Kelly, Margaret Burnham - portrait of herself

Inside this miniature portrait on ivory there is the following inscription; "Painted by Margaret Burnham Kelly for her husband's 37th birthday June 3rd 1910 M.B.K."

Margaret Burnham Kelly (Jul 1884-Feb 1971), born Margaret Burnham, and later after her second marriage, recorded as Margaret Burnham Kelly Stower, is not recorded in Blattel. However, the following research has been carried out on her life.

Initially, the only obvious Internet reference is a 1999 obituary which appears to refer to her daughter. It is as follows; "Kelly, Ellen B., 89, of Berlin, died June 27. Born in 1910 in Evanston, Il, she was the daughter of George Thomas Kelly and Margaret (Burnham) Kelly Stower. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College and worked toward a master's degree in economics at Columbia University. She was a founding member of the Madison (Conn.) Homemakers and was also a member of the Bennington Friends Meeting of Vermont (Quakers). Survivors include a son, George Thomas."

From genealogy sites it has been possible to document some of the life of Margaret Burnham.

She was born 17 Jul 1884 in Chicago, the daughter of Daniel Hudson Burnham (1846-1912) the pre-eminent architect of America at the turn of the 20C, and his wife Margaret Graham Sherman (9 Nov 1850-23 Dec 1945) who were married on 20 Jan 1876 in Chicago.

Daniel Hudson Burnham has been described as one of the foremost city planners of his day and an important influence on the development of Chicago.

He pioneered the development of steel framed buildings and his designs included the Flatiron Building in New York, Union Station in Washington DC, as well as important overseas buildings such as the Finance Building, the Agriculture Building, and the Legislative Building all latter three being in Manila, in the Philippines.

See also Daniel Burnham - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia and Daniel Hudson Burnham - Historic Architect There is a list of all his buildings at D.H. Burnham & Company

With his partner John Root he first formed Burnham & Root, but after Root died he formed D H Burnham & Company.

There is a biography of Daniel Burnham by Thomas D Hines at Burnham of Chicago: Architect and Planner - Google Books Result

Burnham is the author of the quote "Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans. Aim high in hope and work. Remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die."

Margaret was obviously proud of her father, shown here, as she gave several of her children the name Burnham, either as their first or second name.

Genealogy sites also show that Margaret's husband, George Thomas Kelly, born 3 Jun 1873 arrived in New York on the "Moltke" on 21 Feb 1913. He gave his place of birth as Enelaine, Wisconsin. He was accompanied by his wife, Margaret B Kelly who was born 17 Jul 1884 in Chicago Illinois. They gave their residential address as 1028 Judson Av, Evanston, Il. In his WWI draft card, George Thomas Kelly disclosed that he was a lawyer and senior member of a Chicago law firm, Kelly, Hale, Brownson, and Holly (sp?). He was tall, of medium build, had blue eyes and grey hair.

In the 1880 census he had lived in Wisconsin with his parents, John and Margaret Kelly, where his father who was born in Ireland, was a retail grocer. By the 1900 census, John was a lawyer living in Chicago where he was sharing an apartment with a chemistry professor and a publisher.

George I Kelly and Margaret Burnham were married in Evanston, IL on 1 Dec 1906. In the 1910 census George was a lawyer in general practice, married to Margaret and living with two daughters Margaret B Kelly aged 2 and Barbara Kelly aged 1, together with two live-in servants.

Their home at 1028 Judson Avenue, Evanston, Il was large at some 3,800 square feet on two levels and on an 18,800 square foot lot. It is still there, shown in this recent photo as Ely House, and is one of the oldest buildings in Evanston. It was originally built in the 1850’s as a tannery and converted into a residential home in the 1870’s. It was Margaret Burnham Kelly who had the house remodelled before selling it to Ely in 1925, see http://www.lai.org/newsletter/mar2005.htm.

Unfortunately, George Kelly died in 1918 in the Influenza Epidemic and so in the 1920 census Margaret Burnham Kelly recorded herself as head of the household, but now as a widow with five children aged 12 or below. Although left a widow, she was obviously well off, as she had two nurses and a cook living in. By the 1930 census, Margaret was remarried to Benjamin F Stower a bank cashier and living in Providence, RI with her children. However, this marriage ended in divorce in the early 1930's.

Update - A kind visitor being a granddaughter of Margaret Burnham Kelly has also provided the following information. "Uncle John and grandmother were very fond of artists. Uncle John had even planned to buy land in Guatemala where artists could live and paint. Grandmother was an avid pilot. She flew a Standard Waco Biplane and was one of the first women her age to obtain a license. She had a problem with depth perception so she hired Lane Smith who later became chief regional pilot for Western Airlines. I have the original letter from the Department of Commerce issuing her a student license that is dated April 29, 1936, one of her log books, membership card to the National Aeronautic Association of U.S.A. dated January 1939, a photograph of her plane with mother grandmother and Lane standing nest to it, a news clipping with a photograph of her pilot Lane Smith from the Sportsman Pilot dated January 15, 1938, and a telegram asking my mother if she wanted to fly to Guatemala with her dated 1937."

