The Lowells of Massachusetts

The Lowells of Massachusetts were a remarkable family. They were settlers in the New World in the 1600s, revolutionaries creating a new nation in the 1700s, merchants and manufacturers building prosperity in the 1800s, and scientists and artists flourishing in the 1900s. In The Lowells of Massachusetts: An American Family, I tell the story of this fascinating and powerful dynasty.Though not without scoundrels and certainly no strangers to controversy , the family boasted some of the most astonishing individuals in America’s history: Percival Lowle, the patriarch who arrived in America in the seventeenth to plant the roots of the family tree; Reverend John Lowell, the big-hearted preacher; Judge John Lowell, lawyer extraordinaire and a member of the Continental Congress; Francis Cabot Lowell, manufacturer and founder of the Industrial Revolution in the US; James Russell Lowell, American Romantic poet and abolitionist; Lawrence Lowell, one of Harvard’s longest-serving and most controversial presidents; and Amy Lowell, the twentieth century Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who lived openly in a Boston Marriage with the actress Ada Dwyer Russell.

The Lowells realized the promise of America as the land of opportunity by uniting Puritan values of hard work, community service, and individual responsibility with a deep-seated optimism that became a well-known family trait. Long before the Kennedys put their stamp on Massachusetts, the Lowells claimed the bedrock.

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Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating the Joys of Letter Writing is the story of my quest to understand what it is about letters that make them so special. Years ago, when I was a young mother, I discovered a trove of hundred-year old letters in my backyard. The letters had been written by a Princeton freshman in to his mother in the early 1900s.

Now I find my own son is heading off to college and I want him to write to me. But will he? Will he write as the Princeton student wrote his mother and as I wrote to my parents? Times have changed. Before I can persuade my child of the value of letters, I must first understand exactly what it is about letters that make them so special.

In 2005, my oldest sister died of cancer at the age of 46. For three years I struggled with grief but it was only when I turned to books that I was able to find my way through sorrow. Reading became my therapy and it was intense. For one year, I read a book a day. Every day. I read 365 books written by 365 different authors, and I wrote reviews of each book I read here on my blog. My year of reading was a year of escape and discovery, of comfort and of resurgence. I learned how to live again, how to remember my sister in everything that I do, and how to connect with people, not only through conversations about books but through conversations about everything.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is my memoir of reading a book a day, and of all the lessons I learned, about holding tight to memories, letting go of guilt, creating intimacy with others,acting with kindness and forebearance, and savoring JOY whenever possible, through moments of beauty, pleasure, grace, laughter, and connection. My soul-baring and literary-minded memoir is a chronicle of loss, hope, and redemption. I turned to reading as therapy, and found the power of books to help me reclaim my life.