The Outcome of This Faith

The Outcome of This Faith:
How Universalism Changed History In the Person of
Mary Ashton Livermore


Daniel S. O Connell
Meadville 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

Mary 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 paper.

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:

The 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

Mary’s mother 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 and celibacy.”4

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 regarded 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 time.

As previously 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.

This 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 out:

I 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 is lost!”10

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 emotional response.

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 alive.

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 vanished.” 13

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 the 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

Another unexpected 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:

During 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 Rebellion” commenced.

And 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 packing techniques.

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 nurses.28

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;

The 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 to a most 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 guard-house.33

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:

While 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 planned.

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:

Anna 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 platform.4’

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

Democratic periodicals 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 anticipated.42

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.

I 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, To-night 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 failure.50

Mary Livermore, 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:

“gradually it 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.

Besides lecturing, 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 by women.59

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:

I 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 aisle.64

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- 41.
8. Life, p. 42.
9. Life, p. 55-56.
10. Life, p. 60.
11. Life,p.6l-63.
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, p. 306-307.
19. Miller, Russell E. The Larger Hope. Vol 2. Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association, 1979. p. 331.
20. Life, p. 447.
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 Covenant.
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 Sanitary Stores.”
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.
4,No. 1,p36.
31. Life,p.472.
32. “Daniel and Mary Livermore.” p. 27.
33. War, p. 352.
34. War, pp. 24 1-242.
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.
38. Documents. 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. 435.
40. “Mary 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.
43. “Mary 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. 479-480.
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. 482.
48. Dictionary of American Biography.
49. “Daniel and Mary Livermore.” pp. 14-16.
50. War, pp. 606-607.
51. Dictionary of American Biography.
52. Life, p. 490.
53. Life, p. 583.
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 myriad soldiers’
wives deeds.
60. Dictionary of American Biography.
61. Larger Faith, p. 69.
62. Life, p. 457.
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. 512.


Documents of the United States Sanitary Commission. Vol 1, Numbers 1-60. New York, 1866.

Documents of the United States Sanitary Commission. Vol 2, Numbers 61-95. New York, 1866.

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.

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, 1979.

Miller, Russell E. The Larger Hope. Vol 2. Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association, 1979.

Robinson, David. The Unitarians and the Universalists. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985.

Schnell, J. 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.

Williams, George Hunston. “American Universalism: A Bicentennial Essay.” The Journal of the Universalist Historical Society. Vol. IX, 1971.