Outcome of This Faith:
Universalism Changed History In the Person of
Daniel S. O
Lombard Theological School
This faith in
Universalism, during the twenty-five years that I have believed it,
has grown upon me, until today it is the central thing in me. I do
not now, and I cannot hereafter, engage in anything that is not, as
I. see it, the outcome of this faith.1
Livermore was part of that first generation of nineteenth century
U.S. women who became respected independently of their husbands’
achievements. Her long life started less than fifty years after the
Declaration of Independence and ended in the twentieth century. Her
résumé, if she had created one, would be one of the
most impressive of her era and it is my thesis that her Calvinistic
religious upbringing and subsequent conversion to Universalism tell
us something about how religious belief cannot only change one
person’s life in unimaginable ways, but can help change the
course of history.
She published two
autobiographies while in her seventies, and both sold into the
“sixtieth thousand,” which suggests an extremely popular
book for the time. Both books are “packed” with her
experiences, and it is safe to say that she might today be called a
workaholic. Fortunately for her public, she and her husband had a
long paper trail of letters, notes, poems, essays, columns, and so
forth, to help reconstruct her life. Hers was a life filled with a
prodigious output of work.
I think there are three
salient factors to her drive of “superabundant energy.”
She grew up in a family that lost four of its six biological children
to early death. She grew up in a patriarchal society which provided
neither opportunity nor much comfort for girls and young women. She
grew up feeling incompetent at some of the household arts and felt
she was neither pretty nor graceful. These factors likely contributed
to a tremendous sense of guilt, unworthiness, and desperation. She
probably felt guilt at surviving so many of her siblings,
particularly her favorite sister. She cried herself to sleep over
never knowing with certainty whether she or any of her friends and
siblings, particularly those who had died early, would be “saved”
for “eternal life.” Reading her autobiography, one gets
the impression that it is almost impossible to attribute too much
importance to the effect on her life of the early religious belief
inculcated in her. Repeatedly, it seems to inform her every action. I
will explore these and other factors in her life and work in this
Mary Ashton (née
Rice) Livermore (1 820-1905) was born fourth in a family of six, two
boys and four girls, on Salem Street, in the Boston neighborhood of
the First Baptist Church on the 19th of December, 1820. The three
children who preceded her birth died during their first year. One
must be a detective to figure out who her siblings were and other
domestic information; in her autobiographies, Mary Livermore is
reticent with these details. By a process of deduction, one can
figure out that two boys and one girl died before Mary was born. She
had two sisters, Rachel, three years Mary’s junior, and another
younger sister whom we know as Mrs. Abbie Coffman. Mary’s
sister Rachel died when Rachel was fifteen, and soon afterwards, Mary
got an adopted sister, later known as Mrs. Annie Smith. By the time
of her fiftieth wedding anniversary, the surviving women were all
living together under the roof of Mary Livermore and her husband. At
some point in Mary’s childhood, an orphaned boy, George
Bissell, was adopted, and he looked after Mary briefly. He is
mentioned just once anecdotally 2
Where Mary Rice is
reticent about siblings, she is vocal about her parents. She believed
her mother came from a line of strong women:
law on both sides of the water gave my grandfather the right to
compel my grandmother [who lived in Boston] to reside in England as
he desired; but he never attempted such compulsion, nor would he have
succeeded if he had, for his wife was a woman with a mind of her own,
and, young or old, carried her points.3
despaired at young Mary ever learning the domestic arts to a suitable
degree, and Mary often appealed to her father for study time instead
of having to learn to cook, clean, and especially, sew. Her mother
worried Mary would grow up “good for nothing” and unable
to take care of herself or a family or that Mary would become
shiftless, remain unmarried, and cast to a bad lot. Although Mary
described her mother’s religious belief as a “generous
optimism winning out over advance planning, penalty-fixing, and
law-making,” she also associated her mother’s criticism
with the Calvinist doctrine of election into which she “been
thoroughly initiated” by her father, and she wondered whether
she had been destined to a “desolate future of shiftlessness
Mary Rice grew up in a
world where girls were generally not valued the same as boys. She may
have helped to compensate for her ‘ill-luck’ at being
born female by taking the risks to live out her religious and moral
philosophies and by building on the strengths and weaknesses of the
men in her life. The first man in her life was of course her father.
She describes him as “positive” and “a kind of
blonde giant.” He
himself as the head of his house and the master of his family, and
was never backward in declaring this as his divinely appointed
position. My mother never disputed it, nor even discussed it, and yet
no man was ever more completely under the control of another than was
he under that of my mother. . . His influence over me was unbounded.
I overflowed with energy, was persistent in purpose, and tempestuous
when interfered with. I was ambitious to excel, and miserable when I
failed, subject to moods and storms of emotion produced by seemingly
slight causes, which I neither comprehended nor was able to control.
In every emergency, I went to my father, who always gave me the best
direction and advice that he was able to offer.5
She thought of her
father as one who knew God’s will, and this created a constant
tension for her as she declared that her attention to matters of
justice was very sharp. When this sense of justice clashed with her
father’s orders, she was in a deep quandary. She says, “I
believed myself disapproved of God, and dropped into the depths of
self-execration and abasement.”6 Mary tried most of her youth
to win her father’s approval and managed to win it most of the
mentioned, her father’s religious beliefs were a motivating
factor in Mary’s life. These beliefs might be summarized as a
“religious pessimism winning out over a generous optimism.”
Her father was known as a devout and conscientious Calvinist who
believed in his faith entirely as it was expounded to him in 1790s
New England. Mary Livermore says she had the entire doctrine “at
tongue’s end” before age ten.
