Ward, Hortense (1872–1944)

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Ward, Hortense (1872–1944)

American lawyer and reformer . Born Hortense Sparks on July 20, 1872, near Simpsonville, Texas; died on December 5, 1944; daughter of Frederick Sparks (a cattleman, surname originally Funks) and Louisa Marie (La Bauve) Sparks; married Albert Malsch (a tinner), in 1891 (divorced 1906); married William Henry Ward (a lawyer), in 1909; children: (first marriage) Mary Louise, Marguerite, and Hortense.

Was the first woman to pass the bar examination in Texas (August 1910); fought for a married women's property rights law, which was known as the Hortense Ward law upon its passage (1913); was the first Texas woman admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court (February 1915); also gained women the right to vote in political primaries in Texas (1918).

Hortense Ward was born near Simpsonville, Texas, in 1872. Her father Frederick Sparks was a German-born deputy hide inspector and cattle raiser; her mother Louisa Marie La Bauve was descended from an old French family in Louisiana. Hortense lived her entire life in Texas, attending public schools in Edna and graduating from Nazareth Academy in Victoria in 1890.

Ward's brief teaching career ended with her marriage to Albert Malsch on January 4, 1891. The couple had three daughters, but separated when Hortense moved to Houston to take a position with the Wolf Cigar Company in the summer of 1903. Although her husband and children joined her that fall, Ward's ambition surpassed that of her husband, and they divorced in 1906. Now a stenographer and notary, Hortense shared office space with the legal firm of Hogg, Gill & Jones, which sparked her interest in law as a career. For two years, she studied by correspondence course while also working as a court reporter. In 1909, she married lawyer William Henry Ward, who helped her to complete her law studies. She became the first woman in Texas to pass the bar examination and was admitted to the Texas bar in Galveston on August 30, 1910.

Ward and her husband soon established the firm of Ward & Ward, active in civil cases. Though her husband was a trial lawyer, Hortense never appeared in court, confining herself to briefings and consultations. She chose to use her understanding of law to benefit women by advocating on several fronts as a lobbyist. Her 1912 letter to a local Houston newspaper concerning married women's property law drew the interest of the Delineator magazine, which provided national publicity for her cause and printed and distributed her pamphlet "Property Rights of Married Women in Texas." In 1913, after considerable effort and lobbying by Ward on the issue, the Hortense Ward law granting married Texas women property rights was passed. That same year her efforts on behalf of worker's compensation and the establishment of a 54-hour work week for employed women also became law. A proponent of prohibition, Ward also supported the establishment of a division for women in the state's labor department and a court for domestic issues. She also lobbied for the right of married women to serve as officers of corporations. During World War I, she became president of the Harris County Equal Suffrage Association. Ward was behind another major advancement for women when the women's primary law gave Texas women the right to vote in party primaries in 1918.

In February 1915, Ward was admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States; she is considered to be the first Texas woman to achieve this feat. Although she mounted an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination to a judgeship in 1920, she used her political savvy to oppose Texas governor James Ferguson following his derogatory remarks about higher education for women. Her opposition to Ferguson, however, did not extend to his wife Miriam A. Ferguson 's run for the governorship in 1924 on an anti-Ku Klux Klan platform. Ward's aversion to the Klan also took her to Maine in support of an anti-Klan candidate there. A strong Democratic campaigner, she championed Oscar Underwood's bid for the Democratic nomination for president in 1924 and Al Smith's similar attempt in 1928.

In 1925, Ward was named chief justice to a temporary Texas supreme court arranged specifically for the case of Johnson v. Darr. The case involved a fraternal order to which all the justices belonged, thus requiring their disqualification. The governor appointed Ward and two other women to hear the case. During that same year Ward served as acting judge of the city of Houston's corporation court. Upon the death of her husband and because of her own arthritic condition, Ward closed her law office in 1939 and thereafter limited her practice to consulting for selected friends and former clients. She died on December 5, 1944, and was buried in Hollywood Cemetery.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

Judith C. Reveal , freelance writer, Greensboro, Maryland