated in local public schools. He studied law at night and was admitted to the bar in 1897. He and Miriam Wallace, a Bell County native born on June 13, 1875, were married in 1899. With strong support from progressive and anti-Prohibition forces, "Farmer Jim" was elected governor of Texas in 1914. He was reelected in 1916 but the following year was impeached on grounds of misusing public funds and removed from office. The conviction forbade Ferguson to hold "any office of honor, trust, or profit" in Texas. In order to keep Ferguson's name in the public spotlight, the Fergusons began to publish a weekly political newspaper, the Ferguson Forum.

Ferguson's impeachment decree did not apply to federal offices, and in 1922 Ferguson ran for the U.S. Senate as an opponent of Prohibition and the Ku Klux Klan. He was supported by many rural Populist voters and by enemies of the Klan, but lost to Klan member Earle Mayfield. Arguing that his impeachment was invalid, Ferguson attempted to run for governor in the 1924 Democratic primary. After the party leadership refused to place his name on the ballot, his wife ran in his stead.

Ma Ferguson ran for governor of Texas five times, winning twice. In the 1924 election, Ma opposed the Klan and campaigned on the slogan "two governors for the price of one," making clear that her husband, often called "Pa," would make major decisions. She was elected and so became the first woman to be elected governor of any state. She lost to Dan Moody two years later and lost again in 1930, but was elected for a second two-year term in 1932. She ran one final time in 1940 but lost to W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel.

Jim Ferguson died on September 21, 1944, and with his death the era of Ferguson leadership of Texas's rural populists and anti-Klan activists ended. Miriam Ferguson lived quietly in retirement until her death on June 25, 1961. The Fergusons are buried side by side in Austin's State Cemetery.

Fred M. Shelley Southwest Texas State University

Brown, Norman D. Hood, Bonnet, and Little Brown Jug: Texas Politics, 1921-1928. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1984.

Key, V. O., Jr. Southern Politics. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1949.

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