On the other hand, her
mother declared that “she never knew a child ruined by being
made too happy in its childhood . .‘. If my mother had a creed
she never stated it. All her talk was practical, and she dealt wholly
with the ethical side of questions.”7 Her home was “eminently
and severely religious.” The Rice family read and prayed at
every meal, and each child upon reaching age seven was expected to
read the Bible in its entirety every year via a schedule laid out by
their father. Mary memorized long sections of the Bible. At the time
of her autobiography she noted: “to this day I am saluted in my
home as The Family Concordance.” She and her siblings were
grilled every day on their whereabouts and activities so they might
be judged appropriately.
was not the best sleeping potion for a serious and thoughtful child
like myself and sometimes long after the whole household was steeped
in slumber, I was lying awake mourning and weeping over the events of
the day in which I had participated, and which loomed up before me
after the evening’s investigation as heinous sins against God.8
Sundays were spent at
the First Baptist church where, as a child, she was bored and spent
much time “pretending” quietly and wishing God loved her
better so she would be happier. After the morning church service, her
family hurried home to a cold dinner (since no work was allowed on
the Sabbath!). Then they were back in church by two p.m. for Sunday
School. Following this was an afternoon service and then an
“interminable prayer-meeting” which caused her to quiver
in fear. An evening of catechism and bible readings followed at home
along with “a plain, practical talk from my father concerning
the salvation of our souls and the dangers under which we lived while
unconverted.” Her preacher was tall, dark, and frightened her
when he would come by for an occasional pastoral visit. Fortunately,
he had an assistant who, like her father then and her husband later,
was “a blonde, rosy-cheeked young man.” The overall sense
of Mary’s religious upbringing to her was that religion was
essentially about hellfire and damnation. All this caused her to feel
“a bitter regret that I had ever been born.”9 All too
often her childhood was associated with death and questions of
salvation. When the first of two sisters was born, she cried her eyes
could not keep back the tears, and burying my face in the pillow I
wept aloud. A great rush of affection welled up within me at sight of
the little one, and an infinite feeling of pity overcame me as I
thought what her doom might be. ‘Oh mother,’ I cried,
‘don’t let’s keep the baby; let’s send her
back to God! What if she doesn’t grow up to be a Christian and
Her father tried to
convince her that they would pray for her sister and would train her,
but little Mary knew the doctrine of election too well and she would
not be comforted. She used to wake up her parents in the middle of
the night asking them to pray for her friends, although of herself
she would tell them not to worry. She became a member of the First
Baptist Church of Boston a “few months past my fourteenth
birthday . . . and but for the awful dread of the hereafter, I should
have been very happy.”11
Young Mary Rice claims
she did not have many diversions, but she and her cousins dramatized
Bible stories and elaborately acted them out. A play Mary invented
and remembered 60 years after the fact was on the theme of eternal
life. It practically wiped her and her cousins out with emotion,
although she and her friends “never knew why.” They
conducted little prayer meetings, using the kitchen table for a
pulpit,, and when bored, Mary even preached in the wood shed to
sticks she had lined up. Her father remarked once in her hearing: “If
that girl were only a boy . . . I would educate her for the ministry,
for she has it in her.”12 Repeatedly Mary Livermore notes in
her autobiography, mostly without comment, such extraordinary
childhood concern with salvation. One gets the sense she never found
out why her biblical resurrection plays always caused her such an
Besides worrying aloud
about other little children going to hell for eternity, the torment
she must have felt worrying about her own chances of election to
heaven, and the occasional lack of esteem she must have felt for not
being born male, little Mary worried about frugality. She worried
about frugality even though it was not an actual problem in her
house. She tried to take in “slop work,” whereby she
would put together flannel shirts in order to make some money, but
could not come up with an answer when her mother discovered her
activity and asked her why she would do such a thing. Young Mary did
not believe her when her mother tried to tell her their father could
easily take care of them. Clearly Mary Rice desperately wanted to be
useful, probably because she could then feel justified in being
When she found out that
sliding on ice wore her boots out, she stopped right then, though it
was her favorite thing to do. If she tore her skirt or found a hole
in her stocking, she worked to immediately repair it and “found
joy” in saving her mother the work of repair. If she went to a
child’s party, she would not eat any “dainty
refreshments” because her sisters had none. Mary Rice
occasionally walked home children who were “weak, sick, poor,
or ill- dressed” to help them avoid the “petty
persecutions to which [they] are very often subject.” There is
one brief autobiographical quotation from this point in her life that
speaks eloquently to her view of herself in the world. It turns out
that the young Mary Rice had an aversion to being “dressed up”
until she learned that “she was too unimportant to attract
attention” whereupon her “dislike to being well-dressed
Another example of
Mary’s ingenuity and passion came when she was thirteen and
started a vacation school with a friend. They took charge of 40
pre-schoolers to teach them the alphabet, “boys included, to
sing, sew, knit, and work samplers” in order to make nine pence
per week (twelve and a half cents) per child. It was this experience
that encouraged Mary to make teaching her “life work”.’4
Teaching, however, required more education, and Mary worried about
finding a school.
A break came when her
father decided to obtain private tutoring for her in Latin, a highly
unusual practice in those days for women. She awoke to her father’s
opinion of her, professing that she did not know he thought so highly
of her. One gets the impression that she needed more affirmation from
her father, and this gesture was especially impressive since the
“educational advantages for girls were niggardly in the
extreme, and altogether insufficient.” 15 At age 15, she
entered the Charlestown Female Seminary, where before the first term
ended she was invited to join the faculty as “Assistant Pupil.”
She completed her four-year program in two years and was subsequently
hired to teach French, Latin, and Italian.
Three years later,
Mary’s sister Rachel, always a delicate and timid girl, died.
The years of growing up in a household dominated by the “sacred
canopy” her father projected of predestinarian Calvinism, a
religious outlook where most people were going to hell, took its toll
on her. Mary Rice had always considered the consequences of dying
“unsaved” but one day realized it included her saintly
sister, Rachel, who died at fifteen. Mary had another crisis of faith
about the doctrine of election and decided to learn Greek in order to
read the Christian scriptures in their original language. But this
did not seem to temper her outraged sense of fairness and decency,
and she could not reconcile the conflict between her religious
beliefs, which she took very seriously, and her sense that a just God
could not possibly condemn her innocent sister.
Something had to give,
and at age 18, Mary Livermore went to work as a governess on a
plantation where she saw first hand the effects of slavery on master
and slave alike. This experience was to prove decisive. There were
Christians who kept slaves! She quietly became a confirmed
abolitionist. There she experienced the culture shock of difference
between North and South and would “accept no apology for
slavery” for ever after. She became a confirmed abolitionist
and upon returning home to Massachusetts frequently attended
meetings, read periodicals, and wrote essays in support of the cause.
