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  • Beyond Suffrage

Boston Marriages

by Sarah Langsdon, Head of Special Collections


June is Pride Month across the country. With the impact of COVID-19, almost all in-person celebrations have been cancelled. In Beyond Suffrage, we worked to ensure that women of all backgrounds were represented in the exhibit and our research. While we may not be able to celebrate Pride together this month, we still want to share some of the stories we gathered from the LGBTQ community.

While researching local women in Ogden, I kept coming across unmarried, unrelated women who lived together for their entire lives. Curious, I decided to learn what I could about these relationships. This led me to the 19th and early 20th century phenomena of “Boston Marriage.”

Boston marriages were the cohabitation of two upper class women, independent of financial support from a man. Some of the relationships were romantic in nature and might now be considered a lesbian relationship; others were not. Most of the women in these relationships chose careers in medicine, higher education, or business and therefore weren’t dependent on men for their support. Living together gave them a sense of freedom and social acceptance. They were often seen as feminists and involved in social and cultural causes.

Two such women in Ogden that I came across were Margaret Stewart and Dr. Margaret Burns. The two women actually met in Canada while on vacation during the early 1900s. The two decided to relocate to Ogden and lived together in the “Wee House.” Burns was an osteopath with a downtown practice, and Stewart, with her CPA, established the Merchant’s Credit Bureau. She was the first woman in the United States to own an adjustment bureau.

Upon further research into the two women, I discovered that they often took vacations together, visiting each other’s hometowns in Canada and Scotland, and traveling the world. They were known for their warm welcome and pancakes at the Sunday night suppers they hosted for friends. Burns and Stewart were the driving force behind the establishment of the Business and Professional Women’s Club in Ogden. The club was formed in 1922, with Stewart elected president and Burns a director. Stewart said in her first presidential speech “We want to know what business women are doing, not only in Utah, but what they are doing nationally” (Ogden Standard Examiner, November 12, 1922).

While it is unknown if this relationship was romantic or just a deep friendship, the two women lived together until they died and supported each other in both their professional and social lives. It would be interesting to see their relationship in modern day. Would they have been marching in local pride parades? What is most important is knowing that these two women, and others like them, saw a way to impact their communities and worked throughout their lives to achieve it.

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