By Emily Owen, undergraduate, Louisiana State University
Mary A. Burnham was born in 1852 in Pennsylvania to George Burnham Sr. and Anna H. Burnham. She had two older brothers, George Burnham Jr. and William Burnham. Her father, originally from Massachusetts, was an engineer and part owner of Baldwin Locomotive Works, a successful railway machinery company in Pennsylvania.
Because of her family’s wealth, Burnham played an important role in financing both local and national women’s suffrage efforts. She donated significant sums of money to the Pennsylvania branch of the National Woman’s Party. Markedly, in January 1917, she donated $1,000 to support the militant suffragist protests in front of the White House.
Not only a financial contributor, Burnham was also an active member and leader in a number of Pennsylvania suffrage groups. She was the Chairman of the Good Government League in Pennsylvania’s Equal Franchise Society. Caroline Katzenstein, a prominent worker in the Pennsylvania suffrage movement, documented a noteworthy instance in the Pennsylvania campaign when Burnham and other “older and socially prominent members of the Equal Franchise Society,” including Mrs. Horatio Gates Lloyd and Mrs. Frank Miles Day, participated in a “Poster Brigade” during which they plastered pro-suffrage posters around the city. Since the dignified women looked rather unusual undertaking such arduous physical labor, this event attracted considerable attention and coverage from the local press.
Burnham also served on the advisory council of the Pennsylvania Branch of the National Woman’s Party. Additionally, she was part of the National Committee of the Susan B. Anthony Memorial Association, which was formed in order to raise money to erect an “Anthony Memorial Building” at the University of Rochester. After her own state ratified the 19th Amendment in 1920, Burnham pledged $1,000 a month to the general fund of the National Woman’s Party in order to help speed up ratification in other states.
Eight years after the ratification of the 19th Amendment, Burnham died in 1928 in Pennsylvania.
Burnham’s contributions to women’s suffrage efforts in Pennsylvania are detailed in Caroline Katzenstein, Lifting the Curtain: The State and National Woman Suffrage Campaigns in Pennsylvania As I Saw Them (Philadelphia: Dorrance & Company, 1955), 135, 154, 192. The article, “Suffragists Will Picket the White House,” New York Times, January 10, 1917 provides information on Burnham’s contribution to the White House protests. Published in the February 1920 edition of The Suffragist, an article titled “Woman’s Liberty Drive” details the extent of Mary A. Burnham’s contributions to the National Woman’s Party. Information on her involvement in the Susan B. Anthony Memorial Association can be found at “Susan B. Anthony Memorial Association,” American Journal of Nursing, 7:3 (December 1906). A painting titled “Portrait of George Burnham” and information on her father’s career at the Baldwin Locomotive Works can be found on the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s website, http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/82476.html. Additional information and sources about Burnham’s life can be found at FamilySearch.com, the 1900 US Census, Hardwood Record, Volume 35, 1912-1913, and Findagrave.com. See also “Woman’s Liberty Drive,” The Suffragist, February, 1920, 17.