Mary Livermore

Mary Livermore

Mary Ashton Rice was born in Boston on 19th December, 1820. A deeply religious person, Mary read the entire Bible every year until she was twenty-three. In 1839 she found work as a tutor on a Virginia plantation. During the next three years she observed the way that slaves on the plantation were treated and this turned her into a strong opponent of slavery.

In 1842 Livermore took charge of a private school in Duxbury, Massachusetts. She worked at the school for three years before marrying Daniel Livermore, a Universalist minister, in May, 1845. For the next three years the couple worked amongst factory workers providing education and health care.

In 1857 the family moved to Chicago and Mary worked as associate editor of the religious publication, the New Covenant. She also published a collection of essays entitled Pen Pictures. A strong supporter of the Republican Party, Livermore campaigned for Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 presidential election.

Livermore did relief work during the American Civil War and after a tour of military hospitals, she joined the U.S. Sanitary Commission in Chicago. Working with her friend, Jane Hoge, she organized a Sanitary Fair which raised more than $70,000. Later she was appointed as an agent of securing money and supplies. Livermore worked closely with Mary Ann Bickerdyke who was chief of nursing under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant and General William T. Sherman during the Atlanta Campaign.

An active supporter of women's rights, Livermore organized the Chicago Woman Suffrage Convention in 1868. She was also editor of the feminist journal, The Agitator (1868-70).

Mary Livermore
Mary Livermore

Along with Lucy Stone and Julia Ward Howe, Livermore co-edited The Women's Journal (1870-72). A founder member of the American Woman Suffrage Association, Livermore was president of the organization between 1875 and 1878. Livermore was also one of the leaders of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).

Livermore wrote several books including My Story of the War: A Woman's Narrative of Four Years Personal Experience (1887) and The Story of My Life: The Sunshine and Shadow of Seventy Years (1897). Livermore was also joint editor with Francis E. Willard of a collection of biographies, A Woman of the Century (1893).

Mary Livermore died in Melrose, Massachusetts, on 23rd May, 1905.

Primary Sources

(1) Mary Livermore, The Story of My Life: The Sunshine and Shadow of Seventy Years (1897)

The Sundays of my childhood were not enjoyable days, they were observed with such unnecessary rigor. All work was tabooed on that day, even cooking, winter and summer. The food was cooked the day before. We rose early, and we children were prepared for the- morning Sunday school at nine o'clock. The churches were not sufficiently warmed for the winter, and, in many instances, not warmed at all, and so a foot-stove was taken by one of us, which the sexton filled with live coals. We took turns in warming our feet upon it, and then were half frozen. The Sunday school ended at half-past ten, when we adjourned from the vestry to the church. A sounding-board overhung the pulpit, which was small and circular and seemingly suspended in the air, for the posts that upheld it and the narrow, spiral stairway which conducted to it were enclosed by curtains. I thought the minister, when he passed inside these curtains, rose in the air, very much as a bird soars from the ground, until he I came to the level where he could be seen by the people.

We were not allowed to read a story-book, not the religious newspaper, not a missionary magazine, or to look into a school-book. It was Sunday, and the Bible was the only book proper for Sunday reading. At two o'clock we hurried back to the second session of the Sunday School, then again to afternoon service in the church, and after that came an interminable prayer-meeting in the body of the house, to which all remained who could, - the children always included. This prayer-meeting lasted until dark in the winter and until very nearly supper time in summer. It was my great dread. The prayers and addresses were rarely delivered in an audible tone of voice, but were yet echoed and re-echoed through the building. The intense stillness without deepened solemnly, and the darkness crept into the nooks and corners of the church till the place seemed ghostly, and I saw specters everywhere. Trembling with fright I would cling to my father, and insist that he should put his arm around me and hold my hand tightly in his.

