The Governor’s Commission for Women serves as a liaison between Texas women and government agencies, as well as private entities addressing women’s needs. The commission was created following President John F. Kennedy’s establishment of the United States Commission on the Status of Women in 1961. In 1967, Governor John Connally established the Texas Commission on the Status of Women, a group charged with exploring ways for women to continue participating in the domestic sphere while also contributing to the world around them. Its primary legacy was the preparation of a report on the status of women in Texas based on research in such areas as education, home and community, employment practices, and legal treatment. The commission operated without permanent staffing or funding and disbanded when Connally left office in early 1969.
Governor Preston Smith established an advisory group on women’s issues, the Texas Status of Women Commission, in 1970 to serve as a liaison between Texas women and their state government and to encourage the advancement of women’s causes. The Smith commission disbanded shortly thereafter as well but efforts continued to establish a permanent statewide commission on the status of women. Those legislators and citizens in favor of such a group saw it as a viable way to provide research on women to state officials. Opponents, however, argued that such a body would downgrade the role of the homemaker and thus threaten family life, would unnecessarily enlarge the state bureaucracy, and would not represent the needs of most women in the state.
In August 1977 Governor Dolph Briscoe established a Texas Commission on the Status of Women through executive order DB-32. This commission benefited from a $50,000 budget for the biennium and a staff. It was mandated to distribute information on women, to develop policies to foster equal treatment of women in all areas, and to work with other state agencies in its endeavors. The commission held its last meeting in July 1978. Governor William P. Clements established the Governor’s Task Force on Equal Opportunities for Women and Minorities in its place, but no money or staff was allocated to it.
In 1983, after Mark White was elected governor, an ad hoc group of Texas women representing the National Women’s Political Caucus, National Organization for Women, Austin Families, United Way, and business and professional women’s groups encouraged Governor White to form a commission for women through executive order. On April 13, despite the abolition of several commissions for women across the country, White signed the executive order MW-4 establishing the Governor’s Commission for Women with 29 members. This commission, whose members were appointed to two-year terms, was staffed by an executive director and administrative assistant and was mandated to become active in government policy regarding women and to work for women’s equal opportunity and advancement. It was also instructed to advise the governor on qualified women for appointive office, secure recognition of women’s accomplishments in Texas, and research and maintain statistics on the status of women in the state. After special support from Lieutenant Governor William P. Hobby, Jr., the commission received an initial biennial allocation of $150,000, which made it one of the better-funded commissions for women in the nation. Issues such as the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and abortion provided for some debate within the commission, but it achieved numerous significant goals, including sponsorship of several conferences and commemorations for women and establishment in 1983 of a State Agency Liaison Group of the Governor’s Commission for Women to provide official communication between working women in state government and the commission. In 1984 the commission established the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame to recognize outstanding accomplishments and contributions of Texas women in such areas as education, the arts, civic leadership, and athletics.
In 1987 former governor Clements returned to office and continued the Governor’s Commission for Women with his first executive order, WPC 87-1. In 1991 Governor Ann W. Richards continued the Governor’s Commission for Women by executive order AWR 91-13 and appointed 29 new members to two-year terms. She named Amalia Rodriguez-Mendoza of Austin as head and charged the commission to work to improve the mental, physical, and emotional health of Texas women. In addition, the commission was to focus attention on special needs of women and families relating to health and safety; support research activities that sought to incorporate needs of women in the long-range planning process for Texas; participate with other established task forces and policy groups; secure recognition of citizens’ accomplishments and contributions to Texas; maintain a clearinghouse of information on the status of women; monitor federal and state legislation relating to issues affecting women; and establish a state agency council to assist the commission in fulfilling its charge. The commission made written reports to the governor and met quarterly. The Women’s Hall of Fame continued its work to recognize community leadership by women who made lasting contributions in the following categories: arts, business/professional, civic/volunteer/family, education, government, health/environment, and physical fitness/recreation. Nominees must be native or current residents of Texas. In Richards’ administration, the Governor’s Commission for Women received some funding from and was part of the coordinated efforts of the nonprofit New Texas Foundation.
Governor George W. Bush continued the commission with executive order GWB 95-10 in 1995. During his term, the Beacon State Fund, a 501(c)3 non-profit, was established to fund various activities of the commission.
During Governor Rick Perry’s term, the commission focused on strengthening economic development, improving health and wellness, preventing domestic violence (including teen-dating violence), and honoring Texas women through the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame. The commission also became a founding sponsor of the Texas Round-Up, a statewide initiative to encourage daily physical activity and healthy choices.
(Sources include: Debbie Mauldin Cottrell, “Governor’s Commission for Women,” Handbook of Texas Online; Governor’s Commission for Women website, accessed on June 9, 2015; and the contents of the records.)