Cunningham, Minnie Fisher, 1882-1964

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Minnie Fisher Cunningham (1882-1964), nicknamed “Minnie Fish” by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was a Texas suffragette and political leader, who cofounded and served on several voting and political clubs. In 1901, she became one of the first three women to graduate from the University of Texas Medical School in Galveston with a pharmacy degree, and in 1928 she ran as the first female candidate from Texas for the U.S. Senate. In 1944, she came in second out of nine in a race for governor, losing to incumbent Coke Stephenson.

From the guide to the Minnie Fisher Cunningham Papers 90-176; 90-282; 92-291; 2002-136; 2009-282., 1893-1992, (Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin)

In 1915 Minnie Fisher Cunningham, an active clubwoman and popular speaker, became President of the Texas Equal Suffrage Association. It was a major step in the lifetime of reform movements and political involvement at both state and national levels that included participation in the organization of the League of Women Voters, management of the Women's National Democratic Club, and a candidacy for governor of Texas in 1944 .

From the guide to the Minnie Fisher Cunningham Papers Mss 0074., 1914-1944, 1914-1920, (Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library)

Minnie Fisher Cunningham, woman suffrage leader and leading liberal Democrat, the daughter of Horatio White and Sallie Comer (Abercrombie) Fisher, was born on March 19, 1882, on Fisher Farms, near New Waverly, Texas. Her father was a prominent planter who served in the House of Representatives of the Seventh Texas Legislature in 1857-58. He introduced her to politics by taking her to political meetings at Huntsville. After having been educated by her mother, Minnie passed a state examination to earn a teaching certificate when she was sixteen. She taught for a year before enrolling in the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. In 1901 she became one of the first women to receive a degree in pharmacy in Texas; she worked as a pharmacist in Huntsville for a year, but she later said that inequity in pay "made a suffragette out of me." In 1902 she married Beverly Jean (Bill) Cunningham, a lawyer and insurance executive. His successful race for county attorney as a reform candidate was her first taste of the campaign trail, but the marriage was unhappy, in part because of her increasing political activity and his alcoholism.

The Cunninghams moved to Galveston in 1907. By 1910 she was elected president of the Galveston Equal Suffrage Association and toured Texas to speak for the cause. In 1915 she was elected to the first of four annual terms as president of the Texas Woman Suffrage Association (subsequently the Texas Equal Suffrage Associationqv). The number of local auxiliaries quadrupled during her first year in office, largely because of her leadership. In 1917 she moved to Austin, opened state suffrage headquarters near the Capitol,qv and began a campaign that culminated in legislative approval for woman suffrage in state primary elections in 1918.

In 1919 Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, persuaded Minnie Cunningham to lobby Congress for the Nineteenth Amendment. When the amendment finally was passed and submitted to the states for ratification, Cunningham said she "pursued governors all over the west" and urged them to ratify it. That same year, she helped organize the National League of Women Voters and became its executive secretary. Twenty years later Eleanor Roosevelt recalled that Cunningham's address at the league's second annual convention made her feel "that you had no right to be a slacker as a citizen, you had no right not to take an active part in what was happening to your country as a whole."

Minnie Cunningham was widowed in 1927 and traveled to Texas to settle her husband's estate. The following year she became the first Texas woman to run for the United States Senate. She challenged Earle B. Mayfield,qv the incumbent, with a platform that advocated prohibition,qv tariff reduction, tax reform, farm relief, flood control, cooperation with the League of Nations, and opposition to the Ku Klux Klan.qv She finished fifth of six in the primary, carrying only her home county, Walker. She then campaigned for Thomas T. Connally,qv the runner-up, who edged out Mayfield in the runoff.

From 1930 to 1939 Cunningham worked in College Station as an editor for the Texas A&M Extension Service. She returned to Washington in 1939 to work as an information specialist for the Women's Division of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration.qv President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is credited with having given her the nickname by which she later became widely known, "Minnie Fish." She resigned in 1943 to protest a rule impeding the flow of information to farmers.

In 1944, at the Democratic state convention, anti-Roosevelt forces elected "uninstructed" delegates to the national convention, effectively disenfranchising the voters of Texas. Outraged, Roosevelt supporters elected their own slate of delegates at a rump convention. When a coalition of liberal Democrats failed to draft J. Frank Dobieqv as a candidate for governor, Cunningham ran herself. Angry that the incumbent governor, Coke Stevenson,qv did not take a public stand on the split, she ran an outspoken campaign, calling on Stevenson to declare his views, and prevented his leading the anti-Roosevelt delegation to the national convention. Stevenson won the primary by a landslide. Nevertheless, in a field of nine candidates, Cunningham finished second.

