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Lesueur a pioneer of Burbank women

BURBANK: THEN & NOW

Throughout history, the contributions of women have transformed our

society. Their achievements in the sciences, arts, education,

industry, the home and government have significantly altered the way

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in which we live. From getting the right to vote to holding major

office, a woman’s role in government has radically changed. Burbank’s

own government is an example of the remarkable progress women have

made. Burbank currently has women in the positions of mayor, vice

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mayor, city clerk, city manager and city treasurer. Women also lead

city departments and serve on various boards, commissions and

committees. Women’s involvement in Burbank’s government, however, has

a long history. One of the most prominent women in Burbank’s civic

history is Mary Octavia Lesueur.

Lesueur was born in 1869 in La Fayette County, Mo. She was the

oldest of Alexander and Florence (Trigg) Lesueur’s nine children. Her

upbringing introduced her to the workings of government, and her

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fascination with it influenced her to pursue that interest her entire

life. She attended school in Lexington, Mo., and began working with

her father, who published the local newspaper. Her job afforded her

the opportunity to stay abreast of current events in the community

and meet the influential people that were the subjects of the paper’s

stories.

Her father’s ambitions successfully led him to become Missouri’s

secretary of state. She followed her father to the state capital, and

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served as a secretary on his staff. Her daily life was absorbed by

the business of government, which she relished.

After completing his term as secretary of state, her father moved

the family to the Cherokee Strip of Oklahoma. He founded a bank in

the town of Antlers, and Octavia, which she was commonly called, went

to work as a cashier. By the time she left the bank for Burbank, she

was its president. Her business savvy, sharp wit and business acumen

prepared her well for life in Burbank.

Her parents’ move to Burbank proceeded her own. She eventually

followed them and arrived in Burbank in 1919. At that time, Burbank

was a small town that had a population of 2,913 and did not yet have

a city charter. She purchased Paxton Insurance Agency and quickly

established a successful business that eventually expanded into an

escrow company for the rapidly growing town. She, however, did not

leave her interests in civic matters in Oklahoma.

She quickly immersed herself in Burbank’s civic life. In 1922, the

Burbank Chamber of Commerce was being organized. She jumped at the

opportunity to participate in its formation, and served as the

chamber’s first secretary. She also helped organize the Burbank

Realty Board foundation. There she served for many years as the only

female member, as secretary and president. Her many accomplishments

there earned her the title of president emeritus. While she continued

to make invaluable contributions to Burbank’s business community, her

contributions to Burbank’s government would be her greatest legacy.

Since its incorporation in July 1911, Burbank had operated without

the benefit of a city charter. A charter, which basically dictates

the roles and rules of local government, affords a city the

opportunity to operate with more autonomy from the general

restrictions of the state. Until 1926, however, Burbank did not have

a sufficient population to have a city charter. That changed in 1926,

when Burbank’s population surpassed 3,500 people, the minimum

required by the state of California to be considered for charter

status. A committee of “Fifteen Freeholders” was selected to begin

drafting a charter. Octavia was tapped to be one of its members and

she quickly went to work to be the primary author of Burbank’s City

Charter. Her tireless efforts lead to the creation of the city

charter, which called for a council-manager form of government still

in use today. The voters of Burbank approved the charter on Jan. 4,

1927, and it was ratified by the California Legislature on Jan. 13,

1927.

Her civic involvement did not end with the ratification of the

city’s charter. She again was tapped by the city in April 1927 to

serve as the first president of the newly created Park Board. The

primary function of the Park Board at the time was to preserve the

pepper trees that were planted by the Providencia Land Company in

1887. Under her leadership, she radically expanded the role of the

Park Board, which planted over 30,000 trees.

She continued to play an active role in government as well run her

business for the rest of her life. She passed away on Jan. 29, 1948,

at age 78.

Lesueur’s contributions to Burbank’s civic life are enduring and

invaluable. She serves as an inspiration not only to women but to all

those who work to enhance the city they live in.

* CRAIG BULLOCK is the chairman of the Burbank Heritage

Commission.

He can be reached at brbnkheritagecom@aol.com.


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