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Laura Belle Moore Cunningham


Papers, ca. 1885-1974

MSS 100d



Photo 113, Moore-Cunningham-Bettis collection

Laura Belle Moore was the second child of C.W. and Catherine Minear Moore. The first of their children to be born in Boise City, Laura began her long, prosperous, and interesting life on August 4, 1869. Educated in public schools in Boise, she continued her education in Massachusetts at Bradford Junior College and then at Northwestern University in Illinois, where she received a diploma in elocution in 1890.

As a girl, she assisted her mother in entertaining at their Grove Street home. It was the beginning of decades of gracious living and elegant hospitality for which she was known all her life: dinner parties, bridge parties, New Year’s soirees, and her famous afternoon high teas. Although she was sheltered from life’s crudities by her father, and later by her husband, Laura stretched beyond her roots to read, travel and become acquainted with people and subjects far beyond her Boise home.

On October 26, 1898, Laura married John William Cunningham at her parents’ home on Warm Springs Avenue. They enjoyed forty-eight years together, sharing mutual tastes and exhibiting gentility toward each other until the end. In 1907 they toured Europe for three months with Lyman and Nellie Kendall in the Kendalls’ new motor car, along with a chauffeur who went along to make repairs. They moved to New York shortly thereafter where Laura continued to develop fine tastes in furniture, clothing, and objets d’art. She especially was fond of Chinese antiques.

After her mother’s death in 1911, Laura urged Will to return to her father’s Boise home to look after him. Will graciously conceded, and they established residency at 1109 Warm Springs which continued the rest of their lives. Will became a vice president of the Idaho First National Bank, established by Laura’s father C.W. Moore and others.  J.W. Cunningham was a stabilizing force during the bank closure in 1932 when he left all their personal funds in the bank during its closure.

The Cunninghams enjoyed traveling to California, Hawaii, the Oregon coast, and the East coast. In 1928 they took another extensive tour of Europe, this time meeting Dr. Harry S. Bettis and his son Laurence Moore Bettis there. Laura purchased a chandelier, dishes, clothes, and other items. She took extensive notes on history, culture, language, and sites during her tour. They traveled first cabin aboard the SS Roma, a fabulous luxury liner.

In 1930 Laura added a large sunroom on the southeast corner of her Warm Springs house and painted it jade green, a dark forest green color. She consulted with Cornelia Conger, Fanny Cobb, Nellie Kendall, and later, in the 1940s, with Cornelia Hart Farrer, on issues of decoration and the purchase of furnishings, draperies, vases, and other accoutrements.

Gardening was one of her passions. She personally oversaw the planting and care of her extensive garden behind the family home on Warm Springs Avenue. Three gardeners worked for her keeping the lawn and gardens.

Maude M. Karker (1875-1964) was Laura Cunningham’s cook for years. Karker is buried at the Moore family plot at Morris Hill Cemetery. “Aunt Laura couldn’t build a sandwich by herself,” her grand nephew Harry Bettis said, “but she could tell someone else how to do an elegant chafing dish entrée.”  She and Mr. Cunningham were accustomed to dressing formally each evening and being served in the dining room.

Laura’s favorite color was pink. She had beautiful linens, all monogrammed, “LMC”, hand towels, bath towels, small rugs, bedspreads, handkerchiefs, and pillows. Most of her silver was also monogrammed. 

Her public legacy, however, focuses on her great generosity with time and money for her favorite causes: the Red Cross, the Children’s Home, and Boise Junior College.

During World War II there was a huge hospital at Gowen Field, south of Boise. Mrs. Cunningham sponsored and led a group of women called “The Grey Ladies” under the auspices of the Red Cross. Much like today’s hospital auxiliaries, The Grey Ladies made wounded servicemen comfortable during their rehabilitation stay before they were sent to Europe to fight. Accidents were incurred during local training.

Laura Cunningham served as a member of the board of the Children’s Home Society of Idaho for over thirty years, continuing the friendship of one of its founding fathers, her own father, C.W. Moore. Laura gave ample donations of time and money, and kept close track of the administrative details, the welfare of individual children, and the activities of the Home. She was an honorary member of the board at the time of her death.

Boise Junior College was one of her favorite institutions. When she died on August 16, 1963, the president of the college, Eugene B. Chaffee, said:

In the passing of Mrs. J.W. Cunningham, Boise has lost her first lady. She had been a resident of the city for her entire life which covered a span of years roughly that of the city of Boise from the time it was a village of 500 to the present. She grew up with this city, and has given generously to it all her life. Every major cultural and civic organization has felt the support that her hand has provided.  Mrs. Cunningham was not only a lovely lady, she was also a gracious and self-effacing in everything she did. She was young in spirit, flexible in her ideas, and one of the greatest friends of Boise Junior College and the city ever had. She started the movement toward superior pipe organs in Idaho when she gave the J.W. Cunningham Memorial Organ, a decade ago to Boise Junior College. She has given many scholarships to students attending this college during that same period.  The city and the college have lost a great friend and humanitarian. I personally have lost the never failing support she has given to every activity of Boise Junior College. Laura Moore Cunningham had the attributes of a truly great lady. She lived for others. (Quoted in the Idaho Statesman, August 17, 1963.) 

