The Lowells of Massachusetts: An American Family is a sweeping family saga, filled with stories of the fascinating Lowells of Massachusetts, from their start in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1600s, through their revolutionary exploits in the 1700s, the flourishing of their Boston Brahmindynasty in the 1800s, and the new frontiers they braved in the opening decades of the 1900s.
The Lowells, for whom a town was named, a house at Harvard was named, a planet was named – but this family is not the stodgy, inflexible clan so often associated with Boston Brahmin families. These Lowells were masters of reinvention and adaptation. Their ability to change course, along with their ingrained ideals of individual opportunity, hard work, and community responsibility, led them to be movers and shakers in all the eras in which they lived. Through researching and then writing their stories, I came to understand a vital slice of American history and the important roles that the Lowells played in shaping that history.
I explore how each succeeding generation of the Lowells adhered to the family motto of “Occasionem Cognosce” (seize opportunity) and adapted to changing times, reinventing themselves as necessary, from the 68-year old merchant who came to New England from Bristol in 1639 and became a farmer, through the twentieth century renegade poet who broke with Brahmin restrictions on female advocacy in pursuing her dreams.
A preacher turned community organizer, a lawyer turned revolutionary, a trader turned manufacturer, a traveler of the Far East turned traveler of the Universe. Ministers who fought for change, lawyers who fought for revolutions, boys who fought to end slavery, and young women who fought for the chance to live their own lives: these are the Lowells of Massachusetts.
The Lowell family, though divided — sometimes bitterly — on definitions of duty and loyalty, never faltered in their belief in unlimited human potential or in their commitment to ideals of individual responsibility, hard work, and community service. Shying from neither controversy nor adversity, the family boasted some of the most captivating individuals in America’s history:
Percival Lowle, the patriarch who arrived in America to plant the roots of the family tree;
Reverend John Lowell, the big-hearted preacher who sought harmony between religious factions;
Judge John Lowell, lawyer extraordinaire and a member of the Continental Congress;
Anna Cabot Lowell, whose short life still inspired generations of women named for her;
Francis Cabot Lowell, manufacturer and founder of the Industrial Revolution in the US;
Reverend Charles Lowell, minister to rich and poor, black and white;
James Russell Lowell, American Romantic poet and abolitionist;
Lawrence Lowell, one of Harvard’s longest-serving and most controversial presidents;
Percival Lowell, whose writings about Mars set off a universal love affair with the Red Planet that continues today; and
Amy Lowell, the twentieth century Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who brought poetry to the masses, including entire regiments of World War I soldiers, and lived openly — and happily — in a Boston Marriage.
The story of the Lowells is a story of the United States of America, a stirring portrait of how new immigrants shaped their communities as continual works in progress: change and adaption and opportunity were the necessary values, and the Lowells embodied those ideals, and the occasional failure of those ideals. Through the centuries, the Lowells realized the promise of America as the land of opportunity by uniting their values of individual opportunity, hard work, and community responsibility with a deep-seated optimism. long before the Kennedys put their stamp on Massachusetts, the Lowells claimed the bedrock.
Library Journal recommends The Lowells of Massachusetts for readers of biography and American History: “Sankovitch’s use of interpretative passages breathe color into descriptions of home life of various Lowells, adding an artistic dimension to the account. Her ability to switch the focus among the family members while keeping readers fully engaged in the narrative is a significant achievement.”
Booklist calls The Lowells of Massachusetts “a fascinating collective biography … paying tribute to both worthy individuals and everyone else in this prominent, complicated family.”
“A sturdy, busy multibiography of an eminent American family… Exhaustive work by a clear admirer and dogged researcher,” says Kirkus Reviews.