Rose Garden PhotographsElla (Johnson) Johnston Burns was born on March 17, 1856, in Elm Grove, Waukesha County, Wisconsin, the daughter of Lloyd L. and Mary (Percail) Johnson. On August 25, 1874, she married rancher James Bower Johnston in Austin, Minnesota. Their children were Margaret Barney Johnston (December 5, 1876) and James Clinton Johnston (June 28 - September 23, 1878). When the 1880 census was taken, the family was living in Waterloo, Lyon County, Kansas.

Ella came to Prescott, Arizona Territory, from Del Norte, Colorado, in September 1895.  The available sources do not explain if she was living by herself at this time or with her husband. She earned her living by giving piano lessons and painting portraits of prominent citizens of Prescott. Ella was living in National City, San Diego County, California when the 1900 census was taken;  she listed her marital status as widow and occupation as artist.

On June 2, 1906, in the Episcopal Church in Prescott, she married Michael G. Burns, a mine owner and member of the Territorial Legislature. The Prescott Morning Courier dated June 4, 1906, described Ella’s talent: “Mrs. Johnston is the well known artist of this city, whose paintings have called forth so much favorable comment.”  Michael died March 23, 1912, at  Mercy Hospital in Prescott.  Following the sudden death of Michael, Ella was appointed to several state offices by George W.P. Hunt during his long tenure as governor of Arizona.

Ella was active in several women's groups and instrumental in forming social clubs for women. As statehood approached, she worked with Frances Munds of Prescott and others to include woman's suffrage in the Arizona Constitution. However, delegates to the constitutional convention voted against woman’s suffrage because they feared that President Taft would not approve an Arizona constitution that granted women the right to vote.  Following statehood, Ella collected signatures in Yavapai County for an initiative to amend the Arizona Constitution giving women the vote. This amendment passed by a wide margin in the general election in November 1912.

Both the 1920 and the 1930 census enumerated Ella in Phoenix; however a newspaper article published  June 1, 1940, in the Prescott Evening Courier column  titled “Twenty Years Ago,” stated, “Mrs. J. E. Hanna of Phoenix is spending the summer in Prescott with her friend Mrs. Ella Burns.  Mrs. Burns spent the winter in Phoenix. and this is a return call.  These ladies claim they have found the ideal style of life.  Prescott in summer and Phoenix in winter.”

Ella entered the Arizona Pioneers' Home on March 3, 1931, where she died November 27, 1935, after being bedfast for almost two years. She is buried in Mountain View Cemetery next to her husband Michael.

Donor: Dewey E. Born, 1996
Photo Located: RGC MS-39, Box B, F-Burns, Ella
Updated: 10/25/2015; D. Sue Kissel