Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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@ElizaBTweetin: April 24, 1873: Mrs. Celia Burleigh

Posted on April 23, 2014

Eliza B. Wheaton's Diary, 22-27 April 1873

Eliza B. Wheaton's Diary,
22-27 April 1873

Occasionally, Eliza Wheaton surprises us with her ecumenicalism. A strong Trinitarian, she nevertheless attended a conference at the Unitarian Church on April 24. Perhaps the occasion provided an opportunity to revisit the church to which she belonged before 1832. In that year, a majority of the congregation voted to follow Unitarian theology. The Wheaton family and other Norton residents left to found the Trinitarian Congregational Church.

We do not know the program for the conference, but Eliza chose to note the essay on reverence read by Celia Burleigh (1826-1875). A women’s rights advocate and the first woman to receive ordination as a Unitarian minister, Burleigh was eighteen months into her ministry, following a career of teaching, editing, and public speaking.

Mrs. Burleigh’s life was unusual for a woman of her era. Divorced twice, she became a spokesperson for divorce reform and woman’s suffrage. Her friends included suffragist Lucy Stone and Emma Willard, the founder of the Female Seminary at Troy, NY. Her third husband, William Henry Burleigh, himself a Unitarian, encouraged Celia in her social activism and preaching.

By the time of Norton conference, Celia Burleigh was already suffering from breast cancer, and soon withdrew from her ministerial duties in Brooklyn, CT. We enjoy speculating, however, that Mrs. Wheaton met this interesting woman and discussed her views on women's education...and perhaps suffrage!

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