On Women’s Equality Day — which commemorates the 19th Amendment’s certification in 1920 and thus the right of women to vote in the U.S. — the roll call of Texas women to recognize for their trailblazing badassery goes on and on and on. There’s “Ma” Ferguson, the first female governor of Texas. What about Barbara Jordan, the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress from a former Confederate state? Don’t forget Jane Long, the “mother of Texas.”But because of the reason for this particular season, let’s take a moment to remember Minnie Fisher Cunningham, the Texas suffragist who was so tenacious that Eleanor Roosevelt herself had stars in her eyes. She was born in 1882 near New Waverly. In 1919, Cunningham helped found the National League of Women, serving as its executive secretary. From the Texas State Historical Association:
“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.'”
Roosevelt or no Roosevelt, Cunningham was a force of nature. She got her teaching certification at the age of 16, and she was the one of the first women in Texas to receive a degree in pharmacy. The world of remedies only kept Cunningham for a year before pay inequality “made a suffragette out of me,” she said. When the 19th Amendment passed, she “pursued governors all over the west” in a campaign of persuading them to ratify it. Cunningham became the first Texas woman to run for U.S. Senate in 1927, running on an anti-Ku Klux Klan platform. And yes, she eventually ran for governor.
All that, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt himself nicknamed her “Minnie Fish,” too.