Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Leah M. Burnside, 1866-1937

By Patricia Lyn Scott, Independent Historian, Jefferson County Historical Society (Idaho) Board of Directors.

Treasurer, Idaho Equal Suffrage Association.

Leah McIvor was born on February 6, 1866, to James and Anna Patterson McIvor in Manchester, England. She was the second of their three daughters. Her father died in June 1872 and the family soon immigrated to the United States. They lived in New York City, North Platte Nebraska, and in 1883, moved to South-central Idaho settling in Shoshone just a year after its founding. On October 14, 1885, Leah McIvor married Charles Fremont Burnside, a contractor with the Oregon Short Line Railroad. They became the parents of a son, Donald Drake Burnside (1886-1932) and a daughter, Bessie Mae Burnside (1889-1975). Leah also raised her older sister’s son, George Lynn La Munyon (1885-1961), after her death in 1886. In the early 1890s, Leah and Charles Burnside separated; there is no record they were ever divorced. He left Idaho, graduated from college, and had a successful career in the explosives industry. His 1928 obituary reported he never married.

In 1894, Leah Burnside began teaching school. Four years later, she was elected as the Republican candidate for Lincoln County School Superintendent. She served fourteen years being re-elected six times. In 1912, she was defeated, but ran again in 1918. She was elected and twice re-elected ultimately serving a total twenty years in that position. As a well-respected educator, she organized numerous state and regional teachers Institutes and was a frequent lecturer. She also served as an officer in various educational organizations. In 1907, the Idaho State Legislature created the state’s first textbook committee and Leah Burnside was appointed to represent rural school districts and elected its first secretary. She was also an active clubwoman. She died on January 14, 1937, in Carlsbad, California.

There are few mentions of Leah Burnside’s involvement in Idaho’s suffrage movement. While it is unclear when it began, it might have been when Idaho’s first suffrage club was organized by a school teacher in Hagerman in 1893; most likely it was in the summer of 1895 when a club was organized in Shoshone. Leah Burnside was then chosen to represent Lincoln county at the organizational meeting of the Idaho Equal Suffrage Association in Boise on November 20, 1895. While only eight counties were represented, bylaws were adopted, officers elected, and an initial plan developed. She was elected as the association’s first treasurer. On May 30, 1896, Burnside was one of three (with an advisory board member and the association’s secretary) who met to organize and plan the next convention. A second well-attended state convention was held in Boise, July 2, 1896, with thirty counties represented. Leah Burnside did not attend the convention but telegraphed her regrets and resignation as treasurer. The few surviving Lincoln County newspapers do not mention the convention. Leah Burnside continued her work with the campaign in her community with Lincoln County voting for women’s suffrage in November 1896.

Sources: U.S. Find A Grave Index, 1600s-current [database on-line]. Provo, Utah:, 2012. Idaho. Marriages, 1842-1966. [database on-line]. Provo, Utah:, 2005).

"Equal Suffrage Association of Idaho Minute Book," Boise: Idaho History Center, Idaho Historical Society, MS 2 .0100

"Forty Years Ago: Delegates Form Equal Suffrage Organization," Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), December 1, 1935, 18.

Fourteen Years' Record: Mrs. Leah Burnside Knows All About Blaine [sic] County Schools," Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), September 5, 1912, 3.

French, Hiram T. "Women of Idaho – Equal Suffrage," Chapter XXIX in Idaho History. Chicago and New York: Lewis Publishing, 1914, 515.

Larson, T.A. "Woman's Rights in Idaho," Idaho Yesterdays 16 (Spring 1972), 2-19.

"Pioneer Teacher Called by Death," Lincoln County Journal (Shoshone, Idaho), January 15, 1937, p. 1.

"Powder Expert Dies in Hospital," Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware). May 24, 1928, p. 2. (accessed: February 1, 1928).

"Services Here Sunday Honor Leah Burnside," Lincoln County Journal (Shoshone, Idaho). Jan 22, 1937, p. 1.

"Text Book Commission Holds First Meeting," Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), April 16, 1907, 8.

Susan B. Anthony and Ida Husted Harper, eds., History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 4, 1883-1900 [LINK]

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