In 1946 she retired to Fisher Farms in New Waverly to raise cattle and pecans, but she continued to campaign for the Democratic partyqv and organized ad hoc committees to support liberal causes. When the board of regents fired the president of the University of Texas, Homer P. Rainey,qv she opposed the regents' decision and supported Rainey's unsuccessful bid for the governorship. In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education she supported civil rights on her local school board. In 1952 she stumped for Adlai Stevenson for president and Ralph Yarborough for governor. Prepared to mortgage her farm to ensure the continuation of a liberal voice in Texas journalism, she played a pivotal role in founding the Texas Observerqv in 1954. Also in the 1950s she helped start Democrats of Texas, an organization of liberals. In 1960, at the age of seventy-eight, she managed the campaign headquarters for John F. Kennedy in New Waverly. Minnie Cunningham died on December 9, 1964, and was buried in New Waverly.

From the description of Minnie Fisher Cunningham papers, 1914-1944. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 670677887

Minnie Fisher Cunningham (1882-1964), nicknamed "Minnie Fish" by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was a Texas suffragette and political leader, who cofounded and served on several voting and political clubs.

In 1901, she became one of the first three women to graduate from the University of Texas Medical School in Galveston with a pharmacy degree, and in 1928 she ran as the first female candidate from Texas for the U.S. Senate. In 1944, she came in second out of nine in a race for governor, losing to incumbent Coke Stephenson.

From the description of Cunningham, Minnie Fisher, papers 1893-1992. (University of Texas Libraries). WorldCat record id: 472473390

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Crane, Martin McNulty, 1855-1943. Crane, Martin McNulty, papers, 1834-1973. University of Texas Libraries
referencedIn Crawford, Ann Fears. Papers, 1917-1991. Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library
referencedIn Shaw, Anna Howard, 1847-1919. Papers in the Mary Earhart Dillon Collection, 1863-1961 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Gardener, Helen Hamilton, 1853-1925. Papers in the Woman's Rights Collection, 1913-1941 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Minnie Fisher Cunningham Papers 90-176; 90-282; 92-291; 2002-136; 2009-282., 1893-1992 Dolph Briscoe Center for American History
referencedIn The Nation, records, 1879-1974 (inclusive), 1920-1955 (bulk). Houghton Library
referencedIn Additional papers, (inclusive), (bulk), 1857-1976, 1912-1971 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Hay, Mary Garrett, 1857-1928. Papers in the Woman's Rights Collection, 1918-1923 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Jane Y. McCallum Papers AR. E. 004., 1815-1967., 1914-1953. Austin History Center , Austin Public Library, 810 Guadalupe Street, Austin, Texas, 78701.
referencedIn Hooper, Jessie Jack, 1865-1935. Papers, 1889-1935, 1971. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
creatorOf Minnie Fisher Cunningham Papers Mss 0074., 1914-1944, 1914-1920 Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Libary
referencedIn Hall, Walter G. (Walter Gardner), 1907-. Walter Gardner Hall papers, 1923-1990. Rice University, Fondren Library
referencedIn Park, Maud Wood, 1871-1955. Papers in the Woman's Rights Collection, 1870-1960 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Park, Maud Wood, 1871-1955. Papers in the Woman's Rights Collection, 1870-1960 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Walter Hall Oral History Transcripts 88-388., 1979-1980 Dolph Briscoe Center for American History
referencedIn Biography -- Cunningham, Minnie Fisher. Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library
referencedIn Ann Fears Crawford Papers Col 5881., 1917-1991 Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library
referencedIn McCallum, Jane Y. and Arthur N. family papers 89-378; 89-379; 2006-294., 1894-1982 (bulk 1910-1956) Dolph Briscoe Center for American History
referencedIn Minnie Fisher Cunningham Papers 1969-012., 1920-1964 Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries
referencedIn Brown, Dorothy Kirchwey. Papers of Dorothy Kirchwey Brown, 1917-1957. Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Papers of Anna Howard Shaw in the Mary Earhart Dillon Collection, 1863-1961 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Brown, Dorothy Kirchwey. Additional papers, 1857-1976 (inclusive), 1912-1971 (bulk). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn McCallum, Jane Y., 1878-1957. McCallum, Jane Y. and Arthur N., family papers, 1894-1982 (bulk 1910-1956). University of Texas Libraries
creatorOf Cunningham, Minnie Fisher, 1882-1964. Cunningham, Minnie Fisher, papers 1893-1992. University of Texas Libraries
referencedIn Gardener, Helen H. (Helen Hamilton), 1853-1925. Papers in the Woman's Rights Collection, 1913-1941 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Cunningham, Minnie Fisher, 1882-1964. Minnie Fisher Cunningham papers, 1914-1944. University of Houston, M.D. Anderson Library
referencedIn Crawford, Ann Fears. Ann Fears Crawford papers, 1917-1991. Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library
referencedIn Hay, Mary Garrett, 1857-1928. Papers in the Woman's Rights Collection, 1918-1923 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Walter Gardner Hall - Papers, MS 280., 1923-1990 Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University
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Place Name Admin Code Country
Texas
Texas
Texas
Subject
United States
Brewers
Political campaigns
Political campaigns
Democratic National Convention (1920: San Francisco)
Elections
Prison reformers
Prohibition
Prostitution
Suffragists
Suffragists
Vice control
World War, 1914-1918
Women
Women
Women
Women
Women
Women labor union members
Occupation
Activity

Person

Birth 1882-03-19

Death 1964-12-09

Information

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