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Lowell, Josephine Shaw (1843–1905)

Lowell, Josephine Shaw (1843–1905)

American philanthropist and social reformer. Born Josephine Shaw on December 16, 1843, in West Roxbury, Massachusetts; died of cancer on October 12, 1905; buried beside her husband at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts; third daughter of five children of Francis George Shaw and Sarah Blake (Sturgis) Shaw; sister of Robert Gould Shaw; married Charles Russell Lowell (a colonel in the 2nd Massachusetts cavalry and nephew of James Russell Lowell), on October 31, 1863 (killed in the battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia, during the Civil War in 1864); children: one daughter, Carlotta Russell Lowell.

Josephine Shaw Lowell was born in 1843 in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, into a family of radical abolitionists. Her father organized the Freedmen's Bureau, while her brother Robert Gould Shaw led the first black regiment from the free states into battle and is memorialized by a statue across from Boston's State House and in the movie Glory, starring Matthew Broderick. Josephine and her sister Anna Shaw (Curtis) joined the New York Association of [War] Relief.

In October 1863, during the Civil War, Josephine married Charles Russell Lowell, a colonel in the 2nd Massachusetts cavalry and nephew of the poet James Russell Lowell. Wounded a year later at the battle of Cedar Creek, Charles died in 1864, six weeks before the birth of their daughter Carlotta Russell Lowell .

Following the death of her husband, 20-year-old Josephine Lowell immersed herself in philanthropic work for the next 40 years, first turning her energies to the National Freedman's Relief Association of New York. In 1876, because of her impressive state-commissioned studies of New York paupers, Governor Samuel J. Tilden appointed Lowell the first woman member of the New York State Board of Charities. Lowell was reappointed by several succeeding governors, her period of service extending from 1877 until 1889. She also founded the Charity Organization Society, becoming one of the most influential women in the charity movement.

The remainder of her life was passed in active philanthropic work, particularly prison reform. Joseph H. Choate said of her: "If you should ask me to sum up in one word the life and character of Mrs. Lowell, I should call it Consecration." Said Theodore Roosevelt: "She had a sweet, unworldly character; and never man or woman ever strove for loftier ideals."

suggested reading:

Stewart, William Rhinelander, comp. Philanthropic Work of Josephine Shaw Lowell, 1911.

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