Compiling articles about people of everyday character, Lucy Stone earned her place by making unusual and inspiring choices throughout her life.
“I suppose the wretched people there are eating our cherries (May they choke on them!)” She wrote in a letter to her husband, Henry Browne Blackwell.
“May the buzzards get him!” she wrote in another letter, referring to a man who had given his wife a particularly difficult time.
These quotes (Stone & Blackwell, 1981, p. 7) demonstrate how candidly human Lucy was.
When she was angry, she could be quite direct. When she was impassioned, her speeches could compel staunch adversaries to hear a dissident opinion.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton is quoted as saying, “Lucy Stone was the first person by whom the heart of the American public was deeply stirred by the woman question.” (Hays, 1961, p. 88)
Lucy was born in West Brookfield, Massachusetts in 1818. She was the eighth of nine children born to Hannah Bowman Matthews and Francis Stone.
From her youth, she witnessed the hardship women faced as they were expected to behave as equal partners while bound by limited freedoms and stifling cultural rectitude. All her life, she chose to stand for her convictions and question things she didn’t understand.
When her brothers, Bo, and Frank, expressed a desire to attend college, their father sent them. But at least until 1833, no college in the United States admitted women. Regardless, Lucy’s father, Francis, was not the type of man who would have supported college education for his daughters. “The image of over-educated women was, if anything, a threat to the common order and ran counter to the prevailing idea that women could not withstand the rigors of higher education.” (McMillen, 2015, pp. 13-14)
Through sheer and stubborn determination, at the age of twenty-nine, Lucy became the first woman in Massachusetts to earn a college degree.
At the time she was impressed by the Grimké sisters, and Abby Kelly, and wrote of them, stating that people viewed them as “something monstrous.”
“All the cyclones and blizzards which prejudice, bigotry, and custom could raise, were let loose upon these three peerless women.” But they ignored “the howling” mobs, the negative press, and “thunders from the pulpit” as they “literally put their lives in their hands.” (Stone, Undated)
No immediate family member was present at Lucy’s graduation from Oberlin College, on January 2, 1847. However, William Lloyd Garrison, the abolitionist movement’s radical spokesperson, and Lucy’s longtime abolitionist hero, made Lucy’s acquaintance and wrote of her at the time:
“Among others with whom I have become acquainted is Miss Lucy Stone, who has just graduated. She is a very superior young woman and has a soul as free as the air, and is preparing to go forth as a lecturer, particularly in vindication of the rights of woman. Her course here has been very firm and independent, and has caused no small uneasiness to the spirit of sectarianism in the institution.” (Garrison, 1974)
Despite all odds, Lucy set out to become a lecturer. Like other female orators on abolition, she was heckled before and after her lectures. Her pamphlets were torn down as soon as she put them up, and at least once she was physically attacked by a mob. Undaunted, she continued to struggle at it. Until, in 1848 Lucy was hired by the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society as a lecturer. Her efforts made great strides toward supporting the argument for freedom.
Soon, Stone was earning a substantial income and attracting large crowds of people to hear her lecture. The topic of abolition was still controversial, and Lucy made headway even with opposing crowds through her pleasant demeanor and earnest debate.
Despite concerns that her women’s rights speeches created too much controversy within the Anti-Slavery Society, she added women’s rights to her speeches, defending her choice by insisting, “I was a woman before I was an abolitionist. I must speak for women.” (Report of the International Council of Women, 1888, pp. 333-34)
In 1850, Lucy was instrumental in coordinating and lecturing at the first National Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts.
In 1852, Lucy’s speech at the National Women’s Rights Convention in Syracuse, New York was responsible for drawing Susan B. Anthony into the Women’s Suffrage Movement.
In 1855, Lucy made a choice and married her suitor, Henry Browne Blackwell. In an unconventional ceremony, that made newspaper headlines and stirred up a great deal of controversy, they read a “Marriage Protest,” they’d written, stating among other things that they “protest especially against the laws which give to the husband: The custody of a wife’s person. The exclusive control and guardianship of their children. The system as a whole by which the legal existence of the wife is suspended during marriage…”
The two went on to have a unique marriage partnership, a part of which was focused on making joint progress toward legal freedom for all in the United States.
September 15, 1857 they had a daughter, Alice. Facing a good deal of personal criticism, and public scorn, during the years following her marriage, Lucy took a step away from her lecturing career to focus on her family.
In the Fall of 1866, Lucy was still impassioned and seriously considered starting a newspaper to foster the suffragist movement. She sought funding from others who were friendly to the cause. But Lucy and Henry became uncertain if they could raise enough money to make the paper a success. Instead, they turned their focus to the new state of Kansas and the referendums brought before its male voters.
In April of 1867 Lucy and Henry traveled to Kansas under the auspices of the American Equal Rights Association to convince voters to remove “white” and “male” from voting requirements in the state constitution.