Her will set up the Laura Moore Cunningham Foundation which continues to give scholarships annually at the College of Idaho and Boise State University and award grants to numerous other causes deemed worthy by its trustees (a niece, a grand-niece, and a grand-nephew). Upon her death, the City of Boise received acreage south of her home where the Laura Moore Cunningham Arboretum was established to grow trees for the city’s parks.

                                                                                      --Carol L. MacGregor (1990)


Bettis, Harry L.  Conversations with the author.

Bettis, Laurence Moore.  Tape-recorded interviews and conversations with the author.

Cunningham, Laura Moore.  Personal memorabilia in the collection and in the possession of the family.

The Papers

The Laura Moore Cunningham papers constitute the largest portion of the Moore-Cunningham-Bettis collection, filling six boxes. They are divided into eight series outlined below. The papers include letters from friends and relatives, letters she wrote home during her European trips (1907 and 1928), notes and diaries from those trips, literary compositions, other school papers, cooking and gardening notes, receipts for furnishings for the Moore-Cunningham mansion, and materials relating to Mrs. Cunningham’s philanthropic and civic activities. Some notable individual items include the prophecy of the Boise High School Class of 1887, letters of introduction (1928) by Senator William E. Borah (to take along to Europe), souvenir booklets from trans-Atlantic cruise ships, case studies (anonymous samples) from the Idaho Children’s Home, and reports Mrs. Cunningham wrote for the Red Cross and Columbian Club.  

Laura Moore Cunningham’s correspondents, mainly women, include out-of-town friends and many of the leaders of Boise business and society in the first half of the twentieth century. Most of the correspondence consists of letters to Mrs. Cunningham; there are few letters by her except in the European trip files (Boxes 5 and 6). A good number of the letters to her were written on hotel and steamship stationery; there are also examples of black-bordered mourning stationery (Mary Borah and Fanny Cobb files). Family members represented include grand nephew Harry L. Bettis and niece Margaret Moore Howell. The correspondence series also contains Mrs. Cunningham’s own letters to her husband written in 1913. Letters to Laura Moore Cunningham from her father (C.W Moore), mother (Catherine Minear Moore), and husband (J.W. Cunningham) are filed with their own papers (Box 1).

The file of Ann Morrison correspondence contains a typescript of Karl Paine’s eulogy of Mrs. Morrison. Other correspondents include Nellie B. Kendall, whose husband is represented in J.W. Cunningham’s papers, and Francis Guzak, a U.S. Army officer in post-World War II Germany who wrote often of political conditions in that occupied country. He was in Boise during World War II and remembered Jimmy Stewart, who served in the same squadron at Gowen Field: “He really used to get mad when the boys called him Slim” (19 June 1949).

Mrs. Cunningham’s file of travel memorabilia from her 1928 European trip (Box 6) reflect travel in the grand style in the interwar period, while her literary papers and committee/philanthropic files (Boxes 4 and 5) document the activities of a clubwoman and civic activist. One of the committee reports by Mrs. Cunningham preserved in the collection is that of the Columbian Club’s Town and Village Improvement Committee, which she chaired, 1903-1904 (Box 5, Folder 10).

Container List

Series I:   Biographical Material

Box 2: Biographical Material

Folder  1   Biographical material
Folder  2   (This folder not used)

Series II:   Family Correspondence

Box 2: Family Correspondence

Folder 3   Harry L. Bettis:   1947-1959
             4   Bettis Family:   1947-1962
             5   J. W. Cunningham:   1913
             6   Margaret Moore Howell:  1935-1949
             7   Bowes Family:   1898-1906
             8   Other Family Members:   1935-1948

Series III:   Correspondence

Box 2: Correspondence

Folder  9   Ailshie, Margaret Cobb
           10   Alward, Elizabeth Hailey: 1935-1954
           11   Borah, Mary: 1940-1948
           12   Brady, Rene: 1935-1947
           13   Cobb, Carolyn:   1936-1946
           14   Cobb, Fanny:  1900-1913
           15   Conger, Cornelia: 1917-1947
           16   Cowles, Florence Ridenbaugh:  1937-1957
           17   Cumnock, Robert L. (Northwestern University): 1889-1898
           18   Davidson, Carrie: 1934-1946
           19   Dewey, Geraldine: 1944-1949
           20   Farrer, Cornelia Hart:  1940-1950
           21   Guzak, Francis: 1947-1953
           22   Halifax, Lady: 1943
           23   Hood, Alline Caskey:   1952-1959

