San Diego County











Hon. George Burnham, distinguished statesman, is a member of the house of representatives of the United States congress from the twentieth California district. He was born in London, England, December 28, 1868, a son of James and Maria Ann Drusilla (Steele) Burnham, who in 1881 crossed the Atlantic to the United States and settled in southwestern Minnesota. Both the father and mother are now deceased.

George Burnham acquired his early education in private schools of London, England, and continued his studies in the public schools of Minnesota. His scholastic advantages were very limited, so that he is largely a self-educated as well as self-made man. In 1882, when a youth of fourteen years, he obtained a clerkship in a general mercantile store at Fairmont, Minnesota, at a monthly wage of eight dollars. In 1887, at the age of nineteen, he embarked in the clothing business at Jackson, Minnesota, in association with M. B. Hutchinson, under the firm name of Hutchinson & Burnham, which later became Burnham Brothers. Mr. Burnham continued the enterprise very successfully until 1901 and during these years also manifested an active and helpful interest in civic affairs, serving as secretary of the board of education in Jackson, Minnesota, for several years. It was for the benefit of his wife’s health that in 1901 he removed westward to Spokane, Washington, where he formed the Ashley-Burnham Land Company and engaged in colonization work. He had much to do with the colonization of the Big Bend country in eastern Washington and in the performance of his duties in this connection crossed the continent twenty-two times.

In 1903 Mr. Burnham took up his abode on a ranch in San Diego county, California, and for about fifteen years thereafter continued his land development work and his activities in the general real estate field. At one time he was associated with A. G. Spalding in the development of Point Loma, the finest residential section of San Diego county. While residing on his ranch Mr. Burnham served as president of the school board of National City and built the first high school at that place. In 1910 he was president of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce. The previous year he had become one of the incorporators and vice president of the Panama-California Exposition, Inc., which was opened in San Diego in 1915 and which proved a great success.

Mr. Burnham is a member of the Economic Council of Southern California. He was a leading factor in securing a just reapportionment of congressmen for Southern California, based on the 1930 census, and secured nine additional congressmen for this state. In 1910 he was honorary commercial commissioner to China, being a member of the semi-official commission made up of representatives from the nine Chambers of Commerce of the Pacific coast. The delegation visited China at the invitation of the Chamber of Commerce of China and the Chinese government for the purpose of promoting trade and friendly relations between the United States and China. At Pekin they had an audience with his Imperial Majesty, it being the first time in the history of China that his Imperial Majesty had ever received a commercial body. They were accompanied by United States Minister Calhoun and his Chinese secretary, who acted as interpreter. In 1909, when the Masonic silver trowel was sent around the world, Mr. Burnham was a member of the party who took it from California to Mexico City and was received by President Diaz at the latter’s palace.

Among the original organizers of the San Diego Council of Boy Scouts of America was George Burnham, who is a past president of this body. Moreover, he was one of the organizers and is a past president of the Executive Council of De Molay in San Diego. He secured for the Boy Scouts the Indian village which had been erected in Balboa park by the Santa Fe Railway, at a cost of one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars, for the Panama-California Exposition. He is also a member of the San Diego advisory council of the Girl Scouts of America. Mr. Burnham is a past president of the board of trustees of the San Diego Public Library and a member of the board of trustees of the San Diego Scientific Library. He is president of the Scottish Rite Cathedral Association of San Diego, a director of the Knights Templar Educational Foundation of California and past grand commander of the California Grand Commandery of Knights Templar. He is one of the most active representatives of the Masonic fraternity on the Pacific coast and has been given the honorary thirty-third degree. His name is on the membership rolls of the Cuyamaca Club, the San Diego Club, the San Diego Country Club, Rancho Santa Fe Country Club, and the La Jolla Beach and Yacht Club.