At Margaret Geddes there is a reference that suggests a Margaret Burnham Kelly was active as an architect in RI and DC between 1930 and 1960 under the name Margaret Geddes. It seems this was Margaret's daughter, also named Margaret Burnham Kelly (1908-?), with Margaret Geddes her married name. Quite likely she was the Margaret Geddes born 26 Sep 1907 who died 18 Feb 1995.

It appears that a son Burnham Kelly (1912-1999) was also a well known architect and Dean of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning at Cornell University, 1960-1971.

Margaret Burnham the Author

A kind visitor has raised the possibility that Margaret Burnham, either the mother (1850-?) or the daughter (1884-1971), was the author of several books written in 1911 and 1912 about girl aviators. This visitor has been researching children's books, but has been unable to find out any personal details about Margaret Burnham the author.

This was an interesting thought, especially as the artist for another miniature self portrait in this collection, Anna Coleman Watts Ladd also wrote two books around the same date, see View.

I need to stress that Margaret Burnham Kelly's granddaughter has no recollection of her grandmother ever mentioning writing books, and thus at this point she doubts the connection. However, the granddaughter also had thought there is no family tradition of Margaret painting miniature portraits, but this example has emerged.

Thus the story of Margaret Burnham the author is included here, in case any visitor can assist in clarifying the authorship. Also, the research below sheds interesting light on some aspects of the history and dangers for early "girl aviators".

Margaret Burnham Kelly, the daughter as depicted in the miniature on this page, did seem to be quite a possibility, as the four books were published in Chicago where Margaret was living at the time. She had travelled overseas with her parents to the Philippines and had several children of her own which may well have inspired her to write. As indicated above she also had her own Standard Waco biplane in the 1930's and the 1930's was also a time when the books below were re-issued as a new edition. Additionally, several famous lady aviators were of a similar age to Margaret.

Yet another connection is that I understand that to at least one grandchild, Margaret Burnham Kelly was referred to Granny Peg, and the heroine in the first story is named Peggy. The use of the Spanish word "cinch" as mentioned below, could have been picked up by her or her father while the family was in the Philippines or South America.

Even her fathers' quote as above fits; "Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans. Aim high in hope and work." The year 1912 when the series ended, was also the year Margaret Burnham Kelly's father died.

Nevertheless, as mentioned above the family currently doubts a connection.

The Books

These were ahead of their time, as a commenter has remarked: "For instance, in a 1911 book titled "The Girl Aviators on Golden Wings" by Margaret Burnham, the female characters fly airplanes during a time when women didn’t even have the right to vote in the real world!". Refer Linda Joy Singleton

The four books in question are;

"The Girl Aviators and the Phantom Airship" - Chicago and New York 1911
"The Girl Aviators on Golden Wings" - Chicago and New York 1911
"The Girl Aviators' Sky Cruise" - New York 1911
"The Girl Aviators' Motor Butterfly" - New York 1912

and were advertised by the publisher as
Clean Aviation Stories


Cloth Bound. Illustrated. Price, 50c. per vol., postpaid

Roy Prescott was fortunate in having a sister so clever and devoted to him and his interests that they could share work and play with mutual pleasure and to mutual advantage.

This proved especially true in relation to the manufacture and manipulation of their aeroplane, and Peggy won well deserved fame for her skill and good sense as an aviator.

There were many stumbling blocks in their terrestrial path, but they soared above them all to ultimate success.

(Although there is no further clue to the author, this book was favourably reviewed in the New York Times for December 3, 1911 - see
IN THE DARING DAYS OF YOUTH; Books of Adventure Which Will Serve ... where the reviewer says; "It is a thrilling tale.")

That there is a peculiar fascination about aviation that wins and holds girl enthusiasts as well as boys is proved by this tale.

On golden wings the girl aviators rose for many an exciting flight, and met strange and unexpected experiences.

To most girls a coaching or yachting trip is an adventure. How much more perilous an adventure a "sky cruise" might be is suggested by the title and proved by the story itself.

(Not many books are mentioned in dictionaries, but there is a dictionary reference to "The Girl Aviators' Sky Cruise" as a very early use of the word "cinch" - see cinch - Wiktionary)

The delicacy of flight suggested by the word "butterfly," the mechanical power implied by "motor," the ability to control assured in the title "aviator," all combined with the personality and enthusiasm of girls themselves, make this story one for any girl or other reader "to go crazy over."

Any volume sent postpaid upon receipt of price.