The fact that she was one of the few woman abolitionists in the north
who had seen slave conditions first-hand, later gave her speeches an
immediacy most of her contemporaries lacked.
After three years in
Virginia, she returned home to teach school in Duxbury, MA. On
Christmas Eve, 1843, she had been brooding about life’s big
questions and decided to take a walk. As she describes it, the
weather was very mild and there was a full moon. She chanced to enter
a Universalist church, a denomination she had been warned to avoid in
her younger years. At the time, Christmas was not celebrated by many
people she knew except that
Universalists made a larger use of Christmas than any of the [others
in Duxbury]. On Christmas Eve their children were treated to a small
feast and a bountiful supply of presents. They played games and
frolicked as happy children will.16
Mary Rice had never
attended a Christmas service before—the only holidays she had
celebrated were Thanksgiving and Independence Day. Even more
appropriate to her mood, the sermon was on the forgiveness of sins
and the universality of God’s love. The preacher used the
parables of the prodigal son and the lost sheep to show that everyone
would be saved. This was quite different from the church of her
childhood. The clincher was the preacher. That Daniel Parker
Livermore was single, blonde, and about the same size and age as Mary
Rice was surely no hindrance to her hearing his message.
At the conclusion of
the service, Daniel Livermore told her he knew who she was and
pointed out their mutual acquaintances. At her request, he gave her
some books to read on Universalism; fearful she might not get to see
them again, she copied them “from beginning to end.”17
She went home for the next summer vacation and back to Duxbury in the
fall and in less than a year, they married (May 7, 1845). Her church,
friends, and family disapproved, except her mother who liked him.
Eventually, her father and husband became close friends. Her husband
took a parish in Fall River, MA, and after a short while, wanting a
less hectic schedule, they moved to rural Stafford, CT.18 As in her
youth, she and her husband studied, studied, studied: some
mathematics and the classics. It was here that she edited a new
Universalist annual, Lily of the Valley, for two years.19
During this time both
became active in temperance work. Mary published her first short
story, a temperance story, and won an award for it, while Daniel
successfully campaigned for a Connecticut version of the Maine Liquor
Law. It turned out to be a divisive issue for his congregation, as
would abolition years later. They decided to leave Stafford and moved
to Weymouth and Malden. At Weymouth their eldest daughter (Mary E.
Livermore) died at the tender age of five years.2° Daniel
Livermore got “western fever” and wanted to go with some
families to Kansas. This was at least partially because speaking out
on temperance was bound to get them in trouble with some richer
members of his congregation. Neither he nor Mary Livermore found it
reasonable to keep quiet about their opinions on either temperance or
slavery. These congregational factors and the occasional news item or
anecdote about rich opportunities in the exotic Michigan or Illinois
became powerful lures.
Mary Ashton Livermore,
however, decided she was not interested in being a pioneer or
farmer’s wife and protested. She had been between ten and
twelve years old when her father got “western fever” and
wanted to go toward the wilds of New York state. Western New York was
regarded by many, she rote, as “a land flowing with milk and
honey whose soil only needed to be tickled with a hoe, and it would
laugh with a harvest.” Her father and mother compromised on
Rochester, NY, and bought a farm in remote Batavia, which had no
schools, churches, or nearby neighbors. Mary and her family had
stayed for “two weary years.”21 The Livermores decided to
go as far as Chicago, and from there, Daniel would scout the
prospects in Kansas. Suddenly their youngest daughter Marcia
Elizabeth became ill, so she and Mary stayed behind.22
circumstance arose when the proprietor of the Universalist newspaper,
the New Covenant, decided for health reasons to sell the paper to
Daniel Livermore. The Reverend Livermore already had a mortgage on
the paper and had previously decided to spruce up the paper a bit and
sell it. The financial panic in 1857 delayed the sale, and the
Livermores decided to stick it out in Chicago. Daniel Livermore was
the editor of the New Covenant from May 1858 to May 1869, during
which time he preached constantly and wrote and sold many tracts and
a few books via the newspaper and publishing house. Under his
leadership and with the help of his wife, the publishing house became
the midwestern headquarters of Universalist publishing.23
Mary Livermore quickly
became as heavily involved in the New Covenant as she had been in
Daniel’s various parishes:
his frequent and prolonged absences, necessitated by business and
church work, I wrote for every department of the paper, except the
theological, and took entire charge of the business. In 1863, a
volume of the stories I had contributed to the New Covenant was
published under the title of “Pen Pictures” and ran
through several editions.24
These early days in
Chicago were probably among the happiest of her life.25 She attended
the Republican convention as the only woman reporter in the “Chicago
Wigwam,” where Lincoln was nominated for the presidency in
1860. While in Chicago, she did a great deal of work for the
Universalist denomination and was called “the moving spirit”
in the Northwestern Conference. The Conference was responsible for
the “$100,000 endowment of Lombard University, the payment of
church debts, and the general revival of [the Universalist] cause to
a degree never known before or since in the West.”26
At age 41, Mary
Livermore, involved as she was, had already accomplished a great
deal. She had given birth to three daughters, had accomplished some
firsts as a woman, and had become quite active in the denomination
and other causes. All her activities had been aimed at relieving the
suffering of others. Had she known what was to come, she might have
thought it all preparation, for in 1861, the “War of the
this war was but one of countless thousands which men had waged with
one another, in which hundreds of millions had been slain—transfixed
with lances, hewn in pieces with battle-axes, torn in fragments with
plunging shot, or deadly canister, or fiendish bombs, mowed down with
raking fires of leaden sleet, engulfed in the explosion of
subterranean mines, impaled on gleaming bayonets, dying on the field,
of wounds, fever, neglect, —forgotten, uncared for, a prey to
the vulture, and devoured by the jackal and wild beast. While the
mothers who bore these men, and the wives who loved them, lived on,
suffering a prolonged death, finding the sweetness of life changed to
cruel bitterness because of their bereavement. Never before had I
attained a comprehension of what was meant by that one word war.27
When the war began, and
as troops were mustered, the women who were the mothers, lovers,
wives, and sisters of the new recruits sent packages to the front.
