In 1921, a year after the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote, a marble statue of suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott was unveiled in the U.S. Capitol, the gift of women’s organizations around the U.S.
In a way, there was a missing woman: Lucy Stone.
When these famous suffragists were in the thick of the battle for women’s suffrage, Stone was generally ranked with Stanton and Anthony as a triumvirate. Stone was a compelling and appealing speaker and hands down the leading orator of the women’s suffrage movement. She was instrumental in organizing the first national woman’s rights convention in 1850, in Worcester, Mass., and she and Anthony worked together to organize subsequent conventions. Stone was the first Massachusetts woman to obtain a college degree.
“Well, whether we like it or not, little woman, God has made you an Orator.”
She enjoyed a highly fulfilling marriage to the abolitionist Henry Browne Blackwell, though they began their married life by issuing what they called a “Protest” over the status of women in marriage. It used to be that women who continued to use their maiden names after marriage were known as “Lucy Stoners.”
Stone’s biographer Sally G. McMillen, author of Lucy Stone: An Unapologetic Life, calls Stone’s absence in the Capitol Rotunda “nearly astonishing.” But not entirely accidental: Stone eventually split from Anthony and Stanton, primarily over whether women should endorse the Fifteenth Amendment, which gave former slaves but not women, the right to vote. Unlike Anthony and Stanton, Stone supported the Fifteenth Amendment.
Because of the split, Stone was slighted in the book Anthony and Stanton wrote about the history of women’s suffrage, McMillen proposes. Stone, however, was once known as the “heart and soul” of the movement. “Where is [Lucy Stone’s] monument, reaching upward to the stars? For one, I believe that it is too long delayed,” wrote the curmudgeonly sage of Baltimore, H. L. Mencken in a 1930 review of Stone’s daughter’s biography of her mother.
Lucy Stone was born August 13, 1818 on a farm at Coy’s Hill near West Brookfield, Massachusetts, the daughter of Francis and Hannah Stone. The Stones had come from England to New England seeking religious freedom in the 1630s, and Lucy’s Stone grandfather had been an officer in the American Revolution. They were rooted in the Congregational Church and staunch abolitionists.
Stone was acknowledged leader of the fifth National Women’s Rights Convention, held in Philadelphia in 1854.
The Stones were far from rich. Lucy, one of nine children, worked on the farm and sewed shoes to sell. Lucy was, at one time, required to make nine pairs a day, according to her daughter, because she was so fast with her needle. “There was but one will in our home, and that was my father’s,” Lucy recalled. Francis Stone was a heavy, sometimes verbally abusive, drinker and notoriously stingy with money. Lucy went into the woods and collected chestnuts to sell to buy a book when Francis refused to buy it for her. Despite this, Lucy regarded her childhood as a happy one and as an adult would reminisce about what she remembered as the “opulent” food produced on the farm.
At the age of sixteen, Lucy was teaching in a district school for the sum of a dollar a week. She had conceived a desire for further education and began saving for it. Neither of her parents approved of this ambition, though Francis gladly paid for college tuition for her brothers.
In 1839, having saved the money, Lucy became a student at Mary Lyon’s Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley, Mass. Lucy spent three months at Mount Holyoke, clashing with Lyon after Lucy placed a copy of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator newspaper in the reading room. Lyon warned Lucy that abolition was a matter on which opinion was divided.
By 1843, Lucy had saved enough money to enroll at Oberlin Collegiate Institute in Ohio, the first college in the U.S. to accept women. By this time, Lucy had been inspired by Sarah Grimke’s Letters on the Equality of the Sexes. Because of finances, Lucy was 29 when she graduated from Oberlin. She was offered the opportunity to have a paper she had written read by a male graduate during graduation festivities but declined if she could not deliver it herself. As graduation approached, Lucy announced her intention to embark on a career in the cause of abolition. William Lloyd Garrison hired her as a public lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society. She sometimes found she could not resist interjecting “the women question” into her lectures.
