Texans’ traditional way of seeking out one another’s company in far places in which they find themselves let to the founding way of the Texas State Society of Washington, D.C. On December 19, 1904, Dr. and Mrs. Oscar Wilkinson, she a native Texan he a native of Mississippi, who had lived for a time in El Paso, invited all the Texans they knew living inWashington to their home to form a social club of Texans living in the District.
At a second meeting, all in the Wilkinson home, on January 19, 1905, thirty-three persons were enrolled as charter members of the Society. Rep. Oscar W. Gillespie was elected president and W. E. Suddarth was named the first secretary.
The new organization, named the Texas State Society of Washington was “to foster and encourage a fraternal spirit among the Texans at the National Capital, to render assistance when necessary to all sons and daughters of the Lone Star State, and to increase their patriotic love for Texas and the American Nation.”
The Society issued its first Yearbook in 1906. Among its ninety-seven members, only one Congressman-Representative Gillespie— was named as a member. President of the Society in 1906 was W.H. McNeil of Denton, who worked at the Treasury Department. The 1907 President was P.M. Kennerly, from San Antonio, employed by the War Department.
Most early meetings were held at the Pythian Temple, on 9th Street near Massachusetts Avenue, the site of the 1907 San Jacinto Day celebration. By then, two young Texas Congressman, John Nance Garner and Morris Sheppard were attending meetings regularly. For several years after 1907 the Society was inactive. But on January 25, 1913, some fifty displaced Texans met at the Pythian Club to get the Texas State Society going again. Dr. Wilkinson was chosen president by acclamation and a committee was named to draft a “simple constitution.” Since the Society was to be for social purposes, only a simple constitution wouldbe necessary for the little business that would occur.
The San Jacinto Day meeting of 1913 marked a high point in the affairs of the Society. Senator Morris Sheppard made the principal address, and many distinguished guests were present. Texans were prominent in the Woodrow Wilson Administration, and Society meetings honored Postmaster General Burleson, Secretary of Agriculture David F. Houston, who also served as Secretary of the Treasury and Thomas W. Gregory, who became Attorney General when Attorney General McReynolds was appointed to the Supreme Court. Cato Sells, then Indian Commissioner, was also active in the Society and was elected president of the organization during this period.
Social activities in Washington diminished after the war in Europe began in 1914. By the time the United States entered the war the organization again was dormant. During the 1907-20 period, however, Texans in Washington participated in the affairs of the Southern Club, which drew together a number of societies from the Southern states.
Even though the Texas State Society was more-or-less out of existence, its members participated in a memorable celebration of San Jacinto Day in 1920. Rep. Claude Hudspeth, a former cowboy and a colorful figure in Washington after his election in 1919, took charge of a barbecue for the society which was a huge success. All Texans in Washington, whether or not they belonged to the Society, were invited to the barbecue—held at Chevy Chase Lake. The attending crowd was estimated at 1500. Clarence Ousley, Assistant Secretary of Agriculture in 2 the Wilson Administration, was president of the organization at this time. Newspaper accounts referred to the “Texas Club.”
The next meeting March 3, 1922, drew more than two hundred Texans. Representative Hudspeth was elected president, and enthusiastic plans were made for future meetings. But the organization went into another eclipse for there was little activity for several years. Rep. Daniel Garrett of Houston, a brother-in-law of Jesse Jones, followed Hudspeth as president, and on February 13, 1924, Rep. Clay Stone Briggs, was elected to succeed Garrett. Other officers were Rep. Tom Connally, vice president. The notable event of that year was a ball at the New Willard Hotel to commemorate Texas Independence Day.
On March 21, 1926, Washington papers carried a history of the Society, along with pictures of the president, Representative Connally, and the secretary, Arthur C. Perry, and announced a dance at the Washington Hotel. The organization apparently continued to be called the Texas Club and four meetings were automatically held between November and March, with officers being elected in March. Rep. Luther Johnson and Rep. Morgan Sanders were elected vice presidents. Rep. Eugene Black became president of the club in the early thirties and served for two years.
Parties and receptions featured a short program followed by dancing. San Jacinto Day was always commemorated, a usually with an address on the importance of the date. Receptions were given for new Members of Congress from Texas. Frequently Texas delegates to the spring D.A.R. convention were honored.
Rep. Ewing Thomason was elected president in April 1932. In the months that followed many Texans were among the thousands of persons coming to Washington to work as the government expanded. The new arrivals were invited to join the Texas Club and were made welcome at dances and receptions held at the Mayflower Hotel. Wright Matthews was succeeded by Karl Crowley. In the Thirties, Lyndon B. Johnson was secretary of the Society. Clifford Beckham was elected president in 1937. High points of his administration were receptions honoring the Ambassadors from China and Mexico. Rep. Richard Kleberg closed the decade of the thirties as president and opened the forties.
The name Texas Club was used for the last time in connection with a party on January 14, 1940, honoring Grover Hill, newly appointed Assistant Secretary of Agriculture. Thereafter the organization was called the Texas State Society. Rep. Wright Patman became president of the Society in the spring of 1941. The defense effort had brought many newcomers to Washington, including a large number of Texans. Mr. Patman’s administration made a studied effort to reach all of them, including members of the armed forces. Dances were held during the winter season; men and women in uniform were admitted without charge. A genuine Longhorn steer was presented by the Society to the Washington Zoo. An outstanding event of the period was a breakfast at the Statler Hotel on May 16, 1943, honoring Speaker Sam Rayburn and Col. Oveta Culp Hobby, Commander of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, later the Women’s Army Corps.
When Dale Miller of Dallas assumed the presidency in later May 1943, efforts were intensified to use the organization as a morale building factor in the war effort. Society dances were opened “for the duration” to the public, particularly servicemen and young women employed by the government.
In addition to these dances, several more serious events were held. One was a dinner on June 29, 1945, honoring Senator Tom Connally, who had distinguished himself by his work at the San Francisco Conference to establish the United Nations. Many leaders of the legislative and 3 executive branches of the government attended, along with several hundred Texans. President Truman sent a telegram, read at the dinner, expressing regret at his inability to be present and praising the Senator for his service to the Nation. A few months later, on January 24, 1946, a Society dinner honored two great native sons of Texas: General of the Army Dwight D.Eisenhower and Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.
Ralph Pittman, who served through most of 1946 and 1947, succeeded Mr. Miller as president. A gala dinner was given— in May, 1946—to honor the new Attorney General, Texan Tom Clark. Speakers included Justice Douglas, Secretary of the Treasury, Vinson, Senator Connally and Speaker Rayburn. On January 31, 1947, Speaker Rayburn again was honored at a Society dinner. And among those present, the President of the United States.
The two-year administration of Rep. Tom Pickett, who became president in 1948, was characterized by thoughtful efforts to get the Society “back to normal.” Miss Wanda Lyle was selected at the first Cherry Blossom Princess for 1948. The Society sponsored a float in the inaugural parade in January 1949, followed by a reception for Texans in Washington for the occasion. Shortly thereafter a reception was given for new members of the Texas Delegation in Congress. At this meeting Miss Marion Wilson was chosen Cherry Blossom Princess for 1949.
A San Jacinto Day party was elf for the first time in some years. Summer parties included a ride down the Potomac and a basket for members and their families.