These women also formed local relief societies to match the groups of
men who enlisted. Railroad cars soon became stuffed with fermenting
“goodies” which were usually not well packed. As a
result, many gifts had to be thrown away and word spread about
Beyond the perhaps
smaller problem of getting care packages delivered, Army officers
were ignorant and grossly inefficient in the logistics and transport
of medical necessities. In fact, this part of the war was badly
organized by the government, and they knew it. It soon became
apparent that there were many sick and dying soldiers in various
camps, although most were not due to enemy action. Just as bad, most
people did not seem to have an idea about how to ameliorate the
situation or to move the war to its conclusion. The Livermores
published soldiers’ letters in the New Covenant as proof of
their suspicions. Mary Livermore also worked hard to quash rumors in
the New Covenant. Among them was a rumor that the war effort needed
an extraordinary amount of lint and another about how supplies sent
to the Sanitary Commission were stolen by unscrupulous doctors and
Rev. Dr. Henry Bellows,
a Unitarian minister, began an effort based on work some women were
doing in New York state aspart of their relief efforts. Bellows went
with other interested men and a few key women to Washington, D.C. and
met with President Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton. At the time,
these efforts were seen by the government as harmless,29 but in fact,
after the war it seemed clear that the work of the United States
Sanitary Commission was indispensable to the successful war effort.
The Commission sent inspectors to military camps, assigned nurses to
hospitals, established soup kitchens which followed battle lines,
maintained Soldier’s Homes and created and staffed various
types of agencies for soldiers.
In the fall of 1861,
the Rev. Bellows asked Mary Livermore and a Chicago Universalist
friend, Mrs. Jane C. Hoge, to become associate directors of the
Commission.3° Both women had an enormous task coordinating
incoming supplies from surrounding states and getting them repacked
and transported to the front lines, mainly to areas under the command
of Colonel and then General Grant. She and Mrs. Hoge visited
hospitals and camps from Tennessee to Missouri and traveled the
Mississippi river and the railroad. They supervised transport of
supplies, collected information for supplying the troops, and
provided first hand reports to enraptured audiences of the various
Ladies Aid societies.
The physical and
emotional strain on the women assisting with the war effort was
tremendous, and the endurance required to try to meet the needs
tested even the legendary endurance of Mary Livermore;
work of the next three or four years was severe in the extreme. Many
women broke down under the incessant strain, and some of them died. I
resigned all positions save that on my husband’s paper, and
subordinated all demands on my time to those of the Commission.3
Mary Livermore would
have been unable to devote herself to the cause without the complete
support of her husband. Daniel encouraged her to get involved in the
Commission, and he
helped find a suitable
housekeeper and governess for the children so that “home
interests should not suffer.” Alice Stone Blackwell, who knew
the Livermores well, wrote that it was he who urged Mary Livermore
upon her most important work of the Sanitary Commission, women’s
suffrage, and her public lecturing..32 It is clear from her
autobiographies that she would not have reached those fields without
the full support of a husband who urged her onward.
Mary Livermore also
picked up various orphans along the way and managed to hook them up
with childless couples or get them passage to the Chicago Home for
the Friendless, an institution of which she was a manager. In one
instance in 1863, she smuggled a stolen slave boy into Illinois and
successfully rejoined him with his mother in Chicago, “in utter
defiance of [the] ‘Black Laws” for “whoever
assisted in bringing a negro into the State, was liable to a year’s
imprisonment and a fine of one thousand dollars.” This was due
senseless and rabid negrophobia, then at fever heat, [and] the
provost-marshal at Cairo [Illinois searched every Northern-bound tram
for negroes, as well as deserters. Whenever they were found, they
were arrested; the former were sent to the contraband camp, an
abandoned, comfortless, God-forsaken place, and the latter to the
Mary Livermore was as
quick with her pen as she was in action. In November 1862, she and
Jane Hoge went to Washington, D.C. for a meeting of the Sanitary
Commission. She managed to have an audience with President Lincoln,
who told her that the Army was not making much progress because
soldiers were being sent on leave all the time since “the army,
like the nation” had the idea the war would be ended “by
strategy, and not by hard, desperate fighting.”34
Below is an example of
how well Mary Livermore’s worry about what Lincoln had told her
translated into a brilliant piece of satire that appeared the same
winter. A family of singers, the Hutchinson family, had entertained
audiences in Washington, D.C., before moving to the “other
side” of the Potomac river where they were to give a concert to
the soldiers camped there. One of their innocuous songs angered an
officer, and the Army sent the Hutchinson family packing. Livermore
took the opportunity to upbraid the generals most severely:
the whole country has been waiting in breathless suspense. . . for
the grand forward movement of the army . . no person, even though his
imagination possessed a seven-leagued-boot power of travel, could
have anticipated the last great exploit of our generals, whose
energies thus far have been devoted to the achieving of a masterly
inactivity A backward movement was ordered instanter, and no sooner
ordered than executed. Brave Franklin! heroic Kearney! victorious
McClellan! why did you not order a Te Deum on the occasion of this
great, victory over a band of Vermont minstrels, half of whom were
girls? How must the hearts of the illustrious West-Pointers have
pit-a-patted with joy, and dilated with triumph, as they saw the
Hutchinson troupe—Asa B., and Lizzie C., little Dennott and
Freddy, naive Viola, melodeon and all—scampering back through
the mud, bowed beneath the weight of their military displeasure.35
The following spring,
Grant’s campaign strained the resources of the Northwestern
branch of the Sanitary Commission to the limit. By fall, the
situation seemed worse, even though Mary Livermore and Jane Hoge had
vastly increased the efficiency and scope of sanitary supply
distribution.36 They felt they needed to find a new way of acquiring
necessities and finally proposed the idea of the Sanitary Fair to the
appropriate men in charge. Although the fair later became the model
for other sanitary fairs across the United States, their proposal was
greeted with incredulous laughter but allowed to continue
nonetheless.37 The first step they took was to hold a woman’s
convention in Chicago on September 1, 1863. About 10,000 circulars
were sent out, the two-day meeting was held, and the fair was on for
early October. Every Ladies Aid society in the surrounding states was
called on to help. Those societies held many planning meetings and
worked hard to get local people to commit to contributing money,
livestock, machinery, or any other valuable to the fair. This they
did in great abundance. Goods and items of every description,
including livestock, were donated.
