Lucy Stone (August 13, 1818 – October 18, 1893) was a prominent American suffragist, vocal advocate of gender equality, the wife of abolitionist Henry Brown Blackwell and the mother of Alice Stone Blackwell, another prominent suffragette, journalist and human rights defender. Stone was best known for being the first recorded American woman to keep her own last name upon marriage. She tried to make the world a better place, and she inspired Susan B. Anthony and Julia Ward Howe, among others, to take up the cause of women’s rights. She always saw racial and gender justice as inseparable and refused to give up campaigning for the former in order to focus on the latter.
Stone was born on the August 13, 1818, on her family’s Massachusetts farm. She was the eighth of nine children. She became upset at her father’s treatment of her mother as she grew older. Her father steadfastly ruled the family and all the finances.
Stone longed to go to school with her brother, but her father tended toward the opinion that educating a girl was a waste of time. He believed she belonged at home working with her mother as a homemaker, cooking and cleaning.
She was inspired in her reading by the Grimké sisters, Angelina and Sarah, abolitionists but also proponents of women’s rights. When the Bible was quoted to her, defending the positions of men and women, she declared that when she grew up, she’d learn Greek and Hebrew so she could correct the mistranslations that she was sure was behind such verses. Her father ruled the house and her mother, as if by “divine right.” Her mother had to ask for money if she wished to purchase anything. Stone also noticed that although she was more gifted than her brother, it was he and not herself whom her father paid to be educated. “There was only one will in our home, and that was my father’s,” Stone later said.
Her father would not support her education, and so she alternated her own education with teaching, to earn enough to continue. She attended several institutions, including Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in 1839. By age 25 (1843), she had saved enough to fund her first year at Oberlin College in Ohio, the United States’ first college to admit both women and blacks.
After four years of study at Oberlin College, all the while teaching and doing housework to pay for the costs, Stone graduated in 1847. She was asked to write a commencement speech for her class. But she refused, because someone else would have had to read her speech: women were not allowed, even at Oberlin, to give a public address.
Shortly after, Stone returned to Massachusetts as the first woman in that state to receive a college degree, she gave her first public speech—on women’s rights. She gave the speech from the pulpit of her brother’s Congregational Church in Gardner, Massachusetts. Her first paid position was an organizer for the Anti-Slavery Society. It was in this capacity that she first started to travel and to give speeches.
Stone started to speak about women’s rights as well as about slavery. Her activism in the suffrage movement created some concern in the Society, so she separated the two and only spoke about women’s suffrage at weekends. She later said that she was so excited about women’s rights that she “scattered it in every speech.” Over a three year period, she earned $7,000 from her speeches on women’s rights. She was able to attract large audiences.
In 1855, she married Henry Browne Blackwell (1825–1909). A statement to the effect that they renounced the marriage laws of the time was read out during their wedding:
While acknowledging our mutual affection by publicly assuming the relationship of husband and wife, yet in justice to ourselves and a great principle, we deem it a duty to declare that this act on our part implies no sanction of, nor promise of voluntary obedience to such of the present laws of marriage, as refuse to recognize the wife as an independent, rational being, while they confer upon the husband an injurious and unnatural superiority, investing him with legal powers which no honorable man would exercise, and which no man should possess…
Such rights included beating your wife. Their daughter, Alice Stone Blackwell, wrote Stone’s biography, Lucy Stone, Pioneer of Woman’s Rights in 1930. Henry’s sister, Elizabeth (1821–1910) was the first women to practice medicine in the United States. Having studied Greek and Hebrew in college, she challenged clergy who opposed women’s rights that they were misinterpreting the Bible. The Congregational Church in which she has been raised expelled her, so she became a Unitarian. The letter of expulsion said that her life was inconsistent with her “covenant engagements” to the church. She had developed a mistrust of organized religion but found herself more comfortable in Unitarianism. “She always believed,” writes her daughter, “that the bible, rightly interpreted, was on the side of equal rights for women.”
In 1850 Stone held the first Woman’s Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts. She was responsible for recruiting Susan B Anthony and Julia Ward Howe to the suffrage cause. She is credited with bringing the issue of women’s suffrage to national notice. At the Second National Convention, her hero, Wendell Phillips (1811-1884), gave his famous address “which was used by the women as a tract until suffrage was won.” Her argument was that while the end of the Civil War had seen black men enfranchised, women were not. In 1856 she refused to pay property taxes on the basis that there should be no taxation without representation. Henry had registered the property in her name. New Jersey actually gave women voting rights in 1776 then took it from them in 1807.
She worked closely with Julia Ward Howe. The split with Susan B Anthony and other suffragettes came in 1769 over keeping the issues of race and women’s rights together, which Stone and her husband advocated. Subsequently, they led the American Women Suffrage Association while others formed the National Women’s Suffrage Association. In 1890, however, Stone was able, inspired by her daughter, to re-unite the two as the National American Women Suffrage Association under the presidency of Susan B. Anthony with herself as chair of the executive committee. Her voice was now frail, but she gave a series of lectures at the 1993 Columbian Expedition in Chicago, where the Parliament of the World’s Religions also took place.
In 1870 she founded the Woman’s Journal, the publication of the American Woman Suffrage Association, and continued to edit it for the rest of her life, assisted by her husband. This would be published for 48 years, “a length of life almost unprecedented for a reform paper,” says her daughter One tribute to the journal and to family team reads:
Pioneers in the field, they built up an enterprise compact of ideals, faith and endless generosity. Suffrage journalism has never been, could never be, a business to this historic family of suffrage journalists. It has been a duty, a joy, a consecration and an expense. Stone’s refusal to take husband’s name as an assertion of her own rights was controversial then and is what she is remembered for today. However, he was a strong advocate of women’s rights, renounced all ‘rights’ over her as his wife and fully supported her. Women who continue to use their birth names after marriage are still occasionally known as “Lucy Stoners” in the U.S. In 1921, the Lucy Stone League was founded in New York City. It was reborn in 1997. On her passing in 1893, Stone was interred in the Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, the first cremation to take place in New England. She died of cancer, and parted life with these words to her daughter: “make the world a better place.”
Stone dressed simply. For several years she wore “Bloomers,” a skirt that reached down to the knee and trousers down to the ankle. On one occasion she was asked to wear something more conventional to speak at a meeting. When Wendell Phillips heard this, he declared that if Stone could not wear whatever she wanted, he would not speak either. She was a courageous women who sometimes experienced intimidation to prevent her form pursuing her ideas. She worked with single minded dedication but was also a loving wife and mother and a loyal friend.
Her husband wrote, in the Journal:
The gentlest and most heroic of women has passed away. The woman who in her whole character and life most fully embodied our highest conceptions as daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend and citizen, no longer lives to disarm prejudice and convert even opposition into advocacy. For seventy-five years, Stone has spent her life for others. We who are left must henceforth carry on the work without her
Many ministers, wrote Alice, made her the subject of sermons. Even one old “opponent said that up to that time the death of no woman in America had called out so widespread a tribute of affection and esteem.”
Stone’s legacy lives on in the lives of all the women of the United States who have followed her to college, into the workplace, into public life and who, like her, try to “make the world a better place.” Alice Stone Blackwell (1857-1950), in addition to writing her mother’s biography, continued to support racial justice and women’s rights causes for the rest of her own life. She edited the Woman’s Journal until 1918.