It’s worthwhile to note, that while “white male” may stand out in the sentence above. Henry Browne Blackwell, and many other white men are, by my definition, everyday people of character, deserving posts of their own. They could have enjoyed the many advantages allowed to them under the law, but instead, they chose to stand opposed to their peers on the side of justice.
The Kansas Referendum was a three-month uphill battle. One man told Lucy that if his late wife had ever expressed a desire to vote, “he would have pounded her to death.” (McMillen, 2015, p. 169)
Meanwhile, the state Republican party was supporting black male suffrage but trying to drop women’s suffrage from the ballot. Fear was rampant among the activists that if black men were able to vote ahead of women, there would be an even greater struggle ahead for women.
The results of the Kansas election saw both referendums defeated.
The failure of the campaign has been attributed to internal tensions, pitting abolitionists against suffragists, in combination with opposition from a rising support for the anti-suffrage movement.
Susan B. Anthony, Olympia Stanton and Lucy Stone, in desperation, aligned themselves with the Democratic Party and a wealthy supporter, a racist dandy named George Francis Train. He offered to bankroll their efforts and lecture with them across the state. Whereas Lucy and Henry spoke in fervent support of both referendums, Anthony and Train spoke only on behalf of women’s suffrage. People in the crowds reportedly loved the personal vanity and racist commentary of Train’s outrageous speeches.
Lucy and Henry had gotten mixed up with Train, who Lucy’s longtime friend, William Lloyd Garrison, referred to as a “crack-brained harlequin, and semi-lunatic.”
It’s sad to realize how this situation would have struck Lucy as a lifelong advocate of equal rights for all. Some of her early quotes reflect her feelings on the matter.
In a letter to her brother, Frank, while she was attending Oberlin College, she reflected on Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of a Slave and wrote, “I hate slavery…worse than war.” (McMillen, 2015, p. 49)
Following their experiences in Kansas, Lucy and Henry distanced themselves from Train and Stanton.
In the following years, despite opposition from many women active in the Women’s Suffrage movement, Stone supported both the Fourteenth (July 9, 1868) and Fifteenth (February 3, 1870) Amendments, to the US Constitution, which extended citizenship and suffrage to men of all race, creed, and color.
Stone broke from the National Woman Suffrage Association, because they allowed their fear to overwhelm justice and argued that women deserved the right to vote first. It seems that in Lucy’s mind, it was not a matter of women being more deserving, but a matter of supporting equal rights for all and standing for justice despite the personal sacrifice.
After breaking ties with the NWSA, Stone co-founded the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) with Julia Ward Howe. Beginning in 1870, she also published a weekly newspaper for the AWSA, Women’s Journal, with her husband, Henry. The periodical focused on American women’s rights. It continued to be published until 1931.
Lucy wrote many letters to her husband, recording personal aspects of their unique marriage and their human struggles. She wrote of herself in one such letter, on May 21, 1858: “I am trying to be a good wife and mother. I have wanted to tell you how hard I am trying, but I have tried before and my miserable failures hereto, make me silent now.” (Stone & Blackwell, 1981, p. 138)
Snippets of history often preserve only part of the story. So much is lost in translation, not only as we live one day to the next, but also as time passes and details become lost. It’s forgotten how often the path toward greatness is shadowed by uncertainty and self-doubt.
Everyday people of character, like Lucy Stone, continue to struggle despite the challenges, and ultimately change lives for the better.
In the rotunda of the Capitol stand marble statues of a number of our nation’s greatest figures, and among them is a marble monument of three nineteenth-century suffragists—Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Susan B. Anthony. The inscription on this group sculpture, which is known as the Memorial Sculpture, identifies the women as “Three great destiny characters of the world” and adds, “Historically these three stand unique and peerless.”
Though Lucy Stone was called the “morning star” (Hays, 1961, p. 81) and “heart and soul” (Million, 2003, p. 161) of the women’s rights movement, her figure is not included on the memorial. History and policy determined to leave her out, but her contributions to suffrage and abolition deserve recognition and admiration.
Garrison, W. L. (1974). The Letters of William Lloyd Garrison, vol. 3: No Union with the Slaveholders, ed. Walter M. Merrill. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Hays, E. R. (1961). Morning Star: A biography of Lucy Stone 1818-1893. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.
McMillen, S. G. (2015). Lucy Stone An Unapologetic Life. New York, New York: Oxford University Press.
Million, J. (2003). Woman’s Voice, Woman’s Place: Lucy Stone and the Birth of the Woman’s Rights Movement. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.
(1888). Report of the International Council of Women. Washington, D.C.: National Woman Suffrage Association.
Stone, L. (Undated). Workers for the Cause Speech. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
Stone, L., & Blackwell, H. B. (1981). Loving Warriors, A Revealing Portrait of an Unprecedented Marriage, Selected Letters of Lucy Stone & Henry B. Blackwell 1853-1893. (L. Wheeler, Ed.) New York, New York: The Dial Press.