I find stories about teachers engaged in political activity fascinating. One of the most interesting of these stories is that of Annie Webb Blanton, a teacher and suffragist who also just happens to be the first woman in Texas elected to statewide office.
Annie was born on August 19, 1870, in Houston, one of seven children of Thomas Lindsay and Eugenia (Webb) Blanton. Her twin sister, Fannie, died as a child. As a young girl, Annie attended school in Houston and La Grange. After graduating from La Grange High School in 1886, she taught in a rural school in Fayette County. When her father died in 1888, Annie relocated to Austin, where she taught in both elementary and secondary schools. As she worked to support herself, Annie continued her studies at the University of Texas, where she graduated in 1899.
Shortly after her graduation from college, Annie was selected to serve on the English faculty of North Texas State Normal college, now known as the University of North Texas. She served in this capacity from 1901 to 1918. While there, she became active in the Texas State Teachers Association. She earned a reputation for being a strong believer in equal rights for women. During this time she also wrote a series of grammar textbooks. In 1916, Annie was elected president of the teacher’s union, the first woman to occupy the position.
In 1917 Texas suffragists found a strong supporter in Governor William P. Hobby, so they through their considerable energy into his 1918 bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. In that election, the suffragists also encouraged Annie to run for the office of state superintendent of public instruction. The campaign was a bitter one, with false accusations made against the veteran teacherr, but in the 1918 primary, Texas women were allowed to vote for the first time, so Annie was elected by a wide margin. Her victory in the general election in November made her the first woman in Texas elected to statewide office.
During her tenure as state superintendent, Annie inaugurated a system of free textbooks, revised teacher certification laws, raised teachers’ salaries, and made improvements to rural education. Annie was reelected in November 1920, when voters also passed the Better Schools Amendment, which she had proposed as a means of removing constitutional limitations on tax rates for local school districts. She served as state superintendent through 1922.
When her term ended, Annie returned to the University of Texas, where she received her master’s degree in 1923. She taught in the UT education department until 1926, then took a leave of absence to earn her Ph.D. from Cornell University. After returning to the University of Texas in 1927, she remained a professor of education there for the rest of her life.
During her lifetime, Annie published a number of books about education, including Review Outline and Exercises in English Grammar (1903), A Handbook of Information as to Education in Texas (1922), Advanced English Grammar (1928), and The Child of the Texas One-Teacher School (1936). In 1929 she founded the Delta Kappa Gamma society, an honorary society for women teachers, which in 1988 had an international membership of 162,000. She also was active in national educational groups and served as a vice president in the National Education Association in 1917, 1919, and 1921.
Annie Blanton never married, and she had no children of her own. She died in Austin on October 2, 1945, and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery. Public schools are named for her in Austin, Dallas, and Odessa, and a women’s dormitory at the University of Texas at Austin has also been named after her.
Annie Blanton: a true chalkboard champion.