Lucy Stone, the first woman from Massachusetts to earn a college degree, was a well known suffragist along with being an orator and abolitionist. Stone promoted women’s rights and spoke out against slavery and for women’s rights. She played a role in the first National Women’s Rights Convention and the establishment of the Woman’s National Loyal League. Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony have been called the “triumvirate” of nineteenth century women’s suffrage.
On August 13, 1818, Lucy Stone was born in West Brookfield, Massachusetts at her family’s farm. Lucy was Hannah Matthews and Francis Stone’s eighth child out of nine. She had three brothers and three sisters, two having died at birth. Her mother, Hannah Stone, made an income out of selling eggs and cheese, however, Francis Stone denied her any rights over the money. Hannah would sometime steal money or secretly sell cheese, believing that she had a right to spend the money she earned. As a child, Lucy resented her father for his unfair treatments of her mother.
Early on, Stone learned that women were at their husband’s mercy from her mother, Aunt Sally—who had been abandoned by her husband, and their neighbor, who had also been abandoned by her husband. She was determined to never marry to keep control over her own life while receiving the highest education she could and making her own living.
Along with her brothers and sister Rhoda, Stone began teaching in district schools at the age of sixteen. She was paid much less than male teachers at $1.00 a day. And when she substituted for one of her brothers, her pay was considerably lower than his. Stone protested to the school committee because she had taught everything her brother, Bowman, had. In response, they said they could give her “only a woman’s pay. Though her salary did eventually increase to $6 a month, she would never earn as much as a male.
The “woman question”, or the question on a woman’s proper role in society, began appearing in newspapers in Massachusetts. Stone began reading newspaper reports of this controversy in 1836, which would go on to shape her ever changing views on women’s rights throughout the next several years. She attended a state convention of Congregational ministers as a spectator after William Lloyd Garrison received many responses to his antislavery petitions that were denied by Congress.
Twenty-one year old Stone enrolled at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in 1839, determined to receive the highest education she could as a woman. However, she found herself disappointed by Mary Lyons’ intolerance of antislavery and women’s rights. After her first term, Stone withdrew. The following month, she enrolled at Wesleyan Academy (Wilbraham & Monson Academy), which she liked much more than the former school. In the summer of 1841, she completed her first year at Monson Academy. Upon learning that Oberlin Collegiate Institute in Ohio was the first college in the nation accepting women, she began preparing for Oberlin’s entrance exams by studying Latin and Greek and reading Virgil and Sophocles.
Traveling by train, steamship, and stagecoach, twenty-five year old Lucy Stone made her way to Oberlin College. Stone believed that women should vote and assume political office as she entered the school. She also believed women should study the same classic professions and speak their minds in public, while Oberlin did not exactly share all of these views. During her third year at Oberlin, Stone met and befriended abolitionist and suffragist Antoinette Brown, who had come to the school to study to become a minister in 1845. The two of them eventually became sisters-in-law when they married abolitionist brothers.
While Stone had hoped to earn her expenses for college by teaching at the school’s lower departments, Oberlin denied this right to first year students. The only work Stone could find was teaching in district schools during her winter break and housekeeping chores through the manual labor program held by the school. She was only paid three cents an hour for this job, which was less than half of what male students made doing the same jobs. To reduce her expenses, Stone would make her own meals in her dormitory. In 1844, she was given a position teaching arithmetic in the Ladies Department, but like before, received a pay much lower than that of a male’s.
To earn the same money as a male, Stone was required to do twice the work. Often times she would wake up at two in the morning to work and study, but this led to her health declining. Due to this, she went to the Faculty Board in 1845 to ask for the same pay that males received doing the same jobs. They denied her request and Stone resigned from her position. Her former students pleaded to the faculty to restore Stone. The students said that if the college would not pay Stone what she deserved, they would instead. Stone’s plan was to borrow money from her father when funds ran out, and Francis Stone promised to provide money for her when she needed it, moved by the struggles she described to him. After three months, the faculty hired Stone once again under pressure. They also began paying Stone and other women student teachers the same as male student teachers.
Stone first thought of becoming a public speaker in the fall of 1846. She did not fully decide on it until the next summer when Abby Kelley Foster speaking at Oberlin had proven to be a huge controversy. Stone defended Foster’s discussions on women’s rights among students, such as having the rights to speak in public. On August 1, 11846, Stone made her first public speech at Oberlin’s commemoration of the Emancipation in the West Indies.
Her brothers and father were supportive when she informed the family that she intended on becoming a women’s rights speaker, but Stone’s mother and sisters begged her to reconsider this decision. Afterwards, Stone tried to gain experience in speaking. At Oberlin, it was considered inappropriate for women to participate in oral exercised with men, while women students were allowed to debate each other. Stone and Antoinette Brown, a first year student at the time, wanted to develop public speaking skills. So, the two of them organized a women’s debating club held off campus. After some time, they were able to gain permission to debate each other in Stone’s collegiate rhetoric class. A county newspaper’s former editor challenged Stone to publicly debate women’s rights, which she accepted and then defeated him. Stone then submitted a petition to the Faculty Board that has been signed by most members of her graduating class asking for women to right graduation essays. They would have the right to read these essays aloud themselves like men at Oberlin did. The Faculty Board refused. Stone declined to write an essay when elected to because she refused to support a principle that did not give women the same rights as men.