Box 3: Correspondence

Folder  1   Jackson, Mrs. C.H.:   Undated
              2                                     :   1934-1936
              3                                     :   1937-1939
              4                                     :   1940-1945
              5                                     :   Fragments
              6  Kane, Mrs. John R.:  1945-1949
              7  Kendall, Nellie B.  :  1907
              8                                    :  1908-1911
              9                                    :  1913-1921
            10   MacJannet, Charlotte and Donald B.:  1942-1946
            11   Morrison, Ann:  1947-1957
            12   Paine, Karl and Adele: 1946-1947
            13   Peterson, Mary (Mrs. Avery):  1943-1949
            14   Shrady, Bess Hasbrouck:  1929-1946
            15   Smalley, Anne Sonna:  1916-1932
            16  Teller, W.R., Jr.:  1939-1947
            17  “C.C.” in New York:  ca. 1919
            18   “Nina”:  1949-1957
            19    Miscellaneous:  Unidentified 
            20                               :  A-L
            21                               :  M-Z
            22     Wedding Wishes:  1898

Series IV:  Personal Papers

Box 4: Personal Papers

Folder   1   Diaries and Address Books: Listing
               2   Will and Financial Papers: 1935-1961
               3   Receipts, Personal Expenses: 1916-1949
               4   Receipts, Home Furnishings:  1898
               5   Receipts, Home Furnishings: 1904-1919
               6   Receipts, Home Furnishings: 1920-1926 
               7   Receipts, Home Furnishings:  1927-1940
               8   Social Notes and Clippings
               9   Gardening Notes and Clippings
             10   Gardening Scrapbook (Photocopy)
             11   Cooking Notes and Clippings
             12   Political Notes and Clippings
             13   Boise History Notes and Clippings

Series V:  Education and Study

Box 4: Education and Study

Folder 14   Early Education (Julia Capwell)
             15   Boise High School, Class of 1887: Prophecy and Memorabilia
             16   Library Receipt, Boise Public Library: 1896 
             17   Composition Books (2v.)
             18   Reading Diaries
             19   Study Notebook

Box 5: Education and Study

 Folder   1   Literary Papers
                2   Literary Papers: Drafts and Fragments
                3   Speech Notes:  On Reading
                4   Speech Notes:  To Graduates
                5   Miscellaneous Notes
                6   Poem:  “Remonstrance”
                7   Miscellaneous Clippings

Series VI:  Clubs and Philanthropies

Box 5: Clubs and Philanthropies  

Folder   8   Boise Junior College:  Pipe Organ:  1952-1953
               9   Bradford Junior College Alumnae:  1957
             10   Columbian Club
             11   Idaho Children’s Home: Reports, Clippings, and Correspondence:  1932-1959
             12   Idaho Children’s Home:  Case Histories
             13   Idaho Children’s Home:  Financial Statements: 1948-1960   
             14   Idaho Children’s Home:  Audits:  1960
             15   Idaho Children’s Home:  Newsletters:  1916, 1939-1956
             16   Idaho Children’s Home:  Proposed Adoption Laws
             17   Red Cross:  Correspondence and Certificates:  1929-1942   
             18   Red Cross:  Grey Ladies
             19   Red Cross:  Volunteer Committee Reports: 1927-1939
             20   Red Cross:  Miscellaneous
             21   Other Philanthropies
             22   Laura Moore Cunningham Foundation: 1972-1973
             23   Laura Moore Cunningham Trust:  1969-1974

Series VII: Travel notes and Memorabilia


Europe, 1907

Box 5: Travel Notes and memorabilia

Folder  24   Letters to Parents
              25   Letters to Anna Moore Parsons
              26   Notes
              27   Guidebooks
              28   Miscellaneous


Europe, 1928  

Box 6: Travel Notes and Memorabilia

Folder   1   Correspondence:  Travel Advice
                                                   :  Bon Voyage
               2    Letters of Introduction, William E. Borah
               3    Letters to Anna Moore Parsons
               4    Memorabilia:  New York
               5                          :  S.S. Roma
               6                          :  S.S France
               7                          :  Florence
               8                          :  Perugia
               9                          :  Ravello
             10                          :  Rome
             11                          :  Siena
             12                          :  Venice
             13                          :  Other Italian Cities
             14                          :  France
             15                          :  Miscellaneous


Other Travel

Box 6: Travel Notes and Memorabilia

Folder 17   California: Various Dates
             18       Hawaii:  1906
             19       Miscellaneous Travel Memorabilia

Series VIII:  Books and Diaries

Box 7: Books and Diaries

                    European Travel Diary:  1907

                    European Travel Diary:  1928

                    Notebook of Travel Advice:  1928

                    Address Book:  1957-1963

                    Desk Diary/Address Book:  1957

                    Desk Diary:  1959

                    Desk Diary:  1960

                    Desk Diary:  1961

                    Europe by Automobile (ca. 1927) 

                    The Emerald Coast of Brittany (1906)

                    A Diagrammatic Road Map of Central Europe, by       Wood McMurtry (ca. 1907)

                    The U.C.T. Transportation Guide (1911)

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