Lucy Stone (August 13, 1818 – October 18, 1893) – Abolitionist, Lecturer, and Reformer
Introduction: A U.S. pioneer in the Woman’s Suffrage movement, Lucy Stone was also an abolitionist, lecturer, and social reformer. A woman of independent spirit, she is widely known for achieving several “firsts:” as the first woman in Massachusetts to earn a college degree and the first woman to keep her own name after marriage.
Early Life & Education
Lucy Stone was born on her family’s farm in West Brookfield, Massachusetts. She was the eighth of nine children born to Henry and Hannah Stone (nee, Matthews) and her father was such a domineering man that her mother often had to beg him for money. She was unhappy with how her mother had to struggle to maintain their household. So disturbed by the inequity that she saw in her own home and how she saw other women treated, it is said that when the Bible was quoted to her regarding the positions of men and women, she vowed to learn Greek and Hebrew when she was older so that she could correct what she was sure was a mistranslation of the text. Inspired by Sarah and Angelina Grimke, abolitionists and women’s rights activists, Stone was determined to blaze her own path to independence and equality.
At the age of 16, Stone began teaching to supplement the families income and as a way to finance her own education. Three years later, she enrolled in Mount Holyoke Female Seminary where she studied a variety of subjects including algebra, literature, geography, and manners. Because her father was completely unsupportive of her pursuing an education, she had to continue teaching in order to save money to pay her tuition. But in 1843, when she was 25, Lucy Stone had saved enough money to pay for her first year at Oberlin College. She graduated four years later in 1847. Soon after her graduation, she gave her first speech on women’s rights from her brother’s pulpit in Gardner, Massachusetts. Her first speech took place in Gardner because, although she was invited to write the commencement speech for her graduation from Oberlin, she would have been unable to read it because women were forbidden from speaking publicly even at that liberal institution. Therefore, she refused.
Delivering Messages of Suffrage & Anti-Slavery
The following year, Stone was hired by William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips as an agent and organizer for the American Anti-Slavery Society. In this role she traveled the country giving speeches on abolition and women’s rights. Stone created a great deal of controversy within the Anti-Slavery Society with her intermingled message of abolition and woman suffrage and was asked to separate the two. Her outspoken and passionate speeches drew large crowds as well as great hostility. Protestors tore down posters announcing her engagements, tried to drive out attendees, and threw things at her while she was speaking. However, she would not be deterred from delivering her message of freedom and equality.
Stone was one of the leaders in organizing the first National Woman’s Rights convention, in Worcester, Massachusetts. Between 900 and 1,000 people attended the convention which was
held October 23-24, 1850. Stone remained behind the scenes of the meeting until the final day, when she agreed to address the audience. Her inspirational words are credited with bringing Susan B. Anthony into the suffrage movement and moved Harriet Taylor to write The Enfranchisement of Women. Lucy Stone participated in eight of the ten total conventions, the last being held in 1860. The onset of the Civil War prevented further conventions from taking place.
Stone lectured non-stop for women’s rights and abolition until 1855, the year she married Henry Blackwell, a kindred spirit in the fight against slavery. Even in marriage, Stone made a statement about how society treated women. She and Blackwell used their union to protest against the legal inequalities of husband and wife. He later supported her when she decided to use her given name as her legal signature.
Organizations in Support of her Causes
During the Civil War, Stone partnered with other suffragists and abolitionists to found the Woman’s National Loyal League which was dedicated to the full emancipation and inclusion of African Americans. Following the war during Reconstruction, she founded the American Equal Rights Association (AERA), an organization of women’s rights and abolition supporters determined to support voting rights of all people regardless of race and sex. With the enactment of the Fourteenth Amendment, which provided freed slaves with civil rights and ensured voter protection for men only; and the Fifteenth Amendment, which guaranteed equal rights based on race, but did not address the issue of gender, Stone resigned herself to the acceptance of voting rights for African American men without the inclusion of women. She later founded the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) with her husband, Mary Livermore, Julia Ward Howe and others. This new organization was dedicated to achieving woman suffrage while refusing to undermine achievements in African American civil rights. It was this issue that differentiated the AWSA from the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) which was led by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton who refused to support constitutional changes that did not at the same time enfranchise women.
Lucy Stone was an activist and leader during a time when women were scarcely allowed to have a voice in public. She spoke of freedom and equality until her final public appearance in May, 1893 at the World’s Congress of Representative Women. In her speech, entitled “The Progress of Fifty Years” recounted the milestones of change and said, “I think, with never-ending gratitude, that the young women of today do not and can never know at what price their right to free speech and to speak at all in public has been earned.” Stone died on October 18, 1896 at 75. Her death was the most widely reported of any American woman’s up to that time. In keeping with a woman who achieved several “firsts”, following her death she became the first person cremated in Massachusetts.
More information about Lucy Stone and other influential American’s can be found here:
Information about the First Women’s Rights Convention can be found here:
How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Brown, A. (2011). Lucy Stone (August 13, 1818 – October 18, 1893) – Abolitionist, lecturer, and reformer. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved from http://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/people/stone-lucy/