Mary Livermore dedicated herself to women's suffrage, temperance, and Civil War aid.
Born on December 19, 1820, Mary Ashton Rice Livermore grew up in Boston with her parents Timothy Rice and Zebiah Ashton. As a child, she displayed the compassion, charity, and intellect she was known for later in life.1 She studied at the Hancock Grammar School and continued her education at the Charlestown Female Seminary until 1836. She stayed on as a teacher of French, Italian, and Latin for two years before she took a governess position for the Henderson family in Virginia. Here she witnessed the extents of plantation slavery. She left Virginia a firm abolitionist in 1842.2
While working as a principal at a co-ed school in Duxbury, Massachusetts, Mary Ashton Rice met Reverend Daniel Parker Livermore. Reverend Livermore’s teachings on Universalism, which emphasized salvation, attracted Mary Ashton Rice who struggled with her strict Calvinist upbringing.3 The couple married May 6, 1845 and had three children: Mary Eliza (1848-1852), Henrietta White (1851), and Marcia Elizabeth (1854).
Mary Livermore dedicated herself to the temperance movement and charity work. After moving to Chicago in 1857, she founded the Home for Aged Women and the Hospital for Women and Children and became a board member for the Home for the Friendless. Daniel Livermore started the New Covenant, a Universalist publication, with Mary Livermore as his associate editor. Until 1869 she wrote for almost all departments of the paper and often took charge of operations when Daniel Livermore travelled for church business.4
During the Civil War, Mary Livermore and Jane Hoge ran the Northwest Branch of the Sanitary Commission in Chicago which coordinated the United States relief effort and supported an overwhelming number of sick and wounded. Livermore organized relief groups, made speeches, wrote reports and news bulletins, and fundraised. She also travelled to the front where she toured hospitals, delivered aid, wrote letters for sick and dying soldiers, and accompanied soldiers leaving the hospital.5
To fundraise for the Sanitary Commission, Livermore and Hoge had the idea to hold the first Sanitary Fair. Livermore said it "was an experiment, and was pre-eminently an enterprise of women, receiving no assistance from men in its early beginnings."6 From the opening procession on October 27, 1863, the Fair captivated Chicago and the region. When the Fair ended after two weeks, it raised nearly 90,000 dollars.7 The success of Livermore and Hoge’s Sanitary Fair inspired others to be held in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York City.
Before the Civil War, Mary Livermore favored minimal social changes for women, such as entrance in higher education and repeal of discriminatory laws.8 However, similar to many women who took on new roles during the Civil War, Livermore’s experience changed her opinion and she began to advocate for women's suffrage. Livermore said,
I saw how women are degraded by disenfranchisement, and in the eyes of men, are lowered to the level of the pauper, the convict, the idiot, and the lunatic, and are put in the same category with them, and with their own infant children. Under a republican form of government, the possession of the ballot by woman can alone make her the legal equal of man, and without this legal equality, she is robbed of her natural rights.9
Realizing the need for women to gain political influence, Mary Livermore committed herself to the suffrage movement. In 1868, she organized the Illinois Woman Suffrage Association and served as president. At this time, Livermore created her own suffrage and temperance publication called The Agitator.
When the suffrage movement split, Mary Livermore joined Lucy Stone in the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). In January of 1870, at the invitation of Lucy Stone, Livermore returned to Melrose, Massachusetts to be an editor at The Woman's Journal. Livermore soon became a leader among the women’s suffrage movement.10 She became the first vice president of the AWSA, and later held the position of president from 1878 to 1895. She also helped found the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association. During this time, her dedication to the temperance movement continued; she served as president of the Massachusetts Woman's Christian Temperance Union from 1875 to 1885.
As a popular public speaker, Livermore joined the lecture circuit full time after leaving her position at The Woman's Journal in 1872. She gave an average of 150 lectures a year on a variety of topics, including on life, family, society, and women's role. She gave her famous lecture "What Shall We Do With Our Daughters," which encouraged women's education, eight hundred times across the country.11
Mary Livermore participated as a speaker at the Woman's Tea Party in 1873. Reflecting on the Boston Tea Party, Livermore said,
The Woman Suffrage movement has been often spoken of as a new movement. It is, but it is based on old principles- the principles that were fought for and maintained on the field of battle nearly a hundred years ago. It is simply a carrying out of the principles further than our fathers carried them a hundred years ago.12
In many of her other speeches and writings, Livermore insisted that suffrage was the only path to justice.
Until her death on May 23, 1905, Mary Livermore wrote and spoke in support of the suffrage and temperance movements.13 Her continued commitment progressed the lives of women and demonstrated her lifelong passion.
Contributed by: Noelle Stockwell, Student Conservation Association Historic Preservation Intern
- Sarah Knowles Bolton, "Mary A. Livermore," in Lives of Girls Who Became Famous (T. Y. Crowell & Company, 1886).
- Edward T. James, Janet Wilson James, and Paul S. Boyer, eds., “Livermore, Mary Ashton Rice,” in Notable American Women, 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary, vol. 2 (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1971), https://iiif.lib.harvard.edu/manifests/view/drs:457609366$422i.
- Bolton, "Mary A. Livermore."
- Alice Stone Blackwell and Henry B. Blackwell, "Mary A. Livermore," The Woman's Journal, May 25, 1905, Harvard.
- Mary Ashton Livermore, My Story of the War: A Woman's Narrative of Four Years Personal Experience as Nurse in the Union Army, and in Relief Work at Home, in Hospitals, Camps, and at the Front, During the War of the Rebellion (A. D. Worthington, 1890).
- Livermore, My Story of the War, 412.
- Patricia Shields, "Mary Livermore A Legacy of Caring and Cooperative Womanhood," in Outstanding Women in Public Administration, ed. Claire Felbinger and Wendy Haynes (M.E. Sharpe, 2004).
- James, et al., "Livermore, Mary Ashton Rice," 412.
- Mary Ashton Livermore, The Story of My Life: Or, The Sunshine and Shadow of Seventy Years (A.D. Worthington & Company, 1897), 480.
- James, et al., "Livermore, Mary Ashton Rice."
- Livermore, The Story of My Life.
- "New England Woman's Tea Party," The Woman's Journal, December 20, 1873, 404.
- Blackwell and Blackwell, "Mary A. Livermore."