Lucy Stone (1818-1893) – Issued 1968 for the 150th anniversary of her birth.
Although Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and their supporters often treated Stone’s role in the women’s movement with an unfortunate degree of denigration, there is no doubt that she deserves a premier place alongside them. So vital was Lucy Stone to the advancement of women that “stoner” entered the language as a synonym for married women who used their maiden name—but she accomplished more than that.
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.
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