Minnie Fisher Cunningham

Minnie Fisher Cunningham : A Suffragist's Life in Politics

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The principal orchestrator of the passage of women's suffrage in Texas, a founder and national officer of the League of Women Voters, the first woman to run for a U.S. Senate seat from Texas, and a candidate for that state's governor, Minnie Fisher Cunningham was one of the first American women to pursue a career in party politics. Cunningham's professional life spanned a half century, thus illuminating our understanding of women in public life between the Progressive Era and the 1960s feminist movement. Cunningham entered politics through the suffrage movement and women's voluntary association work for health and sanitation in Galveston, Texas. She quickly became one of the most effective state suffrage leaders, helping to pass the bill in a region where opposition to women voters was strongest. In Washington, Cunningham was one of the core group of suffragists who lobbied the Nineteenth Amendment through Congress and then traveled the country campaigning for ratification. After women gained the right to vote across the nation, she helped found the nonpartisan National League of Women Voters and organized training schools to teach women the skills of grassroots organizing, creating publicity campaigns, and lobbying and monitoring legislative bodies. Through the League, she became acquainted with Eleanor Roosevelt, who credited one of her speeches with stimulating her own political activity. Cunningham then turned to the Democratic Party, serving as an officer of the Woman's National Democratic Club and the Women's Division of the Democratic National Committee. In 1928 Cunningham became a candidate herself, making an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate. An advocate of New Deal reforms, Cunningham was part of the movement in the 1930s to transform the Democratic Party into the women's party, and in 1944 she ran for governor on a pro-New Deal platform. Cunningham's upbringing in rural Texas made her particularly aware of the political needs of farmers, women, union labor, and minorities, and she fought gender, class, and racial discrimination within a conservative power structure. In the postwar years, she was called the "very heart and soul of Texas liberalism" as she helped build an electoral coalition of women, minorities, and male reformers that could sustain liberal politics in the state and bring to office candidates including Ralph Yarborough and Bob Eckhardt. A leader and role model for the post-suffrage generation, Cunningham was not satisfied with simply achieving the vote, but agitated throughout her career to use it to better the lives of others. Her legacy has been carried on by the many women to whom she taught successful grassroots strategies for political organizing.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 296 pages
  • 149.9 x 226.1 x 17.8mm | 362.88g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • Revised ed.
  • 0195304861
  • 9780195304862

Review quote

"From suffragist to Left Feminist, Minnie Fisher Cunningham has been hailed by her contemporaries as 'the South's best female political organizer' and by >Texas Monthly as the 'Agitator of the Century.' This important book reveals that she was an extraordinary Texan, whose talent for politics led to two campaigns for office and took her from the New Deal to the New Frontier. Minnie Fish, as FDR called her, worked steadfastly to improve the lot of women and of African Americans despite southern proscriptions against them. Readers will rejoice in this well-crafted biography which provides the only current account of a southern state suffrage president and her political afterlife."-Elizabeth Hayes Turner, University of North Texas "This is a splendid biography of a determined woman. Thoroughly researched and absorbingly written, it exposes the barriers built into the Texas political system and the persistence necessary for women to be heard. Cunningham's work for woman suffrage, for better laws, and for more democracy illuminates the long and difficult road to political participation. It took dedication and sacrifice for women to break into politics."-Jo Freeman, author of A Room at a Time: How Women Entered Party Politics "When I went to work for the national League of Women Voters in 1944 'Minnie Fish' was a legend. Now that I have read this wonderful book I know why."-Anne Firor Scott, author of Natural Allies: Women's Associations in American Life "Judith N. McArthur and Harold L. Smith have told the Minnie Fisher Cunningham saga with political sophistication and in sufficient detail to illuminate a century of political life in Texas and the country as a whole . For this deeply researched, generous, tough-minded biography, we are indebted to Ms. McArthur and Mr. Smith, who have esurrected a woman of whom Texans can be inordinately proud."- The Dallas Morning News "excellently written and well-documented biography . . . . a welcome and substantive contribution to the study of women's political activism in the fight for state and federal suffrage laws."-H-Net "A seamless, well-organized, and thoroughly researched political biography of Minnie Fisher Cunningham... this work is thoroughly grounded in twentieth-century state and national history-politics, reform, race relations, labor issues, war and economic depression, and women's movements. This is the book's most impressive and edifying achievement."-The Journal of American History "An important and timely book that not only advances understanding of twentieth-century Texas political history, an understudied period, but also speaks to significant debates about women's political endeavors in the years between suffrage and the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Cunningham's life story demonstrates that feminist activism did not disappear so much as it assumed alternative forms."-Nancy Beck Young, McKendree Collegeshow more

About Judith N. McArthur

Judith N. McArthur and Harold L. Smith teach at the University of Houston-Victoria. McArthur is the author of Creating the New Woman: The Rise of Southern Women's Progressive Culture in Texas and Smith is the author of The British Women's Suffrage Campaign, 1866-1928.show more

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