While the Great
Northwestern Sanitary Fair was still in its planning stages, the Rev.
Bellows wrote to both Livermore and Hoge to accept their invitation
to appear. He evidently believed the fair might raise as much as
$30,000. Little did he know the extent to which preparations were
being made. These preparations were extensive, and the Northwest was
ransacked for attractions. Confederate flags and other war
memorabilia were to be auctioned to the highest bidder and food was
to be donated, prepared, and served to those attending. For the
evenings, lectures, concerts, tableaux, and other attractions were
Until a week before the
fair was to begin, the operation had been planned and executed
entirely by women. When it looked like the fair was not only
inevitable, but likely to be a success, men finally caught the fair
mania and began contributing substantial gifts. At this point so much
farm and other machinery was donated that Livermore and Hoge had to
get a temporary building constructed to store it all. At the height
of their autonomy they had to face some unpleasant truths. The first
was that as married women they had no legal standing to order
construction of the building. They had lumber donated to them for the
project; they had the necessary space for the building, a building
permit, and the money to pay the builders. All this was for naught;
the builder declined, saying: “You are married women; and, by
the laws of Illinois, your names are good for nothing, unless your
husbands write their names after yours on the contract.”39
Further protestations went unheeded, and they eventually had to get
their husbands to sign. Mary Livermore never forgot this affront, and
she immediately vowed to work for changing women’s status.
Indeed, it was during her work with the Sanitary Commission that she
learned about business matters normally reserved for men.
For most of the next
two weeks, Chicago ceased its normal activity and devoted all its
attention to the fair. The fair’s most celebrated item sold at
auction was the Emancipation Proclamation, donated by President
Lincoln the day before the fair started. He did not want to part with
it, but knew it would fetch a hefty price. It sold for $10,000 and
was later destroyed in the Chicago Fire of 1871. 40°
The fair began with a
parade of wounded soldiers that ended at the exhibition hall. People
and goods quickly accumulated. Piles of goods disappeared in rapid
sales, and all the activity was more than anyone had anticipated. To
keep up with the demand, Livermore and Hoge arranged for daily
excursion trains to and from the outlying areas. One of the biggest
attractions was the featured speaker. Mary Livermore had secured a
21-year old Quaker from Philadelphia, Anna Dickinson, for the fair.
Livermore wrote of her:
Dickinson, the untrained Quaker girl, who had come to the front like
a second Joan of Arc, saved state after state for the Republican
party by her magnetic oratory, and made it possible for any woman who
had anything to say, and knew how to say it, to follow her on the
Dickinson had been born
into an abolitionist family and had been campaigning for the
Republicans in 1862 and 1863. Her lecturing caused a sensation, and
she was said to have no equal. Her appeal appears mainly to have been
emotional, and she tended to put things in easily understood terms.
She had been successful enough on the political trail that the
tried unsuccessfully to gainsay her popularity or take cheap shots at
her reputation. Until the time of the Fair, Anna Dickinson had been
active only in the East and her arrival in Chicago was greatly
As it turned out, Anna
Dickinson was an unqualified success, and the importance of her
impression on Mary Livermore’s future direction was immense.
She successfully sold out standing-room-only crowds every night of
the two-week fair, and after all expenses associated with paying her
honorarium, travel and related expenses, Anna Dickinson “netted
more than $1,300.” Altogether, the fair grossed nearly $100,000
which was far beyond anyone’s expectations.44
Mrs. Livermore and Mrs.
Hoge remained active at their Sanitary Commission posts until October
1865. After the war and her experiences with the Sanitary Commission
and the Northwestern Fair, Mary Livermore did an about face on two
topics: she changed her mind about public lecturing as a career for
herself, and she changed her mind about the need for women to have
the vote. She kept the New Covenant “ablaze” with demands
for opening educational and occupational opportunities to women and
to the eradication of barriers to women’s progress.
saw how women are degraded by disfranchisement, 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. She is not allowed equal ownership in her minor children with
her husband, has no choice of domicile and is herself the legal
property of her husband, who controls her earnings and her children;
her only compensation being such board and clothing as he chooses to
bestow on her.45
At this point, Mary
Livermore became the associate editor at the New Covenant.46 She
arranged for the first suffrage convention in Chicago in 1868 where
the leading clergymen of the city participated. She declared it was
the first suffrage convention she attended and the first suffrage
lecture delivered that she heard. She considered herself a “pioneer
in the reform.” Within a short time, the Illinois Woman
Suffrage Association was organized, and Mary Livermore became its
first president.47 With her renewed interest in suffrage now given
time for fuller expression, she and Daniel Livermore sold the New
Covenant, and in January 1869, she started The Agitator,
which espoused temperance and suffrage, two issues that seemed almost
inseparable to her.
A year later, in
January 1870, Mary accepted an invitation to merge The Agitator
with Lucy Stone’s Woman ‘s Journal in Boston,
where she was invited to become the journal’s editor-in-chief.
Other contributors included Julia Ward Howe, William Lloyd Garrison,
and Henry B. Blackwell. Upon accepting the position, the Livermores
moved to Melrose, where they lived for the rest of their lives.48
Daniel who had been
acting as business manager of Mary’s Agitator, supplied
pulpits for the next twenty years, mainly at Hingham. He wrote
extensively in support of temperance, abolition, women’s
suffrage, and similar reformist causes. Perhaps most importantly, he
encouraged Mary Livermore at every step of her career, including
doing occasional research for her.49 Mary held the position of editor
for two years and then devoted herself exclusively to lecturing.
Her first public
lecture occurred during the war in April 1863 when she had thought
she was going to address a Ladies’ Aid Society luncheon and
instead found she was expected to address what seemed to be half of
Iowa with all available notables in attendance. She was frozen with
fear and protested with all her might, finally refusing. A Colonel
Stone was enlisted to make her speech for her after Mary Livermore
gave him the sketch of what she wanted to say. Colonel Stone played
along until the last minute, when as they were about to ascend the
platform he took her aside and said,
God has prepared for you an opportunity to speak to all Iowa. You
have not wished it. The ladies of the Aid Society have not done it.
