In Texas, Hortense Sparks Malsch Ward was at the forefront of the women's rights movement, a suffrage leader, the first woman to pass the Bar Examination in Texas; the first woman attorney in Houston, a Special Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, a partner in a law firm, a daughter, a wife, a mother and a grandmother.
Mrs. Ward was born on 21 July 1872 in Matagorda County, Texas and was the eldest child of Frederick (Fred) Sparks and Mary/Marie Louise LaBauve Sparks. Her siblings included: Julia Sparks Kleas (Mrs. Milam R. Kleas); George L. Sparks; Miss Nellie Sparks; Tenya M. Sparks Edgar Schoenert (Mrs. Bernhardt Anton Schoenert); Miss Theresa Sparks; Eleanor (Ella) Sparks Udell (Mrs. Charles Baxter Udell, Jr.); Frederick (Fred) Sparks (Jr.); Earl Sparks; Bryan Sparks; and, unknown infant.
Hortense attended the Academy of Nazareth (renamed Nazareth Academy in 1921), a Catholic convent school located in Victoria, Victoria Co., TX. On 3 June 1887, she was presented with a silver medal for music and study from the Edna High School at its end-of-year closing ceremony. In 1890, she returned to Edna to teach school, where her father, a Confederate veteran, served as a Deputy Sheriff.
On 5 January 1891, she married Albert Malsch in Edna, Jackson Co., TX. They had three daughters: Mary/Marie Louise (Pattie) Malsch Buvens (Mrs. Patrick Henry Buvens, Sr.), Marguerite Malsch Crooker (Mrs. Robert Henry Crooker, Sr.), and Hortense Malsch Ward Hinkley (Mrs. Burt Eardly Hinkley).
On 11 May 1906, in Harris Co., TX, Hortense divorced Albert Malsch. In the Plaintiff's Original Petition, filed by the law firm of Camp & Kendrick on behalf of Mrs. Malsch, it states, "Defendant is lazy and of no account, and that he works only about half of the time ... "
On 12 August 1909, she was married her second husband, William Henry Ward by County Judge Almeron Earl Amerman, Sr., in Houston, Harris Co., TX.
On 11 July 1910, Mrs. Ward scored the second highest grade (94.7) to become the first woman to pass the Bar Examination in Texas. On 30 August 1910, she received her law license and became the first woman attorney in Houston. She joined with her 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 her major contributions to the women of Texas was to lead the campaign for the "Married Woman's Property Law" (House Bill 22) passed in 1913 by the 33rd Texas Legislature. "On 31 March 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 handle their own property and personal earnings."
It is interesting to note that many biographical works on Mrs. Ward's life include various statements that due to her gender, she did not appear in court so as to not offend male jurors. However, this contention can be easily dismissed as in 1915, she appeared in the 17th District Court located in Fort Worth, Tarrant Co., TX, on behalf of plaintiffs Willis M. Lawson and Mrs. E. T. Kehoe, in the lawsuit James W. Lawson, et al vs. Supreme Lodge of the United Brotherhood of America.
Houston's Woman Lawyer Wins Fort Worth Case
Special to The Times - Houston, Texas, Jan 8 - The first woman ever to take part in a case here as attorney. Mrs. Hortense Ward of Houston, won her case. She represented the plaintiffs in a suit against a fraternal organization involved [in] an insurance policy.
On 25 February 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 12 January 1918, she was elected president of the Houston Equal Suffrage Association.
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 27 June 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 as the secretary of the Texas Industrial Accident Board in Austin, Texas.
On 1 August 1923, on the recommendation of Mayor Oscar Fitzallen Holcombe, a motion was made by City Commissioner James Henry Brewer House, 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 5 August to 11 August.
A new judge will preside over Corporation Court Monday and for the first time in the State of Texas a woman will occupy a judicial position. Mrs. Hortense Ward is the woman to receive this unique honor. She will preside over Corporation Court for a week during the absence of Judge (J.H.) Reeves who leaves Monday for a week's vacation.
The first woman judge to occupy the bench in Harris County heard her first case in corporation court Monday at 12:45 pm. The judge is Mrs. Hortense Ward. The case was that of Maurice Turner, a negro, charged with exceeding the speed limit. He was fined $15.
"Houston's first day with Judge Hortense Ward, first woman judge in this state, who was sworn in as corporation judge here yesterday, shows these figures: 21 fines were meted out. The fines aggregate $306. Five speeders, seven drunks, four convictions for passing street cars."
On 1 January 1925, she was appointed by Governor Pat Neff to be Special Chief Justice of the "All-Woman Texas Supreme Court," which convened on 24 May 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 bar. It would be 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 including the Houston Heights Woman's Club where she was a charter member. She spoke at the opening of the group's clubhouse on 2 October 1912.
At 2 a.m. on Tuesday, 5 December 1944, Hortense Sparks Malsch Ward died at St. Joseph Infirmary in Houston, Harris County, Texas, of myocardial degeneration. Her funeral was conducted at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, 6 December 1944 from the George H. Lewis & Co. Funeral Home with Rev. J. B. Walsh officiating. Burial was at the Hollywood Cemetery located in Houston.
At the time of her death, surviving were: daughter, Marguerite Malsch Crooker; three sisters, Eleanor (Ella) Sparks Udell, Miss Theresa Sparks and Julia Sparks Klea; two brothers, George L. Sparks and Bryan Sparks; eight grandchildren, Patrick Henry Buvens, Jr., William Myrle Buvens, Ensign John Lawrence Buvens (U.S. Navy), Ensign Joseph Alexander Buvens (U.S. Navy Air Corps), Lieutenant John Henry Crooker, Jr. (U.S. Navy), Father Robert William Crooker, C.S.B., Stanton Ward Hinkley, Miss Rose Marilyn Hinkley and three great-grandchildren.