The Grand Domestic Revolution: A History of Feminist Designs for American Homes, Neighborhoods, and Cities

By Dolores Hayden | Go to book overview

6 Suffragists, Philanthropists, and Temperance Workers

Forging a Chain of Vegetables

Mary Livermore, a leader of the American woman suffrage and temperance movements, was a strait-laced woman who most likely would have deplored Melusina Peirce's divorce and cut Marie Howland dead if she had met this free love advocate in the street, though she came to share their enthusiasm for the "associated life" of cooperative housekeeping. With her advocacy in the 1880s, cooperative housekeeping became a familiar term among prominent suffragists, philanthropists, and temperance workers, such as Lucy Stone, Pauline Agassiz Shaw, and Frances Willard. Livermore saw cooperative housekeeping as a challenge to women's powers of organization and hoped to demonstrate that women could reorganize and modernize domestic work effectively, within capitalist society, before "the business organizations of men, which have taken so many industrial employments from the home," seized the remainder. 1 Efficiency and industrial training were her bywords, rather than cooperation or sexual freedom, yet she agreed with her predecessors that economic independence for women was the goal. She asserted that urban evolution would incorporate the socialization of domestic work and took the concepts of managerial and technical skills for women farther than Peirce and Howland. At the end of her career she worked among Nationalists and Christian Socialists to interest them in cooperative housekeeping.

Born in 1820 in Boston, Livermore (6.1) was the daughter of a Welsh laborer, but her mother came from a Yankee sea captain's family. 2 After some years of work as a governess and a schoolteacher, at age twenty-four she married Daniel Livermore, a Universalist preacher with liberal opinions on the subject of women's rights. During her early married life in Chicago, she contributed sketches and poetry to various religious periodicals and became active in temperance organizing. In 1858 she became associate editor of her husband's paper, the New Covenant, continuing philanthropic work as well.

The Civil War called forth all her latent executive abilities. Engaging a housekeeper and a governess to care for her husband and two daughters, aged ten and thirteen, and arranging for a laundress to do the wash one day a week, she went to work for the United States Sanitary Commission in 1861. The next year Livermore had to supplement these private domestic arrangements, when dozens of Chicago washer- women left the city to take the places of farmhands who had joined the Union Army. She and fifty other women borrowed secondhand machinery, rolled up their sleeves, and established a cooperative laundry to do their own wash. She wrote to a friend, "Whenever women are dead in earnest about it and want a cooperative laundry, then they can organize one. Not four or five--but half a hundred, to give good backing, make public opinion for it.

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