Lucy Stone (1818-1893)


Born in rural Massachusetts, Lucy Stone grew up in a large family that demonstrated the different roles assigned to girls and boys.  She was clearly brighter than her brothers, but was discouraged from educating herself.  Like other girls, she worked as a teacher from age sixteen, while her brothers went on to college.  Teaching salaries reinforced her awareness of discrimination and determined to better herself, she enrolled in 1839 at Mount Holyoke, the female seminary begun by Mary Lyon only two years earlier.

Lyon’s innovative work-study arrangements set the pattern for Stone’s true college education, for when she entered Oberlin College at age twenty-five, she continued to support herself by working part-time.  Her father did not give her the financial aid that he could well afford until she had been self-supporting for almost a decade—unlike Anthony’s father, who was emotionally, if not financially, supportive of his daughter. 

Even progressive Oberlin, however, did not permit Stone to explore her interest in public speaking, and when she graduated in 1847, she turned down the “honor” of writing a commencement speech that would be read by a man.  Nonetheless, her graduation with honors was a milestone for Massachusetts women, for Lucy Stone was the first female college graduate from that state—though she had to earn her degree in Ohio. 

Almost thirty when she completed her education, Stone’s career prospects seemed dim in this era when virtually no professions were open to women.  She had come to the attention of abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, however, while she was still at Oberlin; this, plus the intervention of Abby Kelly Foster, led to Stone’s hiring by the American Anti-Slavery society—after she demonstrated her ability with her first speech, which she delivered in a church pastored by her brother.  From the fall of 1847, she spoke for the abolitionist society on weekends and freelanced for women’s rights during the week.

Like Lydia Maria Child, Maria Weston Chapman, and other abolitionists, Stone was often heckled and at least once was physically attacked by a mob.  Nevertheless, she proved so popular that soon she was earning far above average income for lectures that she scheduled and advanced herself  She also endured the indignity of ex-communication from her Congregationalist Church when the congregation responded to one of Stone’s lecture specialties: she spoke on the inaccuracies of Greek and Latin translations that led to the Bible’s apparent demeaning of women.  Finally, it is important to point out that Stone’s career as a controversial but profitable lecturer predated that of Anthony by a number of years, while her thoughts on the Bible predated Stanton’s work in the area by decades.

In 1850—two years after the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention—Stone led the way in convening what is known as the first national Women’s Rights Convention, held in Worchester, Massachusetts.  Her speech there was reprinted in the international press, where it came to the attention of English philosopher John Stewart Mill.  It motivated him to collaborate with Harriet Hardy Taylor, a married woman who later became his wife in the publication of “The Enfranchisement of Women (1851),” which predated Mill’s famous The Subjection of Women by many years.

For five years between 1850-1855, Stone traveled throughout the U.S. and Canada on the lecture circuit; she continued to attend annual women’s rights conventions and presided over the seventh one. After Henry Blackwell, the brother of physicians Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell, met Stone—who was appreciably older—through abolitionist circles, he courted her assiduously for two years before he was able to convince her that they could create an egalitarian marriage.

At his suggestion, they not only emulated the Stantons’ wedding in omitting any suggestion of wifely obedience, but also incorporated into the 1855 ceremony a protest against marital law that was intended for publication—in addition to setting a new standard when Lucy Stone retained her maiden name. Almost thirty-seven when she married, Lucy Stone bore children at thirty-nine and forty-one.  She lost the second, but her daughter Alice Stone Blackwell became a comfort and source of pride to her.  Alice received the parental support for education that was denied Lucy, and she rewarded her parents by actively participating in their intellectual and political lives.

Meanwhile, Stone had set another precedent in 1858—the year between her pregnancies—when she reminded Americans of the “no taxation without representation” principle; her refusal to pay property taxes was met with the publicized impoundment and sale of household goods. At the end of the Civil War, she went to Kansas to work on the referendum for suffrage there.  She also served as president of the New Jersey Women Suffrage Association and from there, helped organize the New England association, in which she would be active after the family moved to Boston in 1869.  At the same time, she served on the executive committee of the American Equal Rights Association.

It was this group, formed to replace the prewar abolitionist structure so vital to the feminist network, that created the bitterness between Stone and Anthony/Stanton that would afflict them—and the suffrage movement—for the rest of their long lives.  Intended to consolidate the efforts for African-Americans with those of women, the association supported the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, which Anthony and Stanton rejected because they feared (correctly, as it turned out) that its gender-neutral language would assure the vote only for black men.  Stone, along with many women and virtually all men in the organization, was willing to accept this half-loaf measure that achieve the abolitionist portion of their goals and promised hope for women.  Stanton and especially Anthony quarreled bitterly with the men over this, however, and they never forgave Stone’s failure to join them.

The result was that Anthony and Stanton—in an uncharacteristically confused and conspiratorial way—formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) in May, 1869, leaving Stone, Julia Ward Howe and others to respond with the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) in November.  Howe was elected president, while Stone’s major contribution to the AWSA was as editor of its publication, the Woman’s Journal.  Stone did an excellent job and Women’s Journal was better capitalized and less radical than the NWSA’s Revolution, and it made the women’s movement increasingly respectable.  Stone took up its editorship in 1872, after Mary Livermore’s initial tenure, and with Henry Blackwell and later, Alice Stone Blackwell, it was the premier publication of its type.

Lucy Stone lived to see the reunification of the suffrage association in 1890; both her daughter and Stanton’s daughter, Harriot Stanton Blatch, played important roles in healing their mothers’ old wounds.  Stone chaired the executive committee while Stanton was president of the combined organization, but each was beyond her seventieth year and neither had much heart for continuing the struggle.  Lucy Stone gave her last speech in 1893 at the Columbian Exposition, and her friends commissioned sculptor Ann Whitney to make a bust of Stone that was displayed there.  She sent greetings to the National American Woman Suffrage Association’s (NAWSA) convention that year, but did not attend.  A few months later, Lucy Stone was dead at seventy-five.  In requesting that she be cremated, Lucy Stone continued her tradition of innovation.  Her ashes are buried in Forest Hill Cemetery in Boston, while her papers are at the Library of Congress and Radcliffe College.  Alice Stone Blackwell published her mother’s biography in 1930.



Works Cited:

  • PHOTO: Lucy Stone, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (LC-USZ6-2055)