Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Mildred Duncan Cunningham, 1887-1939
By Rachael Dickson, Trademark Attorney
Secretary of the Equal Suffrage Party of Georgia (1914), Founder of the Savannah League of Women Voters (1920), Secretary of the Savannah Chapter of the American Red Cross (1916-1918), Treasurer of the Georgia Society of Colonial Dames (1935)
Mildred Duncan Cunningham was born in 1887 to Thomas Mayhew Cunningham and Eliza Cunningham of Savannah, Georgia. From the age of 13 on, Mildred participated in dances and theatrical performances for charitable groups such as the Daughters of the American Revolution, the King's Daughters, and the YWCA, and for a variety of good causes, including the fresh air fund and the Oglethrope Memorial Fund.
When the Red Rose Patrol of the Girl Scouts was formed in Savannah in March 1912, Mildred served as captain. In this role, she repeatedly lobbied for Girl Scout endorsement of women's suffrage, to the extent that the organization's national secretary, Edith D. Johnston, wrote her specifically denying her request in 1915 and the organization's founder, Juliette Gordon Low, sent her a pamphlet on the subject in 1917.
In 1914, Mildred was elected secretary of the Equal Suffrage Party of Georgia at its annual convention. This organization distributed educational materials, hosted parades and plays, and offered prizes for the best arguments for equal suffrage in debate and written composition. The party was quite active in Georgia, where a crowd of 6,000 gathered to listen to well-known suffragist Dr. Anna Howard Shaw at one point. In 1916, she participated in a mock trial of a woman plaintiff hosted by the Equal Suffrage Party. In 1918, she helped reorganize the Suffrage Players Club in 1918.
In the lead-up to World War I, Mildred, as part of a select group of Savannah women, became one of the first attendees of the First National Service School in Chevy Chase, Maryland. This school trained uniformed women in good citizenship and American history in 2-3 week camps, as well as in practical skills such as marching formations, flag signaling, and how to treat and serve the wounded.
In 1916, Mildred helped organize the Savannah chapter of the National Red Cross Society, the first local branch in Georgia, serving as secretary of the branch. During the war, Mildred ran the Red Cross Canteen Services unit in Savannah, which provided food and beverages to troops traveling through their town.
In 1920, after equal suffrage had been achieved, Mildred founded the Savannah League of Women Voters, which grew out of the Equal Suffrage Party of Chatham County.
Later in life, Mildred was an active member of the Trustees' Garden Club who helped plan and plant the garden at the Colonial Dames house (1934). She also served as treasurer of the Georgia Society of Colonial Dames.
According to her death certificate from the Georgia Department of Public Health, Mildred died in 1939, a few days after ingesting mercury.
Mildred wasn't the only member of her family involved in suffrage work. Her mother Eliza, who generally went by Mrs. Mayhew Cunningham, served on the Executive Board of the Equal Suffrage Party of Georgia in 1914 and as the second vice-president of the organization in 1915. She notably had served for several years as a member of the municipal board of sanitary commissioners, the only woman to have served in the post as of the time of her death in May 1936. She was also active in the Savannah Branch of the Red Cross, The Georgia Society, the Colonial Dames of America (in which she served as an officer), the Episcopal Orphans' Home (treasurer), and a member of the board of the Mills memorial. The Cunninghams were also active in hosting important guests in the field of suffrage, such as when they hosted Miss Kate Gordon, the president of the Southern States Equal Suffrage Association, in February 1915.
Mildred's father, T. Mayhew Cunningham (1869-1953), was also active in the suffrage movement along with his daughter and wife, and gave a welcome speech at the third annual convention of the Georgia League of Women Voters in 1922, where he predicted that "in times to come there will be women political 'bosses,' just as there have been 'men political bosses."
The Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, Georgia. All accessed via Newspapers.com.
February 9, 1908, p. 3.
February 14, 1909, p. 9.
April 25, 1909, p. 7.
November 9, 1913, p. 13.
November 23, 1913, p. 1.
February 14, 1915, p. 7.
April 9, 1916, p. 9.
May 14, 1916, p. 8.
July 23, 1916, p. 7.
January 20, 1918, p. 3.
February 3, 1918, p. 7.
April 7, 1918, p. 11.
July 21, 1918, p. 12.
January 6, 1922, p. 7.
April 19, 1934, p. 13.
April 7, 1935, p. 9.
May 26, 1936, p. 9.
Wu, Katie. "From Satin to khaki: Women join the Military Preparedness Movement of 1916," January 6, 2016. National Museum of American History blog (O Say Can You See? Stories from the Museum). https://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/satin-khaki-women-join-military-preparedness-movement-1916.
Butler, Elyse. "Affiliate Chapter Guest Blog Series: Girl Scouts and the Vote," December 12, 2019. Georgia History Festival. https://georgiahistoryfestival.org/affiliate-chapter-guest-blog-series-girl-scouts-and-the-vote/.
Work Diary of Edith D. Johnston (National Secretary of Girl Scouts 1913-1914), January 24, 1915 and January 24, 1916. GSUSA-Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace Collection; Letter from Juliette Low to Edith C. Macy, March 26, 1917. Georgia Historical Society, Gordon Family Papers, MS 318.
Ida Husted Harper, et al., eds., History of Woman Suffrage, volume 6, p. 134-35. [LINK to GA state report]
Ancestry.com. Georgia, Deaths Index, 1914-1940. "Georgia Deaths, 1914-1927." Index. FamilySearch, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2007. "Georgia Deaths, 1914-1927" and "Georgia Deaths, 1930," images, FamilySearch. Georgia Department of Health and Vital Statistics, Atlanta, Georgia.