Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Ethel Williams Cunningham, 1881-1958

By Julia Flynn, Researcher, Evanston History Center, Evanston, Illinois.

National American Woman Suffrage Association; Woman's Club of Evanston; Woman's Christian Temperance Union; Evanston Political Equality League; Daughters of the American Revolution.

Ethel Williams Cunningham was born in 1881 in Evanston, Illinois to John B Williams and Lydia Pattee Williams. She was a descendant of Seth Pattee who signed the Revolutionary War Association Test of Salem, New Hampshire in 1776. She married Robert Davidson Cunningham in 1909 and had two children, Robert D Cunningham (1912-2002) and June Cunningham (1922-1994). She lived in Evanston all of her life but was known as a world traveler by those close to her. She died in the Wesley Memorial Hospital, Chicago at age 77 on 24 June 1958.

Cunningham attended Evanston Township High School and the American Conservatory of Music, however, research produced little evidence of Cunningham's academic career. The 1940 census lists her as having a two-year college degree but research could not confirm the course of study or college attended.

After the founding of the Evanston Political Equality League (EPEL) in 1904, Cunningham served as President from 1917 to 1919 and campaigned tirelessly for woman's suffrage. EPEL affiliated with the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association (IESA), working on the community level to distribute pamphlets, host lectures and enroll individual members from Evanston to support the suffrage cause. During the many years between legislative victories in the fight for woman suffrage, the EPEL kept the issue of suffrage alive in the community and raised funds for the Illinois Political Equality League. After the passage of the 19th amendment, the Evanston Political Equality League became the Evanston League of Women Voters, where Cunningham maintained community involvement.

A number of newspaper articles highlight the suffrage work carried out by Ethel Cunningham and link her to other prominent suffragists who toured the region campaigning for the right for women to vote. Specifically, Cunningham spoke at the big Suffrage Celebration held at Hotel La Salle in Chicago in 1919 along with Catharine McCulloch, Grace Wilbur Trout and Dr Julia Holmes Smith.

Cunningham devoted much time to the war effort during World War I and acted as District Chairman of the Women's Division in one of the Liberty Loan Drives in Illinois. She is reported to have registered four thousand women during the drive. Research also revealed she signed a petition in her capacity as President of the Evanston Political Equality League that was presented to President Woodrow Wilson, asking that food material used in the production of malt liquor be diverted to food supplies desperately needed by the United States Army.

Cunningham served as an Officer of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union in Evanston, Illinois and was a member of the Woman's Club of Evanston, serving as Chairman of the Art and Literature Department from 1921 to 1923. During her years at the Woman's Club of Evanston, she served on many committees including Child Welfare, Motion Pictures, Revisions, Plays and Programs.


Evanston History Center Archives, Collection 422 - WCTU

Evanston History Center Archives, Collection 214 - Women Suffrage 1885-1936.

Evanston History Center Clipping File Subject- Evanston Political Equality League

Evanston History Center Clipping File Biographical - Cun

Evanston History Center

Willard Archives

Northwestern University Archives, Deering Library

The Woman Citizen - a weekly chronicle of progress, Vol IV, No. 27 (January 24, 1920)

Handbook of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and Proceedings of the Jubilee Convention (1869-1919)

Official Register and Directory of Women's Clubs, 1922, Volume XXIV

Food Will Win the War, Petition presented to President Woodrow Wilson
The Proceedings and Debates of the Second Session of the Sixty-Fifth Congress of the USA, Vol LVI

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