Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Mary Eleanor Brackenridge, 1837–1924
By A. Elizabeth Taylor
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/fbr04>. Accessed February 12, 2020.
BRACKENRIDGE, MARY ELEANOR (1837–1924). Mary Eleanor Brackenridge, clubwoman and advocate of women's rights, daughter of John Adams and Isabella Helena (McCulloch) Brackenridge, was born in Warwick County, Indiana, on March 7, 1837. George W. Brackenridge was her brother. She spent her childhood in Indiana and, upon graduating from Anderson Female Seminary in New Albany in 1855, joined her family, who had moved to Jackson County, Texas. She remained in Jackson County until 1866, when she and her mother went to San Antonio to live with George. John A. Brackenridge had died in 1862.
In San Antonio, Eleanor became a champion of civic and social betterment. She was active in the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Texas Mothers' Congress, the Order of the Eastern Star, and the Presbyterian Church. She was a firm believer in prohibition and a strong supporter of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. She founded the Woman's Club of San Antonio and served as its president for seven years. Under her guidance the club turned its attention from literary subjects to such issues as the need for police matrons, female probation officers, industrial and vocational education, and the general welfare of women and children. She made a study of the state's legal code and published a pamphlet entitled The Legal Status of Texas Women in 1911.
In February 1912 Brackenridge was elected president of the newly-organized San Antonio Equal Franchise Society. The formation of this society stimulated interest throughout the state, and delegates from seven Texas cities met in San Antonio and organized the Texas Woman Suffrage Association in April 1913. Eleanor Brackenridge held the office of president for one year and then became honorary president. Though no longer an active officer, she continued to support the movement, and when the Texas legislature granted primary suffrage to women in 1918 she was the first woman in Bexar County to register to vote. She was one of a group of citizens instrumental in securing the establishment of a state-supported college for women, the College of Industrial Arts (now Texas Woman's University). In 1902 she became a member of its first board of regents, and she served in that capacity until her death more than twenty years later. As a regent she took an active interest in the affairs of the institution and often assisted students in financial need. She urged the legislature to give the woman's college adequate support and sometimes chided its members for failing to vote for requested appropriations. In 1916 a dormitory was named in her honor.
Eleanor Brackenridge traveled widely, often to places not readily accessible to Americans in her time. She was also one of the first women in the nation to serve as a bank director. She was a member of the board of directors of the San Antonio National Bank and the San Antonio Loan and Trust Company, institutions founded by her brother.
Neither Eleanor nor George ever married. They shared the same residence, Fernridge, until George died in 1920. After his death Eleanor continued to live at Fernridge, where she died after a cerebral hemorrhage, on February 14, 1924. When reporting her death, the San Antonio Express called her "in many respects the foremost woman citizen of Texas." She was buried in the Brackenridge family cemetery near Edna in Jackson County.
Johnowene B. C. Menger, M. Eleanor Brackenridge (M.A. thesis, Trinity University, 1964). San Antonio Express, February 15, 1924. A. Elizabeth Taylor, "The Woman Suffrage Movement in Texas," Journal of Southern History 17 (May 1951; rpt., in Citizens at Last: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Texas, ed. Ruthe Winegarten and Judith N. McArthur, Austin, 1987). Joyce Thompson, Marking a Trail: A History of the Texas Woman's University (Denton: Texas Woman's University Press, 1982). Woman's Who's Who of America (New York: American Commonwealth, 1914).