Partner Mary Grew
116 N 11th St, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Woodlands Cemetery Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, USA
Margaret Jones Burleigh (1817 - December 12, 1891) was an abolitionist and teacher from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She taught Emily Howland at Mary Grew's School for Young Women in Philadelphia and was a friend and mentor to Howland. She was married to abolitionist Cyrus Burleigh and both served on the executive committee of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society.
Burleigh was a mainstay of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society for more than three decades. The group petitioned Congress to end slavery, raised money for the cause with an elaborate annual craft fair, and supported Philadelphia’s African American community in protecting people who had escaped enslavement. Margaret married Cyrus Moses Burleigh (1820–1855) in 1855 when he was dying of tuberculosis. He died one month later, and Margaret lived the rest of her life with Mary Grew, one of Philadelphia’s leading abolitionists. They were known as the “Burleigh-Grews.”
Margaret met Mary through their work in both the anti-slavery and women's rights movements. Together, the pair continued to push back against criticism of women from within and outside of the anti-slavery movement by speaking at public conferences and creating spaces for women in activism.
Their circle included Mary’s co-editor on the Pennsylvania Freeman, Cyrus M. Burleigh. In 1855, when he was dying of tuberculosis, Margaret married him. Cyrus died a month later. Margaret settled his affairs, and within six months she and Mary set off on a tour of New England.
Mary and Margaret unapologetically lived outside of the traditional marriage model as "romantic friends": a devotion and affection described by contemporaries as surpassing the love of men. Many similar correspondences between Mary and friends provide insight into Mary and Margaret's emotional bond, a "union with another soul" for nearly fifty years, as Mary describes it. However, few are more illuminating and eloquent as Mary’s response to a condolence letter from a younger suffragist, Isabel Howland, after Margaret’s death in 1893: "Your words respecting my beloved friend touch me deeply. Evidently you understood her fine character; & you comprehended and appreciated, as few persons do, the nature of the relation which existed, which existed [still, despite the death of Burleigh's body] between her and myself… To me it seems to have been a closer union than that of most marriages. We know that there have been other such between two men, & also between two women. And why should there not be. Love is spiritual, love passion is sexual".
A photograph of the Executive Board of the Pennsylvania Antislavery Society taken in 1851. Standing, from left to right, are Mary Grew, E. M. Davis, Haworth Wetherald, Abby Kimber, J. Miller McKim, and Sarah Pugh. Seated, from left to right, are Oliver Johnson, Mrs. Margaret Jones Burleigh, Benjamin C. Bacon, Robert Purvis, Lucretia Mott, and James Mott.
Margaret Burleigh was buried at the Woodlands in Section C Lot 559, her grave now resting between Cyrus Burleigh and Mary Grew. When Mary died five years later, a eulogy described them as akin to husband and wife: “They had grown like two noble trees, side by side from youth to age, with roots so interlaced that when the one was uptorn the other could never take quite the same hold on life again.”
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