These eminent gentlemen have happened here on various errands, and
this opportunity has, in a certain sense, come about providentially.
Now, how dare you, when God has given you such an opportunity to do a
great work, how dare you refuse, and say, ‘I cannot do it’?
It is not necessary for you to deliver an oration; it is only
necessary to say to the great audience in the church just what you
had come prepared to say to the ladies of the Aid Society . . It is
for you to say . . whether the State of Iowa shall commence doing
sanitary work, or whether this grand occasion shall prove a
properly chastised, apparently gave a great speech, because $8,000
was pledged to the Sanitary Commission at the end of it. She gave the
speech in a sort of trance:
began to grow light about me. I began to hear my own voice.”
Thus started a
lecturing career which was to last past her eighty third birthday.51
It was a career she declares she never sought, for she was “no
longer young, and lacked grace and beauty, and in those days it was
most heterodox to intimate that there was a ghost of a chance for a
woman, if she lacked either of these over-prized charms.”52 And
yet, Mary Livermore was dubbed “Queen of the Platform” by
admiring audiences during two trips to Europe. She took some pride in
this too: “My public lecturing has been more extensive, and
longer continued, than that of any other woman.”53 Her husband
told her to seize the opportunity, and her lecturing along with her
work for the Sanitary Commission made her famous. She gave one of her
more popular lectures, What Shall We Do With Our Daughters,
more than 800 times in twenty-five years all over the United States.
Mary Livermore was noted for unsectarian yet inspiring messages, and
it is during this period that she preached in many pulpits.
Despite her work for
various Universalist causes, there were some in the denomination who
were unhappy with her less-than-frequent mention of her
denominational identity and with her outspokenness for the causes she
believed in. Nevertheless, she had been the only woman on the
denominational Centenary committee of L869 and had led a “women’s
executive committee.”54 She was also one of the five
vice-presidents of the Universalist Reform League.55 She preached
about half the Sundays of the year during the 1880s. Mary Livermore
wrote stories, articles, sketches, poems “of a high order”
for the Rose of Sharon, Lily of the Valley, Ladies’
Repository, Trumpet, Christian Freeman, Christian ‘s
Ambassador, and the Gospel Banner. During this period, her
only remuneration was an occasional gratis copy of her work. She “did
more work and raised more money for the Murray Fund, than any other
woman, if not more than any man,” according to the editor of
the Christian Leader.56
Her reputation preceded
her at the September 1870 centenary celebration of Universalism in
Gloucester, Massachusetts, where she was a noted speaker.57 A crowd
of up to 10,000 is said to have attended the convention. She spoke
twice, once to a crowd of women and again to a crowd of men. She
spoke of Universalism as “synonymous with Christianity.”
This Universalism looked toward a future where sin would be overcome
and all would worship the one “Universal Father.” Her
expressed theology at the time was “something between a
Universalist America and American Universalism as the instrument of
God ‘by which the world is to be won’.” The love of
God for human beings was more akin to the unswerving love of a mother
for her child than of a father’s; consequently, Christianity
was more meaningful to women than men.58 Her theology had moved from
an unnecessarily capricious Calvinism to the all-encompassing God who
loved human beings the way a mother loves her children.
toward the end of her life Mary Livermore edited a listing of notable
women and wrote several other books, including two autobiographies,
one of her war years and another covering her personal life. In her
story of the war period, she wrote extensively on contributions made
At the time of the
writing of her second autobiography (1897), when she was in her late
seventies, she was: president of the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage
Association; honorary president of the Massachusetts WCTU for 10
years; for 15 years, president of the “Beneficent Society of
the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston”; life member
of Boston Women’s Educational and Industrial Union; member of
the Massachusetts Indian Association; member of the National
Conference of Charities and Corrections; member of the Woman’s
Relief Corps; member of the Aid Society of the Massachusetts
Soldiers’ Home; member of several literary clubs; twice sent as
delegate to Massachusetts State Republican Convention, “charged
with presentation of temperance and woman suffrage resolutions, which
were accepted and incorporated into the party platform.”6°
She was president of the Association for the Advancement of Women and
president of the American Woman Suffrage association.61 She served
educational institutions well on various levels: she was a trustee of
the New England Female Medical College in Boston and a member of the
Hancock School Association.
In her own words: “I
was untiring in my labors for the Chicago Home of the Friendless, one
of the most philanthropic and useful institutions in the city, then
and now.” She also helped in the establishment of the Home for
Aged Women, and the Hospital for Women and Children.62 Mary Livermore
received an LL.D. (Doctor of Laws) from Tufts University in June
1896, when Tufts graduated its first class of women. In the following
year she and Daniel celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary
with about 1,500 guests.63
After discovering and
embracing Universalism, Mary Livermore believed herself destined to
do the work she did, and in some important sense she was never afraid
of death again, the way she had been as a child. Speaking toward the
end of her life on her luck at escaping premature death, she wrote:
have been on trains that have collided, where my fellow travelers
have met death and frightful injury; but I have been unharmed. The
locomotive and forward cars of a train on which I was traveling went
through a bridge, drowning some and maiming others. But the car in
which I was riding was checked . . . on the very verge of
destruction, and we were saved before we knew of our danger. The side
of the car where I had been quietly sitting for two hours was torn
entirely out by collision with empty derailed freight cars at one
time, as we were entering Canandaigua, New York. Again I escaped
injury, while every other passenger on that side was more or less cut
or bruised. Not three seconds before the collision, I sprang from the
seat where I was dozing and reclining against the window, for an
unaccountable feeling of fear seized me, for which there was no
visible reason, and the accident found me unharmed, standing in the
Mary Livermore lived on
for six years after her husband’s death in 1899 and was anxious
to join him in heaven. Her life experiences only seemed to confirm
her belief in Universalism, and it was likely the salvation of her
peace of mind in her adult years. What is amazing is that her shift
to Universalism could have such great repercussions for herself, her
family, and United States history. In the end, she “walked her
talk” and “lived her faith.” She took risks, dared
to question authority, was willing to change her mind, and sought
justice for those less fortunate than she was.
1. Emerson, Dorothy
May. Boston Women Who Worked For Racial Justice: Eliza Lee Cabot
Follen. Lydia Maria Francis Child, Maria Weston Chapman, Mary Ashton
Rice Livermore, Maria Louise Baldwin, Florida Ruffin Ridley.