The free text for three of them can be found on the Internet at the following links;
The Girl Aviators' Sky Cruise by Margaret Burnham - Full Text Free ...
The Girl Aviators Motor Butterfly
...The Girl Aviators on Golden Wings by Margaret Burnham - Project ...

The End of the Series
The Girl Aviators series of books probably came to a sudden halt in late 1912 due to several real life fatal airplane crashes of "girl aviators", as referred to an article by Prof. Fred Erisman on the earliest female aviators.

He commented how a several well publicized crashes in 1912 probably doomed Baum's Flying Girl series and Margaret Burnham's Girl Aviators series in the market, see Oz and Ends: November 2006 Fred Erisman's article may have been repeated as "Flying Suffragettes" in Dime Novel Round-Up for April 2007.

The air crashes referred to were the death of Miss Susanne Bernard, (1892-1912) in France on Mar 10 1912, Mrs Julia Clark (1882-1912) on June 18, 1912 at Springfield IL, USA, and Harriet Quimby (1875-1912) on Jul 1 1912 at Squantum, MA, USA.

Harriet Quimby had been the first American lady to earn a pilots' licence and was the first lady to fly the English Channel. Quimby was a journalist who was also very beautiful and stylish. At a time when other pilots, most of whom were male, flew in very undistinguished gear, she designed her own trademark flight suit, a purple satin outfit with a hood, which she wore whenever she flew. The biography of Harriet Quimby says she was born in Michigan, but in the 1910 census for Manhattan, where she lodged, she records her birthplace as California, presumably as her family had moved to San Francisco in the early 1900's.

Julia Clark was one of only three licensed lady pilots at the time of her own death. Suzanne Bernard was a French lady who was in training to be a pilot at the time of her death.

The four books were reprinted probably in the 1930's, although undated, by M A Donohue & Company of Chicago, with a different cover design and a dust jacket, as seen in this example.

Another early plane crash
In a sad way there is another connection with miniature portraits and early airplane crashes. A recent and very generous benefactor to the city of Cincinnati is Charles Fleischmann who has donated many miniatures to the Cincinnati Art Museum. A forbear of his who had the same name, was a Charles Fleischmann, who was unfortunately killed in an airplane crash on August 3, 1917.

This earlier Charles Fleischmann, was the son of Julius Fleischmann, the ex-Mayor of Cincinnati. He and Harry Witts of the firm of Crofts Witts, builders of hydro-aeroplanes at Bay Shore, died when their plane crashed into a shallow part of Great South Bay at Mineola Airfield. The earlier Charles Fleischmann had only the previous week announced his engagement to a Miss Florence McGregor Sheldon of Brooklyn. See THREE KILLED IN FALLING AIRPLANES; Charles Fleischmann and Harry ... 1195


Bakery Row Urban Design Group said...

Hello I am a great grandson of "Granny Peg" and an architect in Pittsburgh. What a great artifact. I just spent the Christmas Holidays going thru hundred of letters to and from her children and grand children she died when I was about 12.

I have a trunkful of photos...We are gathering thongs of a big reunion in 2009 for the anniversary of the Plan of Chicago.

Rob Pfaffmann

Don said...

Many thanks for the comment. If you would like me to add a photo of her with her husband, or anything else interesting about her, to the description, please send me an email at collector@actrix.co.nz

Jolene said...

I was wondering if this Margaret Burnham is the author the "Girl Aviator" series from 1910-1912. They were published by a Chicago firm, M.A. Donogue. There were only 4 books written by this author that I can find and absolutely no other information is available on her.

Lane Smith said...

I love the internet! I'm the son of Lane Smith, Mrs. Stower's pilot in the 1930s. He passed away not too long ago and in going through old boxes found his letters home to his parents (my grandparents) describing his flying on their trips across the USA as well as central America, including the trip to Guatamala. We even located the Waco she owned and he flew. Anyway, I feel like some of this should be shared with her family and would be happy to do so if any one of them has the interest and can just contact me by email is fine: lanesmith@gorge.net
As a side note, Lane Sr. did continue with commercial aviation, his two sons (one of which is me) ended up airline pilots (retired) and of his six grandchildren, five are commercial pilots, four of them women! The story of how Lane started flying for Mrs. Stower is great but too long at this point.
Thanks, it was great reading about her. Lane Smith

Cathy Gale said...

Very informative post on Girl Aviators. Thanks so much for sharing.

Children's books about nature said...

Yeah I was wondering if this Margaret Burnham is the author the "Girl Aviator" series from 1910-1912. Aside from this I have enjoy reading the article so much. This is really nice and I will be recommending this to my friends.

Children books said...

I'm so glad that you enjoyed the book - especially since interracial adoption has also lovingly touched your own family. It means a lot to have your recommendation.