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Wheeling Hall of Fame: Annie Sinclair Cunningham


Religion and Education

Annie Sinclair Cunningham

Inducted 2004

At her funeral in 1897 in Wheeling's First Presbyterian Church, Annie Sinclair Cunningham, wife of the pastor, Rev. David Ayers Cunningham, was praised as "a woman who has shown what a woman can do, and has done her work so well that she has made her influence felt in this congregation, in this city, in this region round about, over the country, and throughout the world."

Among Annie's achievements in the city of Wheeling, one is still an outstanding example of her concern for others. Originally located at 37 Thirteenth Street and named the West Virginia Home for Aged and Friendless Women, the home received its corporate charter from the state in 1890. Annie was characterized by its Board of Lady Managers as its "originator, first president, and best friend." In 1922 the Board of Directors changed the name to the West Virginia Home for Aged Women. In 1940, the children of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Bloch donated their estate on National Road, "Elmhurst", to the home, noting that their mother had been on the board of the home from 1890 to 1894. In 1989, the home received the official title "Elmhurst, The House of Friendship" and admission was extended to include men and couples.

Before coming to Wheeling, Annie had lived in Philadelphia and was very active in church activities. She was the first chairperson of the nominating committee of the Women's Christian Association of Philadelphia, a founder and vice president until her death of the Presbyterian Woman's Foreign Missionary Society, and an officer of the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition organization.

When Annie and her husband came to Wheeling, she was elected president of the Foreign Missionary Society of the Presbytery of Washington, Pennsylvania, a position she held for 20 years. Her interest in missioners is noted in a biographical sketch, A Useful Life: "For more than thirteen years, Annie was a secretary of the Chautauqua Missionary Institute, in which women of all denominations met annually." The Chautauqua Institution, a not-for-profit educational center in New York, presented distinguished religious leaders in its programs. Emeline Pierson of New York wrote of "the careful attention to visiting missionaries at Chautauqua which Mrs. Cunningham always bestowed" and a letter from India calls her "our best friend in America." Only months before her death, Annie was recognized by her peers from around the world when she was elected president of the International Union of Women for Foreign Mission Work at their meeting in Glasgow, Scotland.

Among the many tributes expressed at the time of her death was one in the Wheeling Register: "Mrs. Cunningham was a woman of splendid intellectual attainments, with which she combined tireless energy and remarkable executive ability. She was broad-minded, sympathetic and thoroughly practical, and the unfortunate, both at home and in foreign lands, had no more earnest or more valuable friend."

Annie Campbell Fraser Sinclair Cunningham was born in the West Highlands, Scotland, in 1832. Her parents were John Sinclair, a Presbyterian clergyman, and Mary Julia McLean Sinclair. The family emigrated to Nova Scotia and then to Prince Edward's Island. In 1854 they moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and in 1858 Annie married Rev. David Ayers Cunningham, pastor of the Presbyterian church in Bridgewater, Pennsylvania. The couple's only child died and was buried there. In 1864 Rev. Cunningham was called to Philadelphia, and then in 1876 he accepted a call to the First Presbyterian Church in Wheeling where he was pastor until 1908.

In A Useful Life, numerous tributes to Annie include the following: "The First Church of Wheeling will miss her... Chautauqua will miss her, the mission cause throughout the Church will miss her..." The high regard in which she was held in Wheeling is indicated in a newspaper account of her funeral noting there were "members from nearly every church congregation in the city and people who were not identified with any church. It was indeed an occasion of deep sorrow."

Text and pictures provided by Wheeling Hall of Fame. Service provided by the staff of the Ohio County Public Library in partnership with and partially funded by Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation.

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