Minnie Fisher Cunningham

During the twentieth century, Minnie Fisher Cunningham (1882-1964) worked as a leading reformer on women’s issues, including voting rights and equal pay. Born near New Waverly, Texas in southern Walker County, Minnie was raised by her parents, Horatio and Sallie (Abercrombie) Fisher, to be an educated, politically-minded young woman. She earned her state teaching certificate at age sixteen, but chose to further her education at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. In 1901, she became the first woman in Texas to earn her Graduate of Pharmacy degree. She began and ultimately ended her pharmacy career in Huntsville’s downtown drug store, however, where she earned less than half of what her male counterparts made. It was this experience that she credited with “making a suffragette out of me,” and once she married B.J. Cunningham in 1902, her medical career came to an end.

Cunningham first became politically active in local volunteer organizations in Galveston, where she and her husband relocated in 1907. She began her speaking and lobbying career, while volunteering for the Women’s Health Protective Association (WHPA) and helped to found Galveston’s Equal Suffrage Association (GESA). As a delegate of GESA, she participated in the creation of the Texas Woman Suffrage Association (TWSA) and helped link it to the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). In 1915, she was elected president of TWSA, soon called the Texas Equal Suffrage Association (TESA), and it was in that role that she worked for the passage of a state bill that would allow women to vote in political primaries. Although the bill ultimately failed to pass in 1917, Cunningham and her organization used their considerable influence to help impeach the sitting governor of Texas, James E. Ferguson, for corruption. When Ferguson decided to run for governor again, despite being banned from doing so, Cunningham negotiated a deal with State Representative Charles Metcalfe and Governor William Hobby to allow women to vote in the state's primary, promising that the female vote would support Hobby in his bid to remain governor.

Despite her success during the election of 1918, Cunningham and her forces were unable to secure the passage of an amendment to the Texas Constitution that would have allowed women to vote in the state. Cunningham did not give in, however, but instead worked diligently for the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. She was part of the team that convinced Woodrow Wilson to openly support it during World War I, and she actively lobbied the Texas Legislature for immediate ratification in 1919. Following the successful campaign to secure women’s voting rights through the Nineteenth Amendment, Cunningham became the first executive secretary of the League of Women Voters and became active in progressive political causes, joining the Democratic Women’s Advisory Committee at the suggestion of Eleanor Roosevelt. She later became the first woman to run for the Senate in Texas, and though she lost in the primary, she later became the first woman to run for governor as well. In that latter race, she came in second out of nine candidates having been defeated by the incumbent, Coke Stevenson in the primary. She worked tirelessly for the implementation of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies and was late in life a supporter of John F. Kennedy. She died in her hometown in 1964 of heart failure.

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Minnie Fisher Cunningham

Minnie Fisher Cunningham

Minnie Fisher Cunningham stands as a leading female activist not only in Texas History, but that of the entire nation. In her early efforts to guarantee women the right to vote, she helped to found the Galveston Equal Rights Association and the Texas Equal Rights Association. She lobbied to Texas become the first southern state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. Later in life she ran for both a seat in the U.S. Senate and Governor of Texas, the first woman to do either. | Source: Library of Congress. Prints and Photographs Division. American Women's History Online. View File Details Page

Houston Chronicle Article

Houston Chronicle Article

In her early days of campaigning for suffrage, Minnie Fisher Cunningham and the Galveston Equal Suffrage Association lobbied state legislature to adopt an amendment to the Texas Constitution allowing for the enfranchisement of women. In this article she explains that she will convince the people of Texas by educating them to the necessity that citizenship and voting rights are given to women, as they are to recent immigrants. | Source: University of Houston Digital Library. Women's Archives. Minnie Fisher Cunningham Papers, 1914-1944 View File Details Page

Governor Hobby Signs the Primary Suffrage Bill

Governor Hobby Signs the Primary Suffrage Bill

One of the first legislative victories that Minnie Fisher Cunningham made was the passing of a bill in Texas that allowed women to vote in the state primaries. This was achieved when Cunningham, Representative Metcalfe and Governor Hobby worked together to defeat the illegal candidacy of former Governor James E. Ferguson. Cunningham promised to deliver the female votes to defeat the ex-governor if Hobby could get the bill passed. | Source: University of Houston Digital Library. Women's Archives. Minnie Fisher Cunningham Papers, 1914-1944 View File Details Page

Telegram from President Wilson to Minnie Fisher Cunningham

Telegram from President Wilson to Minnie Fisher Cunningham

After Minnie Fisher Cunningham and her allies succeeded in getting the primary suffrage bill passed in the Texas State Legislature, President Woodrow Wilson congratulated Cunningham on her victory. This would not be the only communication between the two as Cunningham would latter personally lobby the President for a federal suffrage amendment. | Source: University of Houston Digital Library. Women's Archives. Minnie Fisher Cunningham Papers, 1914-1944 View File Details Page

Votes for Governor Hobby

Votes for Governor Hobby

In exchange for passing legislation to allow women to vote in the state primary, Minnie Fisher Cunningham promised to deliver the female vote for Governor Hobby. In this flyer, the president of the Houston Equal Suffrage Association implores women by calling them to start "Hobby Clubs" in their local communities to ensure the election of Governor Hobby. | Source: University of Houston Digital Library. Women's Archives. Minnie Fisher Cunningham Papers, 1914-1944 View File Details Page

Letter to President Wilson

Letter to President Wilson

In this letter, Minnie Fisher Cunningham personally thanks President Wilson for his support in the passage of what would be the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. She promises that her "fervent prayers and abundant blessings will be with you to the end." | Source: University of Houston Digital Library. Women's Archives. Minnie Fisher Cunningham Papers, 1914-1944 View File Details Page

"Minnie Fisher Cunningham for US Senate"

"Minnie Fisher Cunningham for US Senate"

Minnie Fisher Cunningham ran for Senate in 1928, the first woman from Texas to do so. She would lose to the incumbent, Earle B. Mayfield, in the primary. While running, she refused to engage in the combative political style of the day, preferring to run solely based on issues. | Source: Austin History Center General Collection View File Details Page

Minnie Fisher Cunningham campaign poster, 1928

Minnie Fisher Cunningham campaign poster, 1928

In order to oppose Governor Coke Stevenson's undermining of President Roosevelt's New Deal Policies, Minnie Fisher Cunningham sold wood from her farm in order to raise money for her filing fee to run for governor. As with her previous run for Senate, she would be defeated in the primary, but she placed second out of nine candidates, only behind the incumbent himself, an impressive feat. | Source: Jessie Daniel Ames Papers, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission. | Creator: View File Details Page

Audio

Cheryl Spencer on Minnie Fisher Cunningham

Librarian Cheryl Spencer reads the biography of Minnie Fisher Cunningham. | Source: Musings from Sam Houston's Stomping Grounds, Newton Gresham Library, Sam Houston State University View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Allison Baughman, “Minnie Fisher Cunningham,” East Texas History, accessed June 26, 2017, http://easttexashistory.org/items/show/14.

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