In 1917 Mr. Burnham became active in the banking business as vice president of the Southern Trust & Commerce Bank, which a decade later was consolidated with the Bank of Italy, now the Bank of America, and he continued therewith in the official capacity of vice president until entering the race for congress in 1932. He was elected republican member of congress, his first political office, and represents the district embracing San Diego and Imperial counties, which extends from the Colorado river to the sea. In the election Mr. Burnham ran far ahead of the national republican ticket. One of the factors contributing to his popularity was his effective work in securing for San Diego the government naval base, costing more than twenty-six million dollars. He made numerous trips to Washington and labored untiringly for this great enterprise. At the time of the World war he rendered patriotic service to the government as a leader in the Liberty Loan drives, as a Four-minute speaker and in fact did his bit in all branches of war work in the United States. Mr. Burnham is a real statesman whose love of country transcends party and who has supported President Roosevelt in the furtherance of every measure of a constructive nature. “In other words,” said a contemporary writer, “he submerges party politics for the welfare of the nation. He is not only representing the twentieth California district but he is representing the people of the entire United States, and whatever measures that he conceives are for the good of his country he supports regardless of their party origin. He is a man of pleasing personality and exemplifies the true statesman, dignified in demeanor, thoroughly democratic in spirit, broad-minded and tolerant of the views of others. He is destined to leave his impress on the nation.”

On the 1st of October, 1890, Mr. Burnham was united in marriage to Miss Neva May Ashley, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin W. Ashley, of Jackson, Minnesota. She passed away in 1927, while Mr. Burnham was in London attending the Great Priory (Masonic) of England and Wales. They were the parents of seven children, four sons and three daughters. Beth Marie, born August 20, 1891, died when about three years of age. Harold Ashley, born September 12, 1893, was educated at Stanford University, which institution he left to enter the World war as a private. He went overseas with the One Hundred and Sixteenth United States Engineers Training Corps and on being detached was sent to headquarters at Saint Nazaire, where he was stationed until the war ended. He is now located at El Centro, in the Imperial valley of California, as secretary and treasurer of the Will S. Fawcett Company, growers and shippers of cantaloups and lettuce. Percy Edmund, born December 17, 1899, is engaged in business at Los Angeles. Helen Estella, born December 13, 1900, formerly county director of the Girl Scouts of American in San Diego county, now married to Lieutenant J. D. Beard of the United States Navy. Laurence Malin was born October 19, 1902. Virginia Jean, born June 19, 1904, married Lieutenant R. F. Hickey of the United States Navy. Ben Ashley, born June 25, 1906, is a resident of San Diego and looks after his father’s interests in that city.

On the 25th of December, 1932, Hon. George Burnham married Agnes Florence (Kennett) Dupee, daughter of Francis Julian Kennett and Ella Frances (Durand) Kennett, granddaughter of Hon. Luther Martin Kennett and Agnes Kennett of St. Louis, Missouri, and of John Milton Durand and Almira Wood (Stoddard) Durand of Chicago, Illinois. Mrs. Burnham has two children by her first marriage, Evelyn Walker Dupee (Castera) and Walker Hamlin Dupee. She has been a generous donor to various charitable and philanthropic enterprises and has taken a prominent part in civic and public activities. During the World war she served as chairman of the Coronado War Relief and of the American Red Cross of Coronado, was vice Chairman of the Council for National and State Defense for San Diego county and registered all women of San Diego county for war work. Mr. Burnham has been on the board of the San Diego County Red Cross since the war and is a member of the board of the Visiting Nurses Association. From 1923 to 1933 she was on the executive board and secretary of the women’s committee of the San Diego Philharmonic Association, which she helped to organize. Mrs. Burnham was on the first council of the San Diego Girl Scouts and for the past two years she has been county commissioner and is a member of the regional board, and one of the National vice presidents. She was campaign chairman on the board of the San Diego County Community Chest in 1932. She is an honorary alumna of Scripps College and a member of the associate council of Mills College. Her labors, like those of her eminent husband, constitute an integral chapter in the annals of Southern California and no history of this part of the state would be complete without record of them.


Transcribed 10-26-12 Marilyn R. Pankey.

Source: California of the South Vol. V, by John Steven McGroarty, Pages 363-367, Clarke Publ., Chicago, Los Angeles, Indianapolis.  1933.

© 2012  Marilyn R. Pankey.