The perfect compromise: Maria White Lowell

If it comes to Lowell having to change its name, it should be renamed after the poet Maria White Lowell (1821-1853), James Russell Lowell’s first wife. On top of the fact that renaming after her would avoid the significant costs involved in completely rebranding the school, Maria is the perfect candidate for Lowell’s new namesake, as she was a woman, social activist, and, most importantly, credited with turning James Russell Lowell into an abolitionist.

James Russell Lowell, Lowell’s current namesake, was put into the spotlight recently after the SFUSD School Names Advisory committee identified Lowell as one of 44 schools with a problematic namesake. According to committee member Jeremiah Jeffries, Lowell was included on the list because the committee found evidence that he had expressed racist beliefs before he turned to abolitionism. Now, Principal Dacotah Swett must put forward a new name or namesake for Lowell by Dec. 18, and Maria is the best option.

Renaming after her will save an estimated $150,000 to $200,000 and countless hours of work. The money would be spent buying new school gear, buying new uniforms for more than 30 Lowell sports teams, and replacing signs around campus. Additionally, people would have to spend time redesigning the school’s logo and communicating the name change to all of the third parties, like colleges, that would need to know.

This is not, however, a desperate jump at anyone who shared the last name in an attempt to save money: Maria has various other qualities that make her worthy of being the school’s namesake. For one, she would increase female representation. Currently only 3 of SFUSD’s 12 high schools named after historical figures are named after women, so naming Lowell after Maria would increase the visibility of women who have made an impact on history. Recognizing Maria publicly has the potential to positively influence and encourage the thousands of female students who will pass through the school.

Now, Principal Dacotah Swett must put forward a new name or namesake for Lowell by Dec. 18, and Maria is the best option.

Maria is also an inspiration for her political actions. As part of her work for women’s rights, Maria participated in Margaret Fuller’s “Conversations,” seminars where women had space to discuss intellectual subjects, and from which several prominent feminists emerged. Her abolitionist work included membership in the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society, as well as writing several poems to promote the abolition movement. Considering that during that time abolition and women’s rights were not widely supported like they are now, this is notable and deserves to be honored with a namesake school.

Most notably, Maria is credited with turning her husband into an abolitionist. Though he was racist, writing things like “We believe the white race, by their intellectual and traditional superiority, will retain sufficient ascendancy to prevent any serious mischief from the new order of things” about African-Americans being allowed to vote, Maria eventually convinced him to become an abolitionist. Without her, none of James Russell Lowell’s positive abolitionist influence would have come about, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech, which quoted from James Russell Lowell’s abolitionist poem “The Present Crisis,” the same poem from which the NAACP’s The Crisis magazine derived its name. Renaming after Maria is a compromise between the people who find James Russell Lowell’s racist past unacceptable and those who argue that James Russell Lowell’s extensive abolitionist work should be honored, since the change would credit the woman who sparked that work.

In all, the decision to make Maria our school’s new namesake could neatly solve an issue that many feel rightly passionate about and acknowledge the full range of perspectives on the renaming, making sure that everyone is heard and that the community’s best interests are represented.