Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mary Schlesinger, 1839-

By Amelia Apgar, undergraduate student

Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

Mary Schlesinger was born Mary McBurney in 1839 to her father, Charles McBurney, and her mother, Rosina. Her father was born in Ireland and immigrated to the United States as a merchant and her mother had been born in Boston (1860 Census). On April 27, 1865, Mary, age 26, married Barthold Schlesinger, 37. Barthold was originally from Germany but had moved to New York and became a citizen in 1858. Together, the couple had five children—Mary (b. 1859), Barthold (b. 1873), Helen (b. 1874), Leonara (b. 1878), and Marion (b. 1880).

The family settled down around 1881 in their well-kept estate called Southwood located in Brookline, Massachusetts, a short distance away from Boston. The Schlesingers were fond of culture and the arts. Barthold, after achieving success in both the iron and steel industries, invested his wealth in real estate and the stock market, expanding his fortune. The family was wealthy and well respected in the Boston area (Historic New England).

Both Barthold and Mary were forward-thinking progressives and they both strongly supported and advocated for the legalization of women's suffrage. Mary was a dedicated member of multiple Boston groups committed to achieving the right to vote, such as the New England Suffrage Association, the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association, and the Brookline Equal Suffrage Association. Both Barthold and Mary Schlesinger are mentioned often in Lucy Stone's newspaper, The Woman's Journal, as she commends their active involvement in various equal rights clubs and as she thanks them for their help in hosting and supporting numerous suffrage movement activities. Mrs. Schlesinger often appears as a board member on many different rosters, as she actively partook in the organizational capacity of the suffrage movement. Barthold Schlesinger supported his wife and wrote a logical and educated editorial for The Woman's Journal on behalf of women attaining the vote.

In addition to their work furthering the suffrage movement and gaining the right to vote, the Schlesingers were progressive in many of their ideals. In October 1904, Mary and her youngest daughter Marion attended the Thirteenth Universal Peace Conference in Boston. The conference was the primary forum through which delegates preached for peace prior to the World War I peace movement. Mary Schlesinger even donated regularly—and generously—to the American Humane Education Society (Our Dumb Animals).

Moreover, Mary Schlesinger took direct political action as a means of achieving her goals of equality. She petitioned various governmental authorities, even the U.S. Senate through Massachusetts Senator George Hoar, asking Congress to "abolish the regulation of vice in our island possessions" (United States Congress). Furthermore, Mary Schlesinger was on the social committee of the American Peace Society (Editorial Notes). She also welcomed the esteemed Jane Addams, the pioneer of social work and the founder of Hull House, Chicago, to Boston. Upon listing Mary's name among others, the newspaper mentioned that "all the prominent suffragists of Boston and the vicinity" were present (Stone 57).

Barthold Schlesinger died in 1900 and left in his will "$14,000 to various educations and other charitable institutions…[such as] the Martin Luther home, West Roxbury; New England Moral Reform Society, Radcliffe College, Harvard University, Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children, M.I.T…." (Massachusetts Vital Records; The Boston Globe). Mary Schlesinger lived until October 18th, 1924, seeing the fruits of her labor in the passage of the nineteenth amendment in 1920 (The Boston Transcript).

Sources: Massachusetts, Marriage Records, 1840-1915 [database on-line]..

"Barthold Schlesinger's Will." The Boston Globe, 3 Aug. 1900, LVIII ed., sec. 34: 17.

The Boston Transcript, 20 Oct. 1924: n. pag.

"Editorial Notes." The Advocate of Peace (1894-1920), vol. 69, no. 1 (1907), pp. 7–10.,.

Schlesinger, Barthold. "To the editor of the Transcript," Comp. Lucy Stone. The Woman's Journal [Boston] 31 Mar. 1894, 13th ed.: n. pag..

"Southwood, the Schlesinger Estate, Warren St., Brookline, Mass.," Historic New England, n.d. accessed online at

Stone, Lucy. "Reception to Miss Addams." The Woman's Journal [Boston] 20 Feb. 1897, 8th ed.: 57. The Woman's Journal. Web.

Stone, Lucy. "The Woman's Journal." The Woman's Journal [Boston] 26 Apr. 1902.

Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association, "Broadside : Election Day. Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association. November 7, 1911," Ann Lewis Women's Suffrage Collection, accessed online at

Massachusetts Vital Records, 1840–1911. New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts.

"Our Dumb Animals." Our Dumb Animals [Boston] Sept. 1893, 26th ed.: p. 48. Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, The American Humane Education Society, The American Bands of Mercy. Web.

Rose, William J., comp. Official Report of the Thirteenth Universal Peace Congress. Boston: Peace congress committee, 1904.

Year: 1900; Census Place: Brookline, Norfolk, Massachusetts; Roll: 669; Page: 8B; Enumeration District: 1026; FHL microfilm: 1240669

"United States Census, 1860," database with images, FamilySearch (

United States Congress. Senate. 35 Congressional Record 2880. Washington: n.p., March 17, 1902.

"United States, New England Petitions for Naturalization Index, 1791-1906," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 3 December 2014), Barthold Schlesinger, 1858; citing Massachusetts, NARA microfilm publication M1299 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), roll 109; FHL microfilm 1,429,779.

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