Mary Livermore Biography

Journalist, Activist, Editor, Women's Rights Activist (1820–1905)
Mary Livermore was an American and social reformer who devoted her life to women's suffrage and the temperance movement.


Mary Livermore was born on December 19, 1820, in Boston, Massachusetts. She was an American suffragist and social reformer who lectured and wrote for religious and reform periodicals. She served as president of the American Woman Suffrage Association, the Association for the Advancement of Women and the Massachusetts Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Livermore died in 1905.

Early Life and Education

Mary Livermore was born Mary Ashton Rice on December 19, 1820, in Boston, Massachusetts, into a strict Calvinist Baptist family. Her father believed in educating his daughters, and, subsequently, Livermore excelled at her studies at an early age. Also during her youth, she became devoutly religious and studied the Bible passionately. She became known in the Livermore household for often pretending to be a preacher, sometimes conducting "sermons" to her family members, at other times to an imaginary audience. 

Livermore attended the Hancock School and went on to enroll at the Female Seminary, a Christian school in nearby Charlestown, graduating in 1836. She later returned to Charlestown, accepting a teaching position at her alma mater. After a two-year stint at the seminary, in 1839, Livermore was hired as a tutor by a wealthy slave-owning family from Virginia. For the next three years, she lived and worked on the family's plantation. It was during this time that Livermore witnessed firsthand the brutality of slavery and its corroding effects on Southern families and society.

Family Life and Early Activism

In 1845, Mary wed a young minister named Daniel Livermore; their union would last more than half a century and produce three daughters: Mary, who died in childhood; Henrietta; and Marcia Elizabeth. The Livermores relocated to Chicago, Illinois, in the late 1850s, during which time Daniel bought and became editor of the New Covenant, a Universalist, reform-centered newspaper, with Mary working alongside her husband. (She later served as joint editor, with Frances E. Willard, of a successful book of biographies entitled A Woman of the Century.)

When a cholera epidemic took over Chicago around this same time, Livermore became an active volunteer, and when the American Civil War broke out not long after, in 1863, she was recruited by U.S. Sanitary Commission President Henry Whitney Bellows to become a member of the Sanitary Commission's Chicago branch (later known as the Sanitary Commission's Northwestern branch). Her work with the Sanitary Commission led Livermore to become an active suffragist and social reformer, developing an ardent belief that extending the right to vote to women was necessary to achieving social reforms such as temperance.

Later Years and Legacy

Livermore went on to serve as president of several organizations dedicated to social reform, including the American Woman Suffrage Association (1875-1878), the Association for the Advancement of Women (1873) and the Massachusetts Woman's Christian Temperance Union (1875-1885). She also succeeded Lucy Stone to serve as president of the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association (1893-1903).

In addition to her social activism, Livermore saw the publication of several of her articles and lectures in various periodicals during her lifetime, including My Story of the War: A Woman’s Narrative of Four Years Personal Experience in 1887 and The Story of My Life; or, The Sunshine and Shadow of Seventy Years in 1897.

Mary Livermore remained a dedicated activist in the woman suffrage movement until her death, on May 23, 1905, in Melrose, Massachusetts.

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