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Leacock was born in 1922 in New Jersey. Her mother Lily was a mathematician and her father was the literary critic, philosopher, and writer Kenneth Burke. Leacock did her undergraduate work at Barnard College and Radcliffe College and completed her graduate training at Columbia University. She married film maker Richard Leacock in 1941. They had four children. The marriage broke up in 1962. Her second husband (from 1966) was Civil Rights and Union activist James Haughton.
She is known for her ethnographic work in Labrador with the Montagnais-Naskapi people, influenced by William Duncan Strong. During this 1950 study, she found the Montagnais-Naskapi's life was changed due to the fur trade.
She was at Bank Street College of Education as Senior Research Associate, 1958–1965, and at Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn in the social sciences department, 1963–1972. She struggled to get a full-time job. She taught as an adjunct for decades before taking a full-time job as a professor of anthropology at City College and Graduate Faculty of City University of New York in 1972. Her appointment occurred after writing her celebrated introduction to Frederick Engels' The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State. She resuscitated Engels' theory that linked the domination of women to the rise of classes and the state in which he termed as "the historic defeat of the female sex."
One of Leacock's most fruitful contributions to the field of anthropology was her essay entitled, "Interpreting the Origins of Gender Inequality: Conceptual and Historical Problems" (1983). Throughout this essay, she discusses gender inequalities. Leacock died in 1987 in Hawai'i.
- The Montagnais "Hunting Territory" and the Fur Trade (American Anthropological Association (Memoir 78))
- Teaching and Learning in City Schools: A Comparative Study (N.Y.: Basic Books, 1969)
- editor, A Culture of Poverty: Critique (N.Y.: Simon & Schuster, 1971)
- editor, then-recent edition, Morgan, Ancient Society
- editor, then-recent edition, Engels, Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State
- editor with Nancy Lurie, North American Indians in Historical Perspective (N.Y.: Random House, 1971) 
- author, essay, Women's Status in Egalitarian Society: Implications for Social Evolution, in Current Anthropology, vol. 33, no. 1, supp. Inquiry and Debate in the Human Sciences: Contributions from Current Anthropology, 1960–1990 (Feb., 1992 (ISSN 00113204 & E-ISSN 15375382)), p. 225 ff. (essay originally appeared in Current Anthropology, vol. 19, no. 2 (Jun., 1978), submitted in final form September 10, 1977, & based on paper originally given at ann. mtg., American Anthropological Ass'n (Nov., 1974))
- McGee & Warms Anthropological Theory 4th ed. McGraw Hill: 2009
- Eleanor Burke Leacock By Kristin Alten * Posted May 1998
- Biographical note for Leacock, Eleanor, Women's Status in Egalitarian Society: Implications for Social Evolution, in Current Anthropology, vol. 33, no. 1, supp. Inquiry and Debate in the Human Sciences: Contributions from Current Anthropology, 1960–1990 (Feb., 1992 (ISSN 00113204 & E-ISSN 15375382)), p. 225 (essay originally appeared in Current Anthropology, vol. 19, no. 2 (Jun., 1978)).
- James Haughton, the son of West Indian immigrants was born in Brooklyn, New York, on October 8, 1929. His papers are at the New York Public Library's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture .
- Moore Visions of Culture AltaMira Press: 2004.
- Engels, Frederick, 1972 , Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State, NY: International Publishers, pp. 120-121.