Lucy Stone was a notable suffragist and abolitionist in the nineteenth century. She became the first woman from Massachusetts to earn a college degree and dedicated her life to fighting for gender equality. When she got married, she refused to take her husband’s last name. And she wrote her own marriage vows that discussed equality in marriage and her feminist views.
Stone was born in a rural area of Massachusetts in August of 1818. Her parents were farmers, and she had eight siblings. Stone wanted to attend college and became disheartened with the society that encouraged her brothers to attend university but discouraged her from doing so.
Stone became a teacher when she turned 16 and worked to save money to pay for her education. She went to Mount Holyoke for one semester in 1839 but had to return home when her sister fell ill. She then received her degree from Oberlin College in Ohio starting in 1843. The school was progressive but still discouraged women from pursuing public speaking. In 1847, Stone was asked to write the commencement speech for her graduation ceremony even though she would not be allowed to read it. She declined because the university wanted her speech to be read by a man.
After graduation, Stone searched for a job but found it difficult as most professions were only hiring men. She was finally offered a position at the American Anti-Slavery Society by William Lloyd Garrison, where she wrote and gave speeches on the abolition of slavery.
Stone was known to combine the topics of the abolition of slavery and gender equality in her lectures, which angered her employers who requested she stop doing so. Stone notably responded, “I was a woman before I was an abolitionist,” according to American National Biography. She then began speaking about abolition on the weekends and speaking about women’s rights during the week.
Garrison praised Stone and her lectures, saying, “She is always earnest, but never boisterous, and her manner no less than her speech is marked by a gentleness and refinement which puts prejudice to flight.”
As an abolitionist, Stone was once attacked by a mob and often ridiculed by many. However, she became successful in her field and even began earning more money than her male counterparts at the society.
Stone began getting more involved in the fight for gender equality. After the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention, she coordinated the first national Women’s Rights Convention in Massachusetts. She gave a moving speech on equality that was printed internationally — a notable event for a woman speaker at the time.
Stone’s true passion and talent lied in public speaking. She began traveling through the United States speaking at women’s rights conventions and giving lectures on abolition and gender equality.
The feminist and abolitionist met Henry Blackwell, the brother of notable physicians Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell. Blackwell talked Stone into marrying him by agreeing to have an egalitarian marriage, or a marriage in which both partners equally share the household work, childcare, income and more.
When reciting their vows, Stone and Blackwell left out the formerly standard line about a wife being obedient to her husband. Stone also refused to change her last name, and kept her maiden one. This decision cost her the right to vote in the 1879 local elections. Massachusetts allowed women to participate in certain ballots, but Stone was not allowed due to her decision to keep her maiden name.
Stone and her husband had two children, one of whom did not survive. Their daughter, Alice Stone Blackwell, became a well-known feminist. She advocated for gender and racial equality with her parents through her life.
In 1858, Stone refused to pay her property taxes after citing the “no taxation without representation” American principle. Her refusal led to her family’s goods being impounded as punishment.
Stone became president of the New Jersey Women Suffrage Association. She also was on the executive committee of the American Equal Rights Association. She moved her family to Boston in 1869. That same year, Stone parted with other notable female suffragists, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony after the passing of the 14th and 15th Amendments. These amendments granted the right to vote to black men and not women.
Stone saw the amendments as a victory for her abolitionist work and vowed to continue to fight for women’s suffrage, but Stanton and Anthony felt differently. The two created the National Woman Suffrage Association, while Stone helped launch the American Woman Suffrage Association with feminist Julia Ward Howe. Stone’s organization created a publication called The Woman’s Journal, and Stone became an editor for the print journal.
Stone dedicated a lot of time and energy to building the paper, which has been described as, “Devoted to the interests of woman, to her educational, industrial, legal and political equality, and especially to her right of suffrage.” The paper wrote about women in history, current events and notable women at the time fighting for equality. Stone also continued to speak on women’s suffrage at state legislatures, political conventions, women’s clubs and more all over the country.
In 1890, the two suffragist groups came together as one, reuniting and forgetting past conflicts. Stone and Stanton’s two daughters played an active part in reunifying their formerly opposing mothers. The groups merged and became the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Stone was named the chairman of the executive board.
Stone passed away at the age of 75, shortly after giving her final speech at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.
Today, Stone is recognized and admired as one of the original feminists and fighters for female equality everywhere. She is also recognized for her abolitionist work.
Stone was recently mentioned in the book, "Originals" by New York Times bestselling author Adam Grant. The book features the tagline, “how non-conformists move the world,” and features a chapter called “The Narcissism of Small Differences.” This chapter, in particular, discusses the Suffragist Movement of 1855-1918, in which the author talks about Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. It discusses how alliances and disagreements that occur within groups whose overall goal is similar can cause both groups to lose sight of the long term.
Grant uses the example of the two diverging suffragist groups to illustrate why it is so imperative that those fighting for a common purpose ignore minor and insignificant differences in order to obtain their larger fight.
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