Medford, MA: Unitarian Universalist Women’s Heritage Society.
June 1993. P. 14.
2. Livermore, Mary A.
The Story of My Life: Or the Sunshine and Shadow of Seventy Years.
Hartford, CT: A.D.Worthington & Company, 1897. p. 48. At age 3,
and with her hyperactivity wearying her pregnant mother, Mary was
taken to a sort of pre-school. Occasionally, she would escape and run
down the streets getting lost and “George Bissell, a fatherless
little fellow whom my parents had taken into the family to rear, was
detailed to search for me.”
3. Life, p. 39.
4. Life, p. 90.
5. Life, p. 40.
6. Life, p. 123.
7. Life, p.40-
8. Life, p. 42.
9. Life, p.
10. Life, p. 60.
12. Life, p. 70.
13. Life, p. 77.
14. Life, p. 74.
15. Life, p. 83.
16. Life, p.
385. My italics.
17. Hanson, Mrs. ER.
Our Woman Workers: Biographical Sketches of Women Eminent in the
Universalist Church for Literary, Philanthropic and Christian Work.
Chicago: Star & Covenant Office, 1882. pp. 120-144. This rare
book is a year off on dates for Mary Livermore (both the birth date
and baptism date are exactly one year late). It provides domestic
information about her seemingly unavailable elsewhere.
18. Johnson, Allen and
Dumas Malone, eds. Dictionary of American Biography. Vol. 11,
19. Miller, Russell E.
The Larger Hope. Vol 2. Boston: Unitarian Universalist
Association, 1979. p. 331.
20. Life, p.
21. This and the
preceding quote is from p. 98-105.
22. Howe, Charles A.
“Daniel and Mary Livermore: The Biography of A Marriage.”
The Proceedings of the Unitarian Universalist Historical Society.
Volume XIX, Part 2, 1982-1983. p. 21. This excellent and readable
essay contains the most information on Daniel Livermore’s
career and quotes sources the other works cited do not, including
letters from Mary Livermore.
23. The Illinois
lJniversalist newspaper, the Better Covenant, was published in
Chicago from 1842 to 1847 when it was merged with the Star in the
West and was replaced by the New Covenant, which ran from 1848-1883.
In 1880, the New Covenant bought out the Star in the West
and became the Star and Covenant. Larger Hope, Vol 2., p.
705. Extant Issues at Chicago Historical Society are limited to 60.
There are fifty-one 4-page issues and nine 8-page issues
(1870 and 1871) for a
total of 276 pages. It was a weekly Universalist journal (printed 50
times per year) that was printed and distributed on newsprint in
Chicago from 1848 to 1879? according to the Historical Society. The
volume numbers on the paper indicate that the journal goes back to
1847. It was printed by Universalist Press, Chicago & Boston. The
printers and format varied over the years, and it merged out of and
into differently named papers before and after its existence as noted
above. In every issue, it contained Universalist state convention
news; advertisements for universalist books and sunday school books;
Chicago railroad timetables; agricultural market prices; Civil War
news (when it was going on); local and non-local church news; and
long obituaries on unsung Universalists (usually ministers and only
occasionally). Howe, in his “Daniel and Mary Livermore,”
cites issues unavailable at the Chicago Historical Society, so I am
assuming other issues are available in the Boston area.
24. p. 456. And yet she
actually did write for the theological end. In the March 29, 1862
edition of the New Covenant, Mary Livermore, listed as “MAL”
had a long essay on an anti-universalist sermon with some theological
refutation of her opponent. Here for the first time in the extant
Chicago Historical Society issues, she is called a “regular
contributor.” Also in this issue, she has a small piece
entitled “Marriage of Cousins,” and on the same page is a
tiny notice about the Sanitary Commission. Although in her
autobiography she says her Pen Pictures came out in 1863,
there is an advertisement for it in the November 22, 1862 New
25. “Daniel and
Mary Livermore.” p. 21.
26. Our Woman Workers,
p. 129. This quote is attributed to Rev. J.W. Hanson, DD who is
likely the author’s husband. He has a very high regard for Mary
Livermore’s lecturing ability and reviewed a few of her
lectures in the Hingham, MA Journal, where he wrote “Scarcely a
preacher or political speaker or lawyer but would give all he has to
possess her facile, incisive, captivating address.” (excerpted
on p. 132).
27. Livermore, Mary A.
My Story of the War: A Woman’s Narrative 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.
Hartford, CT: A.D. Worthington & Company, 1890. p. 196.
28. New Covenant,
March 21, 1863, in a long essay entitled “Perversion of
29. “But for the
zeal, intelligence and earnestness of his numerous women
constituents, it is more than probable that Dr. Bellows would have
retreated before the rebuffs and hindrances opposed to his humane
efforts.” W, p. 129.
30. Schnell, J.
Christopher. “Mary Livermore and the Great Northwestern Fair.”
Chicago History. Spring 1975, Vol.
32. “Daniel and
Mary Livermore.” p. 27.
33. War, p. 352.
34. War, pp. 24
35. Our Woman
Workers, p. 130-131. Interestingly enough, Mary Livermore would
later be petrified at the notion of speaking in public.
36. Documents of the
United States Sanitary Commission. Vol 2. New York, 1866. The
letter is document number 75, entitled “Report on the
Operations of the U.S. Sanitary Commission in the Valley of the
Mississippi,” and is dated September 1, 1863, and is written by
Dr. J.S. Newberry, Secretary, Western Department. Writing from
Louisville, KY to Washington, DC. Dr. Newberry wrote: “on the
1st of January the whole number of packages of stores forwarded to
the army was 4,500, while the present number is 16,315. This splendid
result is due, in a great degree, to the intelligence and industry of
the two admirable ladies, Mrs. Livermore and Mrs. Hoge, who have
instituted a system of
correspondence and canvassing . . . [Their shipments] have
constituted two-thirds of all our contributions to the army of
General Grant” (p. 11).
37. “Unlike the
East, the West had then few competent and able people of leisure who
could work continuously in an enterprise like this. A large fair,
pecuniarily successful, had never been held in the West, and was not
believed possible.” War, p. 563.
