Mary Ashton Rice Livermore – Sanitary Agent & Suffragette

by Trevor Steinbach

“Above the titles of wife and mother, which, although dear, are transitory and  accidental, there is the title human being, which precedes and out-ranks every other.” ~ Mary Livermore

Mary Ashton Rice (Livermore) was born in Boston, Massachusetts on December 19, 1821. She was a direct descendant of an early Puritan immigrant to Massachusetts Bay Colony. Livermore graduated from Boston public schools at age 14. She attended school at an all-female seminary in Charlestown, Massachusetts.

In 1839, she started a job as a tutor on a Virginia plantation, witnessing firsthand the institution of slavery. After this experience she became an abolitionist. In 1842, she left Virginia and took a position in a private school in Duxbury, Massachusetts

In May of 1845, she married Daniel P. Livermore, a Universalist minister. In 1857, they moved to Chicago. In that year, her husband established the “New Covenant,” a Universalist journal of which she became associate editor for twelve years, during which time she frequently contributed to Universalist periodicals.

During these pre-war years, Mary became known for her involvement in the temperance movement, which was her focus after her marriage. Mrs. Livermore organized a juvenile temperance group, the Cold Water Army, for whom she wrote short stories and read them aloud. In 1857, the Livermores and their three daughters moved from Massachusetts to Chicago, where Mary assisted her husband in editing the Northwest Universalist paper, “The New Covenant”. There, she also founded two charities, the Home for Aged Women and the Hospital for Women and Children.

As a member of the Republican Party, the Livermore’s campaigned for Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 presidential election. In the Chicago Wigwam in 1860, Livermore was the only woman reporter assigned a location for work amongst over hundreds of male reporters. She published a collection of nineteen essays entitled Pen Pictures in 1863.

On a trip to visit her family in Boston, she witnessed at every railway stop scenes of chaos prompted by the North’s mobilization for the war in 1861 after Ft. Sumter. Soldiers appeared to be inadequately clothed, food was sometimes scarce, and medical assistance was minimal. In 1861, the Union government gave its blessing to a privately organized agency called the U.S. Sanitary Commission, designed to coordinate Union relief efforts. With her husband’s support, she hired a housekeeper to care for the family and focused her energies for the next four years on the Chicago branch office.

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