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Livermore, Mary (Ashton) Rice

LIVERMORE, Mary (Ashton) Rice

Born 19 December 1821, Boston, Massachusetts; died 23 May 1905, Melrose, Massachusetts

Daughter of Timothy and Zebiah Ashton Rice; married Daniel P. Livermore, 1845; children: three daughters, one of whom died in infancy

The fourth but first surviving child of an English sea captain's daughter and a workingman of Welsh background, Mary Rice Livermore was educated in the public and private schools of Boston and at Martha Whiting's Female Seminary of Charlestown, Massachusetts. She taught Latin and French at the seminary, made an unsuccessful attempt to matriculate at Harvard, and spent three years as a tutor on a large Virginia plantation with 500 slaves, an experience which converted her to strong antislavery views. She returned to Massachusetts as head of a private coeducational school in Doxbury, where she met and married a Universalist minister. They were parents of three daughters, two of whom survived to adulthood.

Livermore began writing for juveniles in 1844, publishing stories, sketches, and poems in religious periodicals and newspapers. The Children's Army (1844) is a collection of such stories—simple fiction with obvious plots detailing the evils of drink. A Mental Transformation (1848) is probably autobiographical, describing her own rejection of Baptism for Universalism. In 1857 she moved to Chicago with her husband. He became editor of the New Covenant, a Universalist newspaper, for which she acted as associate editor, writing for every section of the paper. Livermore was the only woman reporter at the 1860 national Republican convention.

During the Civil War, Livermore volunteered her services to the Sanitary Commission. She headed the Chicago office (with Jane Hoge), made frequent speaking tours, organized the Sanitary Fair of 1863, and collected money and large quantities of supplies for the Union armies, meanwhile writing graphic accounts of her activities for the New Covenant and other papers.

After the war she joined the woman suffrage and temperance movements and was president of several associations in both movements. In 1869 she established The Agitator, a suffrage paper which merged with the Woman's Journal in 1870. She edited the Journal for two years, resigning in 1872 to devote herself to lecturing, a career she pursued until 1895. She continued her support of suffrage and temperance causes, using the lecture platform as a forum.

Livermore's fame in the 19th century was based largely on her popularity as a lecturer, and her published lectures constitute an important segment of her work. Her style is conversational, interspersed with humor and homely examples. The "woman question" and her commitment to feminism are central themes, although she also lectured on temperance and historical figures, usually women.

Aside from her lectures, Livermore's major works are her autobiographies, which sold very well. She wrote the first of these, My Story of the War: A Woman's Narrative (1888), because she felt the postwar literature had neglected the common soldier. Her purpose may have been to give the common soldier his due, but much of the volume's emphasis is on the role played by women in the hospitals, on the field of battle, and at home running the farms and staffing the factories. The Story of My Life (1897) fills out her reminiscences with material on her early and later life and adds further material on the Civil War. The memoirs are composed in straightforward narrative style, interspersed with skillful dialogue. In her accounts of her plantation experiences, she reproduces with a good ear the dialect of both blacks and whites in the antebellum South. Her descriptions of plantation life are vivid and surprisingly objective.

Livermore's literary contribution was as an editor and journalist; she did not see herself as a major literary figure. She launched the Woman's Journal, a major publication of the women's movement, and shepherded it through the crucial first two years. Her emphasis on women's rights brought unfavorable criticism early in her career, but this did not deter her from continuing to say what she felt needed to be said or seemingly interfere with her popularity. With Frances Willard, she edited that formidable biographical compilation, A Woman of the Century (1893), which Leslie Shepard has called more than a reference book, rather a major record of the emancipation of American women.

Other Works:

Thirty Years Too Late: A Temperance Story (1845). Nineteen Pen Pictures (1863). What Shall We Do with Our Daughters? and Other Lectures (1883).

Bibliography:

Brockell, L. P., and M. C. Vaughan, Woman's Work in the Civil War (1867). Hanson, E. R., Our Women Workers (1882). Newberry, J. S., The U.S. Sanitary Commission in the Valley of the Miss. (1871). Thwing, W. E., The Livermore Family of America (1902). Whiting, L., Women Who Have Ennobled Life (1915). Wittenmyer, A., History of the Woman's Crusade (1882).

Reference works:

AA. AW. NAW. NCAB 3.

—RUTH BORDIN

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