Texas governor Miriam A. “Ma” Ferguson was the first woman elected to a four-year term as governor in the United States. By a quirk of fate, she was the second woman sworn in as governor as Wyoming’s Nellie Ross, elected to fill her husband’s unexpired term, was sworn in 15 days before Ma.
Ma Ferguson had lived in the Texas Governor’s Mansion before. Her husband Jim had served as governor before he was impeached, charged with using state funds for personal items. In 1924, Jim Ferguson talked his wife into entering the race, proclaiming that Texans would get two governors for the price of one. She ran with the slogan, “Me for Ma,” and the sunbonnet became her symbol during the election. She was not particularly happy about any of this but later came to appreciate its value. Under Texas law at that time, her husband was entitled to all of her salary, but this did not stop her from campaigning energetically–so much so that her right arm swelled to twice its normal size from shaking so many hands.
Controversy over her granting pardons (2,000 in her first 20 months) and highway contracts (Many believed the Fergusons received kickbacks.) dogged her first term as governor. She was defeated in 1926 and 1930, but ran again successfully in 1932. Her second term was less controversial, but she “retired” from politics after four years However, she attempted to seek another term in 1940. She was defeated, although she was still able to poll 100,000 votes in her effort.
Among her positions as governor, she is perhaps best remembered for a statement she uttered in defense of her opposition to teaching foreign languages in the public schools. She was quoted as saying, “If the King’s English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for the children of Texas.”