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Photo of Julia Louisa LovejoyJulia Louisa Lovejoy

(1812-1882)

Through her letters to New England newspapers, Julia Louisa Lovejoy left a vivid account of the tumult that wracked Kansas during the struggle over abolition and slavery, and a testimony to the moral commitment that finally brought the struggle to an end.

Lovejoy was born in New Hampshire in 1812. She moved to Kansas in 1855 with her children and her husband, a Methodist minister. The Lovejoys moved West as members of a group sent by the New England Emigrant Aid Company, which was devoted to making Kansas a state free from slavery. Lovejoy intended to contribute to this effort by serving as the Kansas correspondent for several Methodist newspapers back east.

The move to Kansas involved enormous personal sacrifices for the Lovejoys. As they travelled west, their four-year-old daughter was infected with measles while on a Missouri riverboat. Within a week of their arrival in Kansas, the child died, her already severe illness made worse by a drunken wagon-driver who took four days instead of the usual two to transport them to Lawrence, Kansas, and who stole the family's possessions on the last day.

Once settled in Kansas, life continued to be hard. The government's 1854 decision to let the citizens of the newly-created territories of Kansas and Nebraska vote on whether or not to allow slavery made Kansas a dress rehearsal for the Civil War. Defenders of slavery, convinced that halting its expansion was merely a precursor to ending it altogether, sent money, weapons and settlers. Enemies of slavery did the same, in the belief that slavery's spread threatened freedom everywhere in the United States. The two sides waged a guerilla war in 1855 and 1856, and in May 1856, Lovejoy was forced to flee her home in the anti-slavery stronghold, Lawrence, when a pro-slavery mob stormed the town:

I caught my darling babe... from the bed... moaning as he went... I rushed to a place of safety out of town as fast as my feeble limbs could carry me...

The scene that met our gaze beggars description -- women and children fleeing on every hand... cattle as though aware danger was near, huddling together... [It] will never fade from memory's vision.

For a time Kansas had two governments -- one anti-slavery, one pro-slavery, both claiming legitimacy -- but eventually federal troops under the command of a new territorial governor were able to control (but not eliminate) the violence. Kansas joined the Civil War as a free state, but violence still struck close to home. In August of 1863, Confederate raiders burned Lawrence, killing nearly 200 men and boys. Lovejoy's friends and neighbors were tortured to death and burnt alive. She saw her neighbor shot and killed before her very eyes.

Her experiences in Kansas both confirmed and transformed Lovejoy's deepest convictions. Her passionate belief in abolition was confirmed by the very horrors of her experiences.

Such another field to do good in we do not think can be found. Therefore we are glad we can labor for God and freedom here, where sin abounds. 'Let me do and suffer all the will of God,' is my prayer. Kansas must be redeemed and saved, and we want a hand in helping on the good work.

For Lovejoy as for other abolitionists, the coming of the Civil War and emancipation was visible evidence of the hand of God intervening in human history: "Jehova is on the side of the oppressed, and He will yet arise in His strength, and His enemies will be scattered."

As was the case for many other Northern women active in the abolition crusade, the sacrifices which she made for her moral commitment led Lovejoy to support women's suffrage. "As much as we once hated the idea of women politicians, no true woman," she argued, "could be in Kansas, and not see what we have seen and feel what we have felt, and not wax enthusiastically zealous for universal freedom."

After the Union victory in the Civil War and the emancipation proclamation had fulfilled their deepest dream, Julia and her husband chose to remain in Kansas as a modest farm family. She died on their farm near Baldwin, Kansas, on February 6, 1882.


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