Mary Burns

Mary Burns (1823(?)-1863) was an Irish woman, living in Salford, near Manchester, England, known as the lifelong partner of Friedrich Engels. Burns met Engels during his first stay in Manchester, probably early 1843. The working class woman guided Engels through the region, showing him the worst districts of Salford and Manchester for his research. She introduced him to working class circles. Without Burns, Engels may never had written "The Condition of the Working Class in England".

Burns worked in the Victoria cotton mill of "Ermen & Engels", a big textile manufacturer partly owned by the Engels' family. The Engels' originated from Barmen, Germany (now Wuppertal), where they owned several cotton mills and factories. In this area the industrial revolution started about a decade later than in the Manchester area.

Mary Burns was the daughter of Michael Burns or Byrne, a dyer in a cotton mill, and of Mary Conroy, the family could have lived off Deansgate. She had a younger sister called Lydia (1827–1878), known as “Lizzie”, and a niece called Mary Ellen Burns (born 1859), known as "Pumps". Their mother died before 1835, and Michael married again, and it seems that both the children left home.

Mary has probably been working in a cotton mill since the age of nine, but the 1841 census records both her and her sister as domestic servants. After meeting in the 1840s, Burns and Engels formed a relationship that lasted until Burns' death at the age of 41 on 7 January 1863. Although the custom of the day was marriage, the two were politically opposed to the bourgeois institution of marriage and never married.

Not much is written about Mary Burns, possibly because Engels wanted to hide his life with Burns. The only direct references to Mary Burns that survived, is a letter from Marx to Engels on learning of her death saying she was "very good natured" and "witty", and a letter from Marx's daughter, Eleanor, saying she was "very pretty, witty and an altogether charming girl, but in later years drank to excess." In a genealogy from Stephan Redshaw, born 1970, published on the internet, a Mary Burns from Ireland, born 1828, is mentioned, with a sister, Jayne, that was born 10 years later in Manchester.

Read more about Mary Burns:  Literature

Famous quotes containing the word burns:

    O pale, pale now, those rosy lips,
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    —Robert Burns (1759–1796)