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  • Mary Dwinell Chellis Lund (1826–1891)
  • Larisa Asaeli

The death of Mary Dwinell Chellis Lund in 1891, at age sixty-five, was a significant loss to the temperance cause, as illustrated in her obituary in the Temperance Advocate: “She can illy [sic] be spared at this juncture from the field of her largely useful labors” (“Mary Dwinell Chellis Lund”). Chellis’s “useful labors” included writing at least fifty books and innumerable articles on temperance, the leading reform movement of the nineteenth century (Tompkins 200), as well as participating in the local chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (wctu).1 Chellis did indeed “contribute … largely to the general dissemination of temperance truth” (“Mary Dwinell Chellis Lund”). In spite of its popularity, temperance and its material productions have received less attention from scholars than other nineteenth-century reform movements, such as abolition and suffrage. However, temperance scholarship has been steadily increasing over the last two decades, thanks largely to Carol Mattingly’s groundbreaking works Well-Tempered Women: Nineteenth-Century Temperance Rhetoric (1998) and Water Drops from Women Writers: A Temperance Reader (2001). Mattingly began the important recovery of Chellis’s oeuvre but was unable to locate biographical information, which she rightly argued was not necessary for the appreciation of the author’s body of work (Well-Tempered 125). However, thanks to recent developments in digital archives, I have discovered significant biographical records that enrich our understanding of Chellis’s writing and suggest new directions for research on women temperance authors. I use Mattingly’s research as a departure point to introduce contemporary scholars to Chellis; from there, I further explore Chellis’s personal experiences with evangelical Christianity, coming of age in Lowell, and public school teaching to show how these shaped her engagement with social, political, [End Page 78] and religious questions that were of significant concern in the postbellum United States.

Mary Dwinell Chellis was the first of five children born to Seth Chellis and Myra Gilbert Chellis on 13 February 1826 in Goshen Township, Sullivan County, New Hampshire (“Chellis, Mary Dwinel, 1826”; Nelson 396). Her baptism into the Goshen Congregational Church on 4 June 1826 marked the beginning of her lifelong connection with evangelical Christianity (Nelson 214). Although the family’s source of unity was the church, Seth Chellis’s community engagement also included service as a justice of the peace and membership in the Sullivan Temperance Society (Farmer 63, 120). Such involvement likely modeled a pattern of civic engagement that Mary Dwinell Chellis followed her entire life. When Chellis was eight years old, her family left their rural life and moved to the boom town of Lowell, Massachusetts, likely attempting to improve their fortunes. In Lowell, Seth was a boardinghouse overseer and eventually became involved in city government and trade.2 Lowell was a turbulent town during the 1830s and 1840s because of the growing organization of labor, frequent strikes, and resulting reforms. In spite of this, Lowell was “a close-knit community of workers that[,] … through political action, protested against employer policies and working conditions” as they sought to reduce hours, increase pay, and improve work environments (Binder and Reimers 142). Such political action in Lowell was often expressed in writing. The best-known publications are the Lowell Offering (1840–45), compiled by several women mill operatives; Lucy Larcom’s A New England Girlhood (1889); and Harriet Robinson’s Loom and Spindle (1898). Like Larcom and Robinson, many operatives were daughters of New England farmers who received some formal schooling as a benefit of their contracts with the mills. Eventually, mill operatives formed study and writing groups to continue their education and writing; the Lowell Offering emerged from those groups. Walter R. Nelson, a historian for Chellis’s hometown of Goshen, asserts that Chellis was connected to both the Lowell Offering and Larcom, yet he offers no evidence for this claim (298). His assertion is plausible, because published pieces in the Lowell Offering were anonymous or signed with pen names, and few authors have been identified.3 The facts that Chellis and Larcom were nearly the same age, lived in Lowell, attended Congregationalist churches, and had parents overseeing boardinghouses for mill workers—all during the same...