Galveston’s Trailblazing Women

Women’s History Month celebrates contributions women have made throughout history, while national or worldly figures are often highlighted, the Rosenberg Library would like to recognize pioneering women within our own Galveston community.

Galveston as a whole has a unique and diversified history, many people and communities have created the makeup of what we know of Galveston as of today, but however; without trailblazing women dedicated to improving the city, where would we be?

Strong women such as Minnie Fisher Cunningham, Rebecca Henry Hayes, Jan Coggeshall and Alfreda Houston are perfect examples of how women have left a long lasting legacy in Galveston, one that inspires equality, equity and freedom. These pioneer women paved the way for future generations to have a better life within their communities.

 Galveston’s Trailblazing Women
Rebecca Henry Hayes (1842 - 1942) AR-E-004-B7-006, Austin History Center, Austin Public Library

Rebecca Henry Hayes (1842 – 1924)

The earliest fight for woman's suffrage in Texas began with Galveston resident Rebecca Henry Hayes in 1893. In 1866 Rebecca joined the suffrage movement by petitioning the Kansas state legislature, working alongside prominent leaders such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. These connections qualified her to be a leading candidate for leading suffrage work in Texas during the 1890s. By early 1893 she was recruited to serve as the Vice President for the National American Woman Suffrage Association serving in Texas, subsequently leading to the first statewide suffrage organization. Thus the Texas Equal Rights Association (TERA) was born in April of 1893 with Rebecca as its leader. In Galveston, Rebecca also served as a founding member of the Texas Woman’s Press Association and the Texas Woman’s Council. Further, in 1894 she was one of nine original directors of Galveston’s Society for the Help of Homeless Children. Surviving the 1900 Storm, Rebecca and her family relocated their home to Alvin, Texas. However on March 19, 1924, she passed away from natural causes in her Alvin home and was buried in Lakeview Cemetery in Galveston.

“The ballot means to women as it means to men. It is the medium whereby we may clinch our convictions. It is a weapon, a power, a force whereby we may realize the highest forms of self-government.” –Rebecca Hayes, October 1893

 Galveston’s Trailblazing Women
Minnie Fisher Cunningham, Name File--Photograph Collection, Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas

Minnie Fisher Cunningham (1882 - 1964)

In 1901, Minnie F. Cunningham became the first woman in Texas to earn her Graduate of Pharmacy Degree, graduating from University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Working as a pharmacist in Huntsville, Texas, Minnie became frustrated with pay inequality to her male counterparts, paving her way to activism.

In 1907 Cunningham moved to Galveston where she became involved in social reform. By 1912 she became a founding member of the Galveston Equal Suffrage Association and served on the executive committee and by 1915 she became elected as the President of the Texas Equal Suffrage Association (TESA.)

After much success as an activist, Cunningham became the first woman to run for Senate in Texas in 1928 and for Governor in 1944 both for the Democratic Party. However, due to inadequate funding and lack of male endorsements, Cunningham was amongst the first generation of women to lose campaign elections due to gender inequalities. Cunningham was a fierce trailblazer and activist who tirelessly fought for equality until her death in 1964.

 Galveston’s Trailblazing Women
Jan Coggeshall, Name File--Photograph Collection, Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas

Jan Coggeshall (1935 – 2017)

Jan Coggeshall, Galveston’s first female Mayor (1984-1989) was a fierce trailblazer of her time. Elected during a wave of other women mayors in Texas during the 1980s, she was joined by Kathryn Whitmire in Houston and Annette Strauss in Dallas. Coggeshall was dedicated to her life of service in Galveston and served on a variety of projects. Including serving as the Rosenberg Library’s Board of Directors and as an active member in the League of Women Voters.

In 2018 an oak tree was planted on the west side of the Rosenberg Library by the Galveston Island Tree Conservancy in honor of Coggeshall, who was dedicated to making Galveston great and beautiful. Coggeshall’s memory as a fierce trailblazer hopefully inspires women to continue breaking glass ceilings.

 Galveston’s Trailblazing Women
Alfreda Houston, Name File--Photograph Collection, Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas

Alfreda Houston (1940 – 2006)

A prominent leader in the community, Houston was born on Galveston Island and a graduate from Central High School. Houston worked to provide affordable, high-quality child care, health services, and emergency assistance to underserved residents during her time as Executive Director at St. Vincent’s House among much more. Houston was a pivotal community leader and activist. The Rosenberg Library and Museum continues to carry her legacy by preserving her collection of personal papers, photographs and distinguished awards, which she generously donated before her death in 2006.

Did you know?

  • She was inducted to the Galveston Women’s Hall of Fame in 1984 and was the first recipient of Galveston Historical Foundation’s Steel Oleander Award.
  • Galveston Daily News named Alfreda Houston its Citizen of the Year in 1997.
  • The three-block stretch of Postoffice Street from 27th to 30th was renamed Alfreda Houston Place on September 19, 2009 during the 40th Anniversary celebration for St. Vincent’s Clinic at 2817 Postoffice.