Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Otelia Carrington Cunningham, 1868-1934
By Kathleen Monahan, librarian
Boston College, Boston, Massachusetts
President of North Carolina Equal Suffrage League, 1917-1920; member at large for North Carolina at Democratic Convention, 1920;
Otelia Maria Carrington was born on November 25, 1868 in Charlotte House, Virginia. She was one of ten children of Henry A. Carrington and Charlotte Elizabeth Cullen. On June 4, 1889 she married John Somerville Cunningham and moved to the town of Cunningham, in Person County, North Carolina.
John Somerville Cunningham was a member of a wealthy, prominent North Carolina family. From 1895 to 1897, he was elected to the state House of Representatives for Person County. He later served as the president of the State Agriculture Society, ran the North Carolina state fair, and was elected as the chairman of the State Board of Agriculture. However, in 1910, Cunningham went bankrupt and lost his land in Person County.
With the change in their financial circumstances, John began working for the Internal Revenue Service. Otelia appears to have started her own business; she became the president of the Carrington Cunningham Company, which sold small goods such as polish through mail order. In addition to the Carrington Cunningham Company, she also worked for the North Carolina Insurance Department. Otelia traveled across the state to schools, colleges, and women's clubs to speak about fire safety.
In 1917 she was appointed as the state representative for the Woman's Committee of the Liberty Loan. She was working on behalf of the Women's Committee of the Council of National Defense. In the same year Otelia was elected as the president of the Equal Suffrage League in North Carolina. In her address at the end of the year for the Third Annual Convention of Equal Suffrage Association of North Carolina, Otelia reflected that many of the pro-suffrage activities of the group were placed on hold as women contributed to war work. She wrote that while the association had not moved forward on suffrage efforts that year, their work on war service was in the same spirit of patriotism and service that moved the suffrage movement.
By 1918, the Cunninghams had moved to Durham, North Carolina. Otelia was re-elected as president of the Equal Suffrage Association. As in 1917, the Association all but abandoned suffrage activities in order to contribute to war efforts. Despite the war, Otelia remained committed to making strides towards suffrage. She attended the Republican Annual Convention where suffrage was adopted as part of the party's platform. She also attended the Democratic Annual Convention, but the suffrage resolution was not allowed to come to a vote.
In 1920, Otelia was named on the platform committee to the state Democratic convention. She later elected to attend the national Democratic convention as a member at large.
The Cunninghams moved to Greensboro, North Carolina in 1921. John died on April 4 ,1922. Otelia continued to live in Greensboro, where she became involved as the president of the Church Service League of the Holy Trinity Church. In 1930, Otelia moved to Durham and lived with her daughter, Otelia Cunningham Connor and her husband. She died on June 28, 1934.
Otelia Carrington Cunningham Connor Papers #3228, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Greensboro, N.C. City Directory. Richmond: Hill Directory Co, 1921
Twin City Daily Sentinel (Winston-Salem, NC)
Wilmington Morning Star Sun
High Point Enterprise
Daily Free Press (Kinston NC)
Greensboro Daily News
Fayetteville Weekly Observer
Durham Morning Herald
Standard Certificate of Death: Otelia Carrington Cunningham. North Carolina State Board of Health, 1934.
President's Report, 1917-1918, Folder 55, Otelia Carrington Cunningham Connor Papers #3228, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.