This letter is document 63, entitled “A Letter to the Women of
the Northwest Assembled at the Fair at Chicago, for the Benefit of
the U.S. Sanitary Commission.” Unfortunately, he addressed the
letter to Mrs. D.V. Livermore (her husband’s middle initial was
‘P’) and had a tendency for florid rhetoric. Here is the
concluding sentence of Bellow’s letter: “The blessing of
the Almighty Father rests on the women of the Northwest, and on their
pious endeavors to bind up the wounds of the national soldiers, and
preserve, without seam, the spotless robe of our National Union.”
39. War, pp.
Livermore and the Great Northwestern Fair.” p. 39.
41. Life, p.489.
42. Venet, Wendy
Hamand. Neither Ballots nor Bullets: Women Abolitionists And the
Civil War. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia,
1991. p. 51.
Livermore and the Great Northwestern Fair.” p. 42.
44. It initially netted
$80,000 and picked up another $20,000 through sales of items left
over after the Fair officially ended. War, p. 455.
45. Life, p.
46. She is listed as
‘Associate Editor’ in the January 19, 1867 issue of the
New Covenant. Additionally, she is listed as “Mary A.
Livermore” rather than her previous byline of “MAL.”
47. Life, p.
48. Dictionary of
49. “Daniel and
Mary Livermore.” pp. 14-16.
50. War, pp.
51. Dictionary of
52. Life, p.
53. Life, p.
54. The Larger Hope.
Vol 2. p. 573 and 845.
55. Miller, Russell E.
The Larger Hope. Vol 1. Boston: Unitarian Universalist
Association, 1979. p. 464 says the year is 1874, but volume 2 of his
work (p. 536) says it is 1847 and I have been unable to determine
which is the more likely date.
56. Our Woman
Workers, p. 127 and 131.
57. Howe, Charles A.
The Larger Faith: A Short History of American Universalism.
Boston: Skinner House Books, 1993. p. 61.
58. Williams, George
Hunston. “American Universalism: A Bicentennial Essay.”
The Journal of the Universalist Historical Society. Vol. IX,
1971. p. 29-46.
59. War. She
wrote about a woman soldier in the 19th Illinois; Madame Turchin, the
wife of a Colonel; Annie Etheridge of the 3rd Michigan; Bridget
Devens of the 1st Michigan Cavalry; Kady Brownell of 5th Rhode
Island; Georgeanna Peterman, Wisconsin Drummer-Girl (All in Chapter
2); “The Tennessee Campaign” planned by Anna Ella Carroll
of Maryland (Chap 6); a eulogy of Mary J. Safford (Chap 8). “Mother
Angela”; Protestant Nurses (Chapter 9). Mother Bickerdyke
(Chaps 24-27). See also sub-headings in Chapter 31 on page 80 for
60. Dictionary of
61. Larger Faith,
62. Life, p.
63. At her fiftieth
wedding anniversary, a surviving daughter and son-in-law acted as
hosts. Daniel and MaryLivermore also had in attendance their two
granddaughters from Wellesley, with three more grandsons and another
granddaughter. Mary Livermore’s sister, Mrs. Abbie Coffin,
attended as did an adopted sister, Mrs. Annie Smith, who was adopted
as a two-year-old orphan when Mary’s sister Rachel died.
Children from the “Mary A. Livermore” school attended as
did others from the “Mary A. Livermore Tent No. 17, Daughters
of Veterans.” The Massachusetts and Melrose WCTU sent
representatives. Life, p. 608-609. Again, from deduction, we can
figure out that Mary Livermore had three daughters, Mary E. who died
at age 5, Henrietta Livermore Norris (the one with the children at
the celebration above), and Marcia Livermore, who either could not
attend or was already deceased.
64. Life, p.
Documents of the
United States Sanitary Commission. Vol 1, Numbers 1-60. New York,
Documents of the
United States Sanitary Commission. Vol 2, Numbers 61-95. New
Emerson, Dorothy May.
Boston Women Who Worked For Racial Justice: Eliza Lee Cabot
Follen, Lydia Maria Francis Child. Maria Weston Chapman. Mary Ashton
Rice Livermore. Maria Louise Baldwin, Florida Ruffin Ridley.
Medford, MA: Unitarian Universalist Women’s Heritage Society.
Hanson, Mrs. E.R. Our
Woman Workers: Biographical Sketches of Women Eminent in the
Universalist Church for Literary, Philanthropic and Christian Work.
Chicago: Star & Covenant Office, 1882. pp. 120-144.
Howe, Charles A.
“Daniel and Mary Livermore: The Biography of A Marriage.”
The Proceedings of the Unitarian Universalist Historical Society.
Volume XIX. Part 2. Boston, 1982-1983. pp. 14-35.
Howe, Charles A. The
Larger Faith: A Short History of American Universalism. Boston:
Skinner House Books, 1993.
Johnson, Allen and
Dumas Malone, eds. Dictionary of American Biography. Vol. 11,
New York, 1928-37. pp. 306-307.
Livermore, Mary A. 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.
Hartford, CT: A.D. Worthington & Company, 1890.
Livermore, Mary A. The
Story of My Life: Or the Sunshine and Shadow of Seventy Years.
Hartford, CT: A.D. Worthington & Company, 1897.
Miller, Russell E. The
Larger Hope. Vol 1. Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association,
Miller, Russell E. The
Larger Hope. Vol 2. Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association,
Robinson, David. The
Unitarians and the Universalists. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press,
Christopher. “Mary Livermore and the Great Northwestern Fair.”
Chicago History. Spring 1975, Vol. 4, No. 1. pp. 34-43.
Scott, Clinton Lee. The
Universalist Church of America: A Short History. Boston:
Universalist Historical Society, 1957. P. 59.
Scott, Clinton Lee.
These Live Tomorrow: Twenty Unitarian Universalist Biographies.
Boston: Beacon Press, 1964. pp. 169-178.
Venet, Wendy Hamand.
Neither Ballots nor Bullets: Women Abolitionists And the Civil
War. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1991.
Hunston. “American Universalism: A Bicentennial Essay.”
The Journal of the Universalist Historical Society. Vol. IX,