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A Strong-minded Woman

The Life of Mary Livermore

Wendy Hamand Venet (author)

ISBN: 9781558495135

Publication Date: Nov 2005

Format: Paperback

Presents a biography of Mary Livermore, an important nineteenth-century reformer. This book reconstructs Livermore's remarkable story, and explores how and why she became so renowned in her day.

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This is the first biography of an important nineteenth-century reformer. When Mary Livermore died in 1905, at age 84, a Boston newspaper praised her as "America's foremost woman." A leading figure in the struggle for woman's rights, as well as in the temperance movement, she was as widely recognized during her lifetime as Susan B. Anthony, and for a time the most popular and highly paid female orator in the country. Yet aside from Civil War historians familiar with her service as a wartime nurse, few today remember even her name. In this book, Wendy Hamand Venet reconstructs Mary Livermore's remarkable story, and explores how and why she became so renowned in her day. Born and raised in Boston, Livermore left home at age eighteen to become the private schoolteacher to a wealthy tobacco planter's children in Virginia, an experience that afforded her an intimate look at slave-based society in the 1840s. Returning to New England, she married and lived a conventional life as the wife of a minister and mother of three daughters. With the coming of the Civil War, however, Livermore's life changed dramatically when she became active with the United States Sanitary Commission, an organization that would propel her into the public limelight and cause her to challenge society's traditional view of the role of women. After the war, Livermore became deeply involved in the woman's rights movement, serving as editor of the newspaper "Woman's Journal", and later as president of three major suffrage organizations - the American, New England, and Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Associations. She was also founder and president of the Massachusetts Women's Christian Temperance Union, and became active in the Society of Christian Socialists in Boston. Her frequent speaking appearances on behalf of these causes eventually earned her the nickname "Queen of the Platform." Although she may not have been as radical as some other early feminists, Livermore's ideas resonated with thousands of middle-class women, whose experiences paralleled her own. For that reason alone, Venet shows, her life and legacy are worthy of our attention.


Mary Livermore was a very important historical figure, and one about whom we have forgotten all too much. She played absolutely essential leadership roles in post - Civil War feminism and other reforms, developed a compelling personal ideology of 'female reform,' and became a powerful figure in genteel popular culture. Wendy Hamand Venet speaks enlighteningly to all these crucial aspects of Livermore's public life, and she is equally effective in rendering her subject's private life. Only excellent biographies do this well, and this book meets that standard. - James Brewer Stewart, author of Wendell Phillips: Liberty's Hero
Illustrations 17 illustrations
Pages 344
Date Published 30 Nov 2005
Publisher University of Massachusetts Press
Subject/s Biography & True Stories   Feminism & feminist theory  
WENDY HAMAND VENET is associate professor of history at Georgia State University in Atlanta. She is the author of Nelther Ballots nor Bullets: Women Abolitionists and the Civil War and the coeditor of Midwestern Women: Work, Community, and Leadership at the Crossroads.

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