John Amory Lowell

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John Amory Lowell

Death: Died
Immediate Family:

Son of John Lowell, III and Rebecca Lowell
Husband of Susan Cabot Lowell and Elizabeth Lowell
Father of Susan Cabot Sohier; Judge John Lowell; Augustus Lowell; Elizabeth Rebecca Sprague; Ellen "Ella" Bancroft Lowell and 1 other
Brother of Rebecca Amory Lowell; Anna Cabot Lowell; Anna Cabot Lowell and Sarah Champney Higginson Lowell

Occupation: Boston businessman and philanthropist
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About John Amory Lowell

Hon. John Amory Lowell (Nov 11,1798–Oct 31, 1881) was an American businessman and philanthropist from Boston. He became the sole trustee of the Lowell Institute when his first cousin, John Lowell, Jr. (1799–1836), the Institute's endower, died. (Lowell 1899, pp 117–118)


John Amory, the second child of John Lowell, Jr (1769–1840) and Rebecca Amory (1771–1842), was among the first generation of Lowells to be born in Boston, and the fifth generation to be born in America. His father maintained a well-established law firm in the city, and three years after John Amory's birth, retired for reasons of his failing health. After retiring in 1801, the elder Lowell spent much of his time and wealth patronizing the burgeoning horticultural society in Boston, so much so that he became known to his friends and family as "The Norfolk Farmer." John Amory Lowell's paternal grandfather, also named John Lowell (1743–1802) but referred to as "The Old Judge," was a Federal Judge appointed by President George Washington and is considered to be the founding father of the Boston Lowells. (Greenslet 1946)

Like his father and grandfathers before him, Lowell would be the fourth member in his family line to graduate from Harvard College in 1815, at the age of 17.

After spending an extended time traveling through Europe and then establishing himself as a successful merchant in Boston, Lowell married his first wife, Susan Cabot Lowell (1801–1827), a daughter of his uncle, Francis Cabot Lowell. Together, they would have two children, Susan Cabot and John. Lowell's wife died during childbirth in 1827. Their son, John, would be appointed to the U.S. District Court in 1865 by President Abraham Lincoln, and in 1878, appointed to the U.S. Circuit Court by President Rutherford B. Hayes. John Amory's grandson, James Arnold Lowell, would also go on to become a Federal Judge. Lowell's wife, Susan Cabot, who was a great-granddaughter of Edward and Dorthy (Quincy) Jackson, would connect their children and their descendants to those of the Holmeses of Boston, a family that includes poet Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., and U.S. Supreme Court justice and Civil War hero, Hon. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

John Amory's second wife, Elizabeth Cabot Putnam (1807–1881), gave him a son and three daughters. Augustus, Elizabeth Rebecca, Ellen Bancroft, and Sara Putnam. Augustus Lowell would become a very successful business man and eventually succeed Lowell as the second trustee of the Lowell Institute. John Amory's grandchildren, through Elizabeth Cabot, included author and astronomer Percival Lowell, Harvard President Abbott Lawrence Lowell, and poet Amy Lowell.


In 1835 and 1838, John Amory became the first Treasurer for both, Merrimack Manufacturing Company and Boott Cotton Mill, textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts. And in 1857, he became Director of The Winnipiseogee Lake Cotton and Woolen Manufacturing Company. All positions his son, Augustus, would succeed to within the same companies. (Bay State Monthly 1884)

Lowell was a Fellow of Harvard College (1837–1877), a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the Linnean Society of London. Later, in 1851, Harvard would honor John Amory with an LLD.

Lowell Institute

The trust—or Lowell Institute, as it came to be known—had an unusual mode of governance: a single trustee who was empowered to appoint his successor and who was, in the language of John Lowell, Jr.'s will, to "always choose in preference to all others some male descendant of my grandfather, John Lowell, provided there be one who is competent to hold the office of trustee, and of the name of Lowell." (Everett 1840) Despite this odd restriction (or perhaps because of it), the Institute proved to be an extraordinarily innovative philanthropic force.

Under John Amory, its first trustee, the Institute flourished. Lowell was both a man of extraordinary financial acumen and a man of high intellect. The list of Lowell Lecturers during his tenure was a veritable pantheon of the most internationally celebrated figures in science, literature, politics, economics, philosophy, and theology, including Britain’s most celebrated geologist, Sir Charles Lyell, Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz, and novelists Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray.

The lectures were so immensely popular that crowds crushed the windows of the Old Corner Bookstore where the tickets were distributed and certain series had to be repeated by popular demand. John Amory tirelessly led the Lowell Institute for more than 40 years before naming his son, Augustus, as his replacement.

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John Amory Lowell's Timeline

November 11, 1798
April 15, 1823
Age 24
Boston, Suffolk County, MA, USA
October 18, 1824
Age 25
Boston, MA
January 15, 1830
Age 31
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, United States
February 27, 1831
Age 32
Age 38
Age 44
October 31, 1881
Age 82