The Honorable Hortense Sparks Ward (1872-1944) was an accomplished lawyer, suffragist and champion of women’s rights in Texas in the early 1900s. Ward was the first woman to pass the Texas State Bar exam, the first woman to be admitted to the Texas State Bar, and the only woman to serve as Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court. Ward campaigned tirelessly to advance women’s rights and status in Texas. She was instrumental in the enactment of the Married Women’s Property Rights Law in 1913, which enabled married women to maintain control over their separate property. She published an influential newspaper article that helped convince the Texas Legislature to grant women the right to enter into commercial contracts and lobbied for the right of married women to keep their own earnings. Ward led the Texas campaign in support of the Federal Women’s Suffrage Amendment and drafted the women’s primary suffrage bill that was passed by the Texas Legislature in 1918. She was the first woman in Harris County to register to vote. She wrote newspaper articles and a pamphlet that was distributed statewide, resulting in nearly 386,000 women registering to vote in just seventeen days. Ward was also an active opponent of the then-powerful Klu Klux Klan, going as far as Maine to campaign against KKK-supported political candidates, and she practiced law with her husband in their firm of Ward & Ward. In 1925, Governor Patt Neff appointed her chief justice to the Texas Supreme Court, during which time she authored the majority decision in Johnson v. Darr. That decision has been cited in more than thirty cases, including a 2009 Texas Supreme Court decision. Today, Chief Justice Ward, as a Founder in memoriam of the Center for Women in Law at The University of Texas School of Law, continues to be a beacon for the advancement of women in law.
Read more about the Hortense Ward Courageous Leader Award and the previous recipients.