A Woman Who Battled Inequality on Many Fronts
I am guessing that at some point in time or history, we have all heard of Lucy Stone. But what do we really know about her? Maybe we remember she was a strident voice for suffrage. That is true, but Lucy Stone was a remarkable woman in many other ways too.
Lucy was an orator, a suffragist and an abolitionist; a woman who battled inequality on all fronts for her entire life. She was the first woman in Massachusetts, my home state, to earn a college degree. She is also the woman who wrote her own marriage vows to reflect her egalitarian beliefs and kept her maiden name.
Lucy was born on August 13, 1818 in a rural town of West Brookfield, Massachusetts. She was the daughter of Francis and Hanna Stone, one of nine children. Her parents were farmers with deep roots in New England. The first Stones arrived in Massachusetts in 1635 pursuing religious freedom and her grandfather was a Patriot captain in the American Revolution. She was raised in the Congregational church and embraced her father’s anti slavery principals and zeal.
She was much brighter than her brothers and was terribly frustrated by the inequality of the time that encouraged them (men) to attend college, but discouraged women from obtaining an education. She was so passionate that she learned Hebrew and Greek to determine if those passages in the Bible that seemed to give man dominion over woman had been properly translated!
When she was sixteen, she worked as a teacher and saved her money to attend college. In 1839 she studied for one semester at Mount Holyoke College, but was forced to return home to tend a sister who was ill. In 1843 she attended Oberlin College in Ohio. While Oberlin was progressive, it did not allow Stone to explore her passion for public speaking. She graduated in 1847, and politely declined the “honor” of writing the commencement speech for that class, which would be delivered by a man.
She was nearly thirty when she finally graduated but career hopes dimmed quickly for her because of the limited opportunities for women. She caught the notice of William Lloyd Garrison however, and he hired her for his American Anti Slavery Society where she wrote and delivered abolitionist speeches. She also became very active in the women’s rights movements. She was often heckled and was actually physically attacked by an angry mob on one occasion. Her passion for the issues kept her in the circuit of lecturing and appearing in public and soon she proved more popular than the male lecturers and was out earning many of them.
In 1850, two years after the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention she organized the first national Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts. Her speech was fiery and well received. It was reprinted in the international press. She traveled for the next five years throughout the U.S. and Canada on the lecture circuit. She continued to attend the annual women’s rights conventions and presided over the seventh one.
She met Henry Blackwell, the brother of the physicians Emily and Elizabeth Blackwell. Henry convinced her to marry him and promised they would create an egalitarian marriage, which they did. Married in 1855, their vows omitted the common reference to wifely obedience and included a protest against marital law. She also kept her own name which was unheard of at the time. The couple lived in New Jersey and had two children, the second child died at a young age but the surviving daughter, Alice Stone Blackwell became an ardent feminist and abolitionist working with her parents for many years.
In 1858, Lucy set yet another precedent when she remained Americans of the “no taxation without representation” principle. Her refusal to pay property taxes resulted i the impoundment and sale of all of their household goods.
In 1869 Lucy broke ties with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony over the passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution giving the right to vote to Black men but not to women. Stone was willing to accept this measure for her abolitionist goals while continuing to work for women’s suffrage. Anthony and Stanton formed the National Women’s Suffrage Association (NWSA), while Stone and Julia Ward Howe formed the American Women’s Suffrage Association (AWSA). Stone edited the AWSA publication, the Woman’s Journal. In 1879, Stone registered to vote in Massachusetts, since the state allowed women’s suffrage in some local elections, but she was removed from the rolls because she did not use her husband’s surname.
Happily, Stone did live to see the reunification of both suffrage movements when in 1890, her daughter Alice and Stanton’s daughter, Harriot Stanton Blatch, played critical roles in healing their mothers’ wounds. Stone gave her last speech in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition. She remained chief editor of the Woman’s Journal until 1917, and during 1887–1905 she edited and distributed the “Woman’s Column,” a periodical collection of suffrage news articles, to newspapers across the country.