Laura Belle Moore Cunningham
August 4, 1869- August 16, 1963
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 through 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.
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. 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. 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.
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 established 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)