On Monday evening, January 14, 1878, Mary Livermore spoke for two hours at Legg Hall on “What Shall We Do with Our Daughters?” and the audience, whose members paid 25 cents each for admission, received “unbounded satisfaction.”
Mary Livermore was an American abolitionist and an impassioned advocate of women’s rights. Her first job was as a tutor on a Virginia plantation, where she witnessed slavery firsthand. During the Civil War, she organized aid societies for the Union troops, was responsible for military hospitals in three states, organized 3,000 local units to provide soldiers with food, medicine and surgical dressings, and in 1863, organized the Northwestern Sanitary Fair in Chicago which raised $86,000 for the care of the wounded. After the war she devoted herself to the promotion of peace, temperance and women’s suffrage.
She was a mighty presence on the lecture platform. In Our Famous Women (1884), Elizabeth Stuart Phelps noted,
“Mrs. Livermore’s manner as a speaker is noticeable for its dignity. She has a deep rich voice, of remarkable compass, capable of filling any audience-room, trained and flexible. She begins quietly, but has a grip on the house from the first. At times she rises to impassioned fervor… Mrs. Livermore’s personal appearance adds to her power on the platform. She is tall and large, with a fine figure and dignified carriage. She is eminently well-proportioned, and one gets a sense of power from every motion. Of her face, which is very fine, quite beyond any portrait which I have seen, it is not easy to say the right word. Regular features, and grave, gray eyes, and the warmest smile in the world stay by the memory… It is doubtful if there is any other public speaker who so wins his way, or hers, to the hearts of their opponents. Many of her audiences disagree with Mrs. Livermore’s views; few can be found to disagree with Mrs. Livermore.”
For two decades, Mary Livermore lectured five nights a week for five months of the year, traveled 25,000 miles a year, and spent her late nights and early mornings keeping up with her correspondence.
When she spoke at Legg Hall, her listeners got an earful. On the subject of “What Shall We Do with Our Daughters?”, she said:
“The training of fifty years ago is not sufficient for the girls of to-day. The changed conditions of life which our young women confront compel greater care and thought on the part of those charged with their education than has heretofore been deemed necessary. They are to be weighted with larger duties, and to assume heavier responsibilities; for the days of tutelage seem to be ended for civilized women, and they are to think and act for themselves. Let no one, therefore, say this question of the training of our daughters is a small question. No question can be small that relates to half the human race.”
In December of 1878, Livermore was again in Skaneateles to lecture on “The Coming Man,” the heart of message being this: “Are we looking for the ‘coming man’ who is to inaugurate a better day for the world? Remember, his mother will surely precede him and largely shape and train him.”
A year later, on Saturday evening, December 20, 1879, Livermore was scheduled to return to Legg Hall to lecture on “Superfluous Women.” (In the nineteenth century, there was a school of thought that women beyond those needed to provide wives were an unnecessary surplus.) However, she instead delivered a talk entitled “Concerning Husbands,” detailing the role of women across cultures and millennia. Her convictions “were expressed in such earnest, forcible, yet chaste and ladylike sentences as to put the audience in entire accord with her during the hour and a half’s dissertation.” The next day, in the afternoon, she lectured on temperance, and “The close, almost breathless attention of the audience was the speaker’s reward for her grand and thrilling address.”
In addition to her lecturing, Mary Livermore made time to author two books about her experiences and raise two daughters, and she remained a dedicated advocate for women’s education, rights and suffrage until her death in 1905.