Sunday evening was devoted to the religious instruction of the children at home. Of this my father took charge, while my mother in company with friends or neighbors attended service at one of the churches in the near vicinity. First came the catechism, through which we went every Sunday evening, my father occasionally enforcing a precept or expounding an obscure point. If that catechism is lost, hopelessly, I can at any time reproduce it, question and answer, verbatim et literatim, for it is burned into my memory forever. Then followed the Bible reading, in which we all took part, and after this a plain, practical talk from my father concerning the salvation of our souls and the dangers under which we lived while unconverted. This never affected my sisters as it did me. I was sometimes shaken to the very center of my being, and often expressed to my father, even when very young, what I frequently felt - a bitter regret that I had ever been born. There were times when I envied the cat that purred at the fireside, or the dog that slept on the doorstep. They could be happy, for they had no souls to be saved or lost.

(2) Mary Livermore wrote about the death of her younger sister in her autobiography, The Story of My Life: The Sunshine and Shadow of Seventy Years (1897)

My sister Rachel, next in age to myself, and three years younger, was a delicate child from birth. It was only by the most untiring care and watchfulness that she lived through infancy to young girlhood.

Always pale, with large brown eyes, her oval face framed in her hair like spun sunshine, gentle, and always sweet- tempered, my sister Rachel exerted a perpetual influence for good in our family circle. We grew up together, occupying the same room, after the birth of a still younger sister, and such was the imperative need of my care, and of supplementing her weakness with my strength, that my relation to her was far more motherly than sisterly.

During the last two years other life she suffered extremely from curvature of the spine. The treatment prescribed for the disease caused her more suffering than she was able to bear. To rest on an inclined plane for hours of every day, supported by a strap under the arms to prevent slipping, and another under the chin, while heavy weights were attached to the ankles, for the straightening of the spinal column, was unbearable torture to the delicate child. Everything was done to tone up her system, and to build up her general health, but she failed and faded visibly before our eyes, and yet so sweetly and uncomplainingly that we were hardly aware of her increasing weakness.

One afternoon she asked me to bring my books to her chamber, and to study by her bedside. I did as she desired but there was no chance for study. She was in a mood for talk. Her eyes were exceedingly brilliant, and her cheeks glowed with a vivid flush. She talked incessantly, and of everything while we sat together. I brought her sewing-table and writing-desk to her bedside, and all the small treasures she had accumulated in her short life. She apportioned them all among her kindred and friends, and wrote on each gift the name of the person to whom she bequeathed it, and left all in my charge.

A premonition of impending sorrow came over me If my sister was standing on the verge of the other world I must know if she feared death, or if she anticipated it with hope.

"My dear sister, you are not afraid to die? You are sure God will receive you, and will welcome you?" She swept my face with her preternaturally bright eyes.

"No Mary, I am not afraid. God will take care of me, even better than you have done! If I die," she continued after a moment s hesitation, "be sure to tell Papa that I cannot remember once to have omitted my prayers, night or morning, in all my life, and that I read the Bible regularly just as he has planned it . And tell Mamma to forgive me if I spoke fretfully when we drove to Dorchester last week, for I was very ill for a few moments, and didn't want her to know it."

In an hour we were summoned to her bedside, for she was battling for her life with a cruel assault of pain that was unendurable. Two physicians were called, and both arrived at the same moment, but before they were able even to make a diagnosis of her case, she had passed into unconsciousness, and was gone.

(3) Mary Livermore was staying in Boston with her father when the American Civil War started in 1861.

My own home had been in Chicago for years, but my aged father was thought to be dying, and the stern speech of the telegram had summoned me to his bedside. The daily papers teemed with the dreary records of succession. The Southern press blazed with hatred of the North, and with fierce contempt for her patience and her avowed desire for peace. Northern men and women were driven from Southern homes, leaving behind all their possessions, and thankful to escape with life.

The day after arrival, came the news that Fort Sumter was attacked, which increased the feverish anxiety. The telegraph, which had registered for the astounded nation the hourly progress of the bombardment, announced the lowering of the stars and stripes, and the surrender of the beleaguered garrison, the news fell on the land like a thunderbolt.

