Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of JANE MADDEN SPELL, 1866-1953
By Daniel Stalcup
This entry has been republished with special permission from the Handbook of Texas Women, a project of the Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association. <https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fspel>. Accessed September 15, 2019.
SPELL, JANE MADDEN (1866–1953). Jane Madden Spell, suffragist, clubwoman, and civic and political leader, was born on August 26, 1866, in Galveston, Texas, to Jack Madden and Francis (Peske) Madden. She married Lee Cotten on April 12, 1885, in Galveston. In 1888 their son Shephard Marrast Cotten was born. Lee Cotten passed away in 1903, and by 1914 she married William E. Spell, a lawyer. Jane Spell was a charter member of and very active with the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs and was appointed a member of the Waco club's executive board in 1914. In 1915 she was appointed as the Texas State Legislative Chairwoman of the Texas Federation of the Women's Clubs.
In January 1915 Spell, a Democrat, worked with other suffragists when the Texas legislature reconvened. Suffragists confronted the legislature and applied immense pressure to submit a resolution for woman suffrage through Representative Jess Alexander Baker of Granbury, Texas. Many of the women had little experience in political work, but their efforts met success in the House with the passage of the resolution by a vote of ninety in favor and thirty-two opposed. Unfortunately, this victory was short-lived, because the Senate did not even consider the resolution.
Spell spent 1916 on the campaign trail and promoted candidates that supported woman suffrage. At a meeting of the Texas Equal Suffrage Association in a Dallas hotel from May 10–12, 1916, Spell was credited with giving a fiery speech demanding that suffragists work vigorously to defeat every legislative candidate who opposed woman suffrage.
In 1917 Spell was the hostess of a luncheon in honor of the past presidents of the federation. The History of the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs (1919), which was edited and compiled by Stella M. Christian, commented on the event: "The hostess [Mrs. Spell], whose ability in the social arts is proverbial, chose orchid tones for the color note." In the same year Spell also helped organize the birthday celebration for the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs, where one of the most momentous occasions was the "Pioneer" dinner, which was organized to honor the original members of the twenty-one charter clubs who met in the city of Waco in 1897.
In January 1918 Spell was part of a group of women who went before the Texas legislature's Special Committee on Woman Suffrage. They represented the more than 2,000 women who endorsed the suffrage amendment. Most of these women were members of the various women's clubs in Waco. Spell was president of the Waco Equal Franchise Society at the time of the meeting. All the women endorsed the suffrage amendment on January 9, 1918, and convinced voters primarily because of the active role they played in World War I. Many people, primarily the press, viewed these women as "essentially patriotic" and having the nation's best interests at heart. In September 1918 Spell was appointed as a vice chairman representing her senatorial district at the Women's Committee for the Liberty Loan. In February 1919 she was a guest speaker at the executive committee of the Texas Equal Suffrage Association in Austin. She gave a speech entitled "City Organization." Jane Spell was one of four women of the Texas delegation to be selected as a delegate to the Democratic national convention in 1920.
In 1925 Spell was a member of the Women's Joint Legislative Council that worked for prison reform, more appropriations for public schools, the strengthening of child labor laws, and other issues. On October 15, 1925, she was elected as a club delegate to the Texas State Convention of the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs that was held in Austin that year. Three years later in 1928 she was again elected as a Texas delegate to the Democratic national convention, where she continued her activism to fight for women's rights. Spell served as regent of the Texas State College for Women in Denton (now Texas Woman's University) for fourteen years and was also on the Citizens Committee on Prisons and Prison Labor. Jane Madden Spell died on June 11, 1953, in Waco and was buried in that city in Oakwood Cemetery.
Austin American, June 12, 1953. Patricia Bernstein, The First Waco Horror: The Lynching of Jesse Washington and the Rise of the NAACP (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2005). Jessica S. Brannon-Wranosky, "Southern Promise and Necessity: Texas, Regional Identity, and the National Woman Suffrage Movement, 1868–1920" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Texas, 2010). Stella L. Christian, ed. The History of the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs (Houston: Dean-Adey-Elgin Co, 1919).