Hon. Hortense Sparks Ward


Hortense Sparks Malsch Ward (1872-1944) was a champion of women's rights, suffrage leader, and the first female Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court.

On July 11, 1910, Mrs. Ward scored the second highest grade (94.7) to become the first woman to pass the Bar Examination in Texas. On August 30, 1910, she received her law license and became the first woman attorney in Houston. She joined with her second husband, William, and opened the law firm of Ward & Ward, a partnership that would last until his death in 1939. Judge William Ward also served as Harris County Judge from 1913 to 1917 and 1933 to 1937.

One of Hortense's major contributions to the women of Texas was to lead the campaign for the "Married Woman's Property Law (H.B. 22) passed in 1913 by the 33rd Texas Legislature. "On March 31, 1913, Governor Oscar Branch Colquitt signed the bill into law, which defined separate and community properties of a husband and a wife, and removed disabilities of married women in the management and control of their separate property. The Governor then gave the pen he used to sign this Bill to Mrs. Ward. The civil status of women in Texas gained recognition because of Mrs. Ward's intelligent and competent efforts in connection with marital property rights for women of the state. At the time the bill was signed in Texas, there were only two remaining states in the Union where women were denied the right to handles their own property and personal earnings."

On February 25, 1915, she became the first woman from Texas and the first woman below the Mason-Dixon line, to be admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court.

On January 12, 1918, she was elected president of the Houston Equal Suffrage Association. Originals of her writings are held at the Texas Collection of the Julia Ideson Branch of the Houston Public Library. She was renowned for the quality of her writing and the posters that she drafted related to women's issues (an important method of communication in those days).

In March 1918, she was again leading the way to have the Texas Legislature pass a law allowing women to vote in primary elections and party nominating conventions. On June 27, 1918, Mrs. Ward became the first woman to register to vote in Harris County, Texas and in 17 days, she had persuaded 386,000 women in Texas to register to vote through her newspaper articles and her pamphlet entitled, "Instructions for Women Voters." In 1918, she was the first woman to be appointed to the Texas Industrial Accident Board as secretary in Austin, Texas.

On August 1, 1923, on the recommendation of Mayor Oscar Fitzallen Holcombe, a motion was made by City Commissioner James Henry Brewer House, and seconded by Commissioner Allie Leroy Anderson; Mrs. Ward was appointed temporary judge of the Corporation Court for the City of Houston. At the time, she was the only woman judge of a Police Court in Texas and was the first woman appointed by the City of Houston to fill the position of Judge. She served six days, from August 5th -11th.

 On January 1, 1925, Mrs. Ward was appointed by Governor Pat Neff to be special Chief Justice of the "All-Woman Texas Supreme Court," which convened on May 24, 1925, to hear the case of Johnson v. Darr. The qualifications to be a Judge of the Texas Supreme Court required seven years of experience and of the 30 licensed female attorneys in Texas, only 10 had more than seven years of service at the bar. It was 57 years before another woman, Judge Ruby Kless Sondock, would be appointed in 1982 to serve on the Texas Supreme Court.

Mrs. Ward continued to practice law until the death of her husband in 1939. She retired and continued her activities in various ladies' clubs and community organizations. Hortense Sparks Malsch Ward died on December 5, 1944 in Houston; burial was at the Hollywood Cemetery in Houston.

Today, Chief Justice Ward, as a Founder in memoriam of the Center for Women in Law at The University of Texas School of Law, continues to be a beacon for the advancement of women in law.

The Hortense Ward Courageous Leader Award Nomination Form

Read more about the Hortense Ward Courageous Leader Award and the previous recipients.


Hortense Sparks Ward’s Spirit Shines on Through the University of Texas Center for Women in Law
Family Remembrances and the Legacy of Chief Justice Hortense Sparks Ward
Hortense Ward Courageous Leader Award Video