Lucy Stone quickly became one of the most sought-after anti-slavery lecturers in the country. “Lucy is queen of us all,” another lecturer observed. Frederick Douglass, the former slave, praised her as “one of the most attractive and effective advocates” for the cause of abolition. It must be said that Lucy had an offbeat kind of femininity. She was tiny, barely a hundred pounds, with a rosy complexion, sweet voice, and blessed with what McMillen calls “an innocence and seductive appeal.” Mencken described her as “saucy.”
This did not mean that Lucy was not pelted with rotten vegetables, or that hostile crowds did not taunt her or try to shout her down. On one occasion, she was physically attacked. But she was recognized as a spell-binding, brave, and impassioned orator. A newspaper reporter once wrote, “Well, whether we like it or not, little woman, God has made you an Orator.”
The couple issued their “Protest,” jointly composed, which criticized laws on marriage.
One of the people drawn to Lucy was the abolitionist Henry Browne Blackwell, who is regarded as one of the founders of the Republican Party. Henry began to pursue Lucy, but the impediment was that she was determined that she would never marry. She softened after he rescued a slave girl from her master and mistress as they traveled through a free state. Lucy and Henry were married May 1, 1855 in the Stone family farmhouse, which was decorated with orange blossoms. The couple issued their “Protest,” jointly composed, which criticized laws on marriage. “This action on our part,” they wrote, referring to their marriage, “implies no sanction of, nor promise of voluntary obedience to such of the present laws that refuse to recognize a wife as an independent, rational being, while they confer upon the husband an injurious and unnatural superiority.” Thomas Wentworth Higginson, the Unitarian minister who performed the marriage ceremony, released the Protest to the press. It became a national sensation.
It should be noted that Henry Blackwell is widely believed to have had an affair during the marriage. But, if that is the case, it ended without breaking up the marriage. Henry always played second fiddle to Lucy, but it was by all accounts a deeply fulfilling union for both.
Lucy was acknowledged leader of the fifth National Women’s Rights Convention, held in Philadelphia in 1854. It was at this meeting that there was a foreshadowing of the coming clash with Anthony and Stanton. The women at this meeting considered and then rejected adopting the 1848 Seneca Falls Declaration of Rights and Sentiments, according to Sally McMillen’s authoritative biography of Stone. The Declaration of Sentiments, the product of the famous Seneca Falls Woman’s Rights Convention, was authored by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The Philadelphia convention found, according to McMillen, that “it placed too much blame on men and offered more grievances than goals.”
In a suffragists version of addressing the work-life balance issue, Lucy reduced her lecturing and organizing briefly after the birth of Alice Stone Blackwell in 1857. Susan B. Anthony, who didn’t like it when suffragists married and began fussing over their infants, didn’t approve. While caring for Alice, Lucy found an opportunity to engage in civil disobedience, however. Lucy refused to pay her New Jersey taxes in 1857, citing the injustice of the laws regarding women as her reason. Some household goods were seized and sold at auction. The heroism of this particular act of civil disobedience might be dimmed somewhat, however, as a friendly neighbor purchased the items and returned them to Lucy, as had been planned in advance.
Stone split with Anthony and Stanton over the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution in 1869. Stone and other more moderate suffragists such as Julia Ward Howe, author of the words of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, were willing to embrace the amendments, even though they did not extend suffrage to women. “Mrs. Stone has felt the slaves’ wrongs more deeply than her own—my philosophy was more egotistical,” said Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Susan B. Anthony, who didn’t like it when suffragists married and began fussing over their infants, didn’t approve.
Stone and Howe founded the American Woman’s Suffrage Association, in opposition to Stanton and Anthony’s National Woman Suffrage Association. Stone served as editor of the Women’s Journal, a more moderate publication than Stanton and Anthony’s The Revolution. Julia Ward Howe did some of the editing for the Women’s Journal. Her daughter Alice Stone Blackwell became editor after Lucy died in 1893. By that time, The Revolution had long since folded and the Journal was the established paper of the suffragist movement.
Lucy Stone lived to see the two factions of the suffragists movement reunite in 1890. But by this time, Stanton and Anthony in their writings had slighted one of the most interesting of the great 19th century suffragists in their histories and recollections. Perhaps 2020, when women celebrate the 19th Amendment, will be a good year for the memory of Lucy Stone.