Solid as a rock
Activist Lucy Stone dedicated life to abolish slavery, boost women’s rights in America
This year marks the centennial of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. The League of Women Voters of Chautauqua County has compiled a series of articles commemorating the brave suffragists who fought for this right. The following article highlights Lucy Stone, the “Heart and Soul” of the Women’s Rights Movement.
Submitted by THE LEAGUE
OF WOMEN VOTERS OF CHAUTAUQUA COUNTY
Lucy Stone was a leading activist and pioneer of the abolitionist and women’s rights movements.
Born in Massachusetts in 1818, Stone dedicated her life to improving the rights of American women. One of nine children, she was steeped in the virtues of fighting against slavery from her parents, both committed abolitionists.
Smart and clearly driven, Stone was unafraid to rebel against her parents’ wishes. Having watched her older brothers attend college, the 16-year-old Stone defied her parents and pursued a higher education. She enrolled at Oberlin College which touted itself as a progressive institution but did not offer a level playing field for women. The college denied Stone the opportunity to pursue her passion in public speaking. Undeterred, she paid her way through school, graduated with honors, and became the first woman from Massachusetts to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Stone found work with the American Anti-Slavery Society. Her work with the organization tapped into her continued and heightened passion to eradicate slavery. It also launched her career as a public speaker. She was regularly heckled by opponents (she was even ex-communicated by the Congregational Church, the religion of her parents); nevertheless, Stone emerged as an outspoken voice in the anti-slavery movement and the women’s rights cause.
Stone wrote extensively about a wide range of women’s rights. In the long-running and influential Woman’s Journal, a weekly periodical that she founded and promoted, Stone aired views about women’s rights. Called “the orator,” and the “heart and soul” of the women’s rights movement, Stone influenced Susan B. Anthony to take up the cause of women’s suffrage. Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote that “Lucy Stone was the first person by whom the heart of the American public was deeply stirred on the woman question.” Together, Anthony, Stanton, and Stone have been called the 19th-century “triumvirate” of women’s suffrage and feminism.
In 1850 the pioneering Stone convened the first national Women’s Rights Convention. Held in Worcester, Mass., the event was hailed as a significant moment for American women. Her speech at the convention was reprinted in newspapers nationwide. For the next few years, Stone, who was paid well for her speeches, kept up a relentless schedule, traveling throughout North America to lecture about women’s rights while continuing to hold her annual convention.
She co-founded and became president of the State Woman’s Suffrage Association of New Jersey, which would later be succeeded by the League of Women Voters of New Jersey in 1920. She also launched a New England chapter of the association and had helped found the American Equal Rights Association.
From the examples of her mother, aunt and a neighbor neglected by her husband and left destitute, Stone learned early that women were at the mercy of their husbands’ good will. When she came across the biblical passage, “and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee,” she was distraught over what appeared to be divine sanction of women’s subjugation; she then reasoned that the injunction applied only to wives. Resolving to “call no man my master,” she determined early to keep control over her own life by never marrying, obtaining the highest education she could, and earning her own livelihood.
But In 1855, Stone married Henry Blackwell, a committed abolitionist who spent two long years wooing her. Stone initially took on her husband’s last name, but then opted to go back to her maiden name a year after their marriage. “A wife should no more take her husband’s name than he should hers,” she explained in a letter to her spouse. “My name is my identity and must not be lost.” At their actual wedding, both she and Henry signed a document protesting the idea that a husband has legal dominion over his wife.
While Stone did live to see the end of slavery, she died on Oct. 18, 1883, 30 years before women were finally permitted to vote. Her ashes are held at a columbarium within Boston’s Forest Hill Cemetery.