Margery Bursley, born Margery Knowlton, could easily be described as a legacy student of the University of Michigan. She was born in Washtenaw County in 1876 to a family already connected deeply with the University. Her father, Jerome C. Knowlton, was a graduate of the school of Literature Science and the Arts and the Law School, and went on to become a professor and a Dean of the Law School. Two of her uncles, Albert Pattengill and Victor Lane, served as professors at the University, with another uncle graduating from the same University. Margery and her sister both graduated from the University of Michigan, as did their cousins. Margery Knowlton even had familial ties to the third president of the University, James Burrill Angell, and his extended family, most of whom were connected with the University. During her time at U-M, she was a member of Collegiate Sorosis, one of the university’s oldest secret societies for women.
Following her graduation, Margery Knowlton married into another family with close ties to the University—the Bursleys. Her husband, Joseph A. Bursley, was a graduate of the University of Michigan College of Engineering and eventually became Dean of the college. Her brothers-in-law were university professors, as was her son-in-law. Two of her three daughters went on to study at the university as well. Even when not connected through family, Margery Bursley was in close contact with other big names at University of Michigan, like Dean of Women Alice Lloyd. She, like Margery, was an active member of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church.
Margery Bursley used her deep roots in the university and her influential set of connections to enrich the lives of students and of the residents of Ann Arbor. She founded multiple local clubs, including the Ann Arbor Garden Club, the Needlework Guild, and the First Monday Club. She was active in several other organizations, like the musical society Sigma Alpha Iota and Collegiate Sorosis. Her involvement in this last organization was so significant that she and her family created a scholarship of $5,290 annually to support Collegiate Sorosis members throughout their sophomore, junior, and senior years.
Though she never held an official role within the University of Michigan, Margery Bursley was nevertheless closely involved in the lives of students and former students, hosting lawn parties with her husband for incoming students, as well as hosting countless alumni gatherings at her home. She continued her community and university service all her life, dying on May 31, 1940, at 80 years old.
- “Sorosis,” Michinganensian, vol. 1 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1897); Finding aid for Collegiate Sorosis Records, Bentley Historical Library.
- Joseph A. Bursley, “Margery Knowlton Bursley, ’01, Gracious Hostess And Student Friend,” The Michigan Alumnus (1940) 47: 18.
“Group portrait, Collegiate Sorosis, 1894-1895,” Collegiate Sorosis Records.