(4) Mary Livermore wrote about her feelings when it became clear that the North was at war with the South in her book My Story of the War (1887).

15th April, 1861: Drowning the exaltations of the triumphant South, louder than their boom of cannon, heard above their clang of bells and blare of trumpets, there rang out the voice of Abraham Lincoln calling for seventy-five thousand volunteers for three months. This proclamation was like the first peal of a surcharged thunder-cloud, clearing the murky air. The South received it as a declaration of war; the North as a confession that civil war had begun; and the whole North arose as one man.

17th April, 1861: The 6th Massachusetts, a full regiment one thousand strong, started from Boston by rail. An immense concourse of people gathered in the neighborhood of the Boston and Albany railroad station to witness their departure. The great crowd was evidently under the influence of deep feeling, but it was repressed, and the demonstrations were not noisy. Tears ran down not only the cheeks of women, but those of men; but there was no faltering.

(5) Mary Livermore, The Story of My Life: The Sunshine and Shadow of Seventy Years (1897)

On one occasion, when going from ward to ward of a hospital, in Helena, Arkansas, I came upon a poor fellow evidently near death. He accepted my offer to write a letter to his mother, but, pointing to a comrade in the next bed, said,

"Write for him first; I can wait."

I doubted if he could wait, for already the pallor of death was overshadowing his face, and I urged him again saying:

"Speak as rapidly as you can, and I will write rapidly; there is time for both letters."

But he persisted; "Take him first!" and I was obliged to obey. Writing as rapidly as possible, I watched the brave fellow who had given up his last earthly comfort to his comrade, and who was failing fast. Noticing that my eyes sought him constantly, he beckoned feebly to one of the nurses, who turned him in bed that I might not be disturbed by his whitening face and shortening breath. And when I moved to his bedside to receive his dictation, he had passed beyond the need of my services.

(6) In her book, My Story of the War, Mary Livermore described the work of Mary Ann Bickerdyke on the hospital boat.

After the battle of Donelson, Mother Bickerdyke went from Cairo in the first hospital boat, and assisted in the removal of the wounded to Cairo, St. Louis and Louisville, and in nursing those too badly wounded to be moved. On the way to the battlefield, she systematized matters perfectly. The beds were ready for the occupants, tea, coffee, soup and gruel, milk punch, and ice water were prepared in large quantities, under her supervision, and sometimes her own hand.

When the wounded were brought on board, mangled almost out of human shape; the frozen ground from which they had been cut adhering to them; chilled with the intense cold in which some had lain for twenty-four hours; faint with loss of blood, physical agony, and lack of nourishment; racked with a terrible five-mile ride over frozen roads, in ambulances, in common Tennessee farm wagons, without springs; burning with fever; raving in delirium, or in the faintness of death, Mother Bickerdyke's boat was in readiness for them.

(7) Mary Livermore joined the American Woman Suffrage Association after the American Civil War. She wrote about it in her autobiography, My Story of the War.

In January, 1869, at my own cost and risk, I established a woman suffrage paper, The Agitator, which, from the start, espoused the temperance cause, as well as that of woman suffrage. I conducted the paper for a year, and with the help of my husband, who took charge of the business, made it a success, and lost no money. In January, 1870, the Woman's Journal of Boston was founded by Mrs. Lucy Stone, and a joint stock company was formed for its weekly publication. I was invited to merge my paper in this new and promising advocate of the suffrage reform, and to become its editor-in-chief. I accepted the invitation with much hesitation. For there were associated with me as "editorial contributors," Mrs. Lucy Stone, Mrs. Julia Ward Howe, Colonel Thomas W. Higginson, William Lloyd Garrison, and Henry B. Blackwell, - so brilliant a coterie of men and women, as caused me to doubt my fitness for the editorship, notwithstanding my large experience in newspaper work.