On August 25, 1847, Lucy Stone became the first woman from Massachusetts to graduate from college when she received her baccalaureate degree from Oberlin College.
In fall of 1847, Stone gave her first public speech on women’s rights in Gardner, Massachusetts at her brother Bowman’s church. Shortly after, she gave her second speech in a small neighboring town called Warren. The following June, she became a Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society’s lecturing agent. Immediately she proved to be an effective speaker and was very persuasive over her audiences. Not only was she able to move her audiences to tears and laughter, another one of her assets was her unusual voice that recent biographers have described as sounding like a “silver bell”.
The antislavery agency was also able to introduce her to a number of progressive reformers who would assist her in her women’s rights work. Phoebe Hathaway invited her to lecture for the Seneca Falls women’s rights convention and the Rochester women’s rights convention. Stone accepted and began working for the women organizing the convention in the fall of 1849. Earlier that year in April, she had been invited to lecture for the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. Lucretia Mott had taken advantage of Stone’s presence here to hold the first women’s rights meeting in Pennsylvania on May 4, 1849. Stone, with help from other abolitionists, conducted the first petition in massachusetts that campaigned for women’s voting rights and rights to hold office.
A few weeks before a state convention in Ohio was to be held to revise the state constitution, the Ohio Women’s Convention met in Salem, Ohio in April of 1850. So, the women’s convention sent a message to the constitutional convention that requested they secure the same political and legal rights for women that were guaranteed for men. In response, Stone sent them a letter praising their efforts, saying, “Massachusetts ought to have taken the lead in the work you are now doing, but if she chooses to linger, let her young sisters of the West set her a worthy example; and if the ‘Pilgrim spirit is not dead,’ we’ll pledge Massachusetts to follow her.”
Up until this point, women’s rights conventions had been organized on regional or state basis. In Boston in 1850 at the annual American Anti-Slavery Society’s convention, Stone and Paulina Wright Davis received support from William Lloyd Garrison and other abolitionists as they posted a notice for a possible women’s rights convention held on a national basis. On May 30, 1850, a meeting was held in Melodeon Hall in Boston. Davis presided over the meeting as Stone presented their proposal to a large, responsive audience, acting as a secretary. They appointed seven women to organize the convention, Davis and Stone assigning to conduct necessary correspondence to solicit signatures and recruit speakers.
However, only a few months before the convention, Stone was traveling through Indiana when she came in contact with typhoid fever and nearly died. This left Davis the first National Women’s Rights Convention’s principal organizer. The convention met on October 23-34, 1850 in Worcester, Massachusetts at Brinley Hall with about a thousand people in attendance. Though she was able to attend the convention, Stone’s poor health limited her participation and she was only able to make a formal address at the closing session.
In the end, the convention came to the conclusion not to establish a formal association. Instead, they decided on an annual convention with a standing committee to arrange meeting along with publishing its proceedings and executing the adopted plans of actions. A central committee was formed of nine men and nine women, of which Stone was apart of. The next spring, Stone became the secretary of the committee, a position she would hold until 1858. She played a leading role in organizing and setting the agenda for their national conventions as secretary.
Stone attended the New England Anti-Slavery Society’s annual meeting in Boston in May of 1851. While there, she exhibited Hiram Powers’s Greek Slave statue. Stone was so moved by the sculpture, she poured her heart out about the statue being emblematic of enchained womanhood when she addressed the meeting that evening. Samuel May Jr, the society’s general agent, approached her afterwards for speaking about women’s rights during an antislavery convention. Three months later, Stone told May that she was no longer going to be speaking about antislavery, and instead she was going to speak full time on women’s rights. On October 1, 1851, she launched her career as an independent women’s rights lecturer. May continued to press her to do antislavery work, and she finally agreed to lecture on Sundays for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society.
When she began lecturing again in 1851, Stone also began wearing a new style of dress. She would wear a loose, short jacket with a pair of baggy trousers under a skirt falling a few inches below her knees. The intent of this new style of dress was to replaced the popular French dress of a tight bodice worn over a corset and a skirt dragging several inches over the floor.
Stone and Lucretia Mott addressed the first women’s rights meeting in Cincinnati on October 14, 1853 right after the National Woman’s Rights Convention had been held in Cleveland, Ohio. Local businessman Henry Blackwell had taken an interest in Stone and arranged the meeting. The meeting was a success, and Blackwell offered to arrange a lecturing tour in the western states for her. Stone accepted. Over the course of thirteen weeks, she gave over forty lectures in thirteen cities. Following four lectures in Louisville, she was begged to repeat the course. Stone was told that she was having more effect in Louisville than anywhere else she toured. Stone “set about two-thirds of the women in the town crazy after women’s rights and placed half the men in a similar predicament,” a newspaper in Indianapolis wrote. According to newspapers in St. Louis, she attracted the largest crowds ever assembled in the city and filled the largest auditorium in the city well beyond it’s capacity of two thousand. In Chicago, her lectures were praised as being the best of the season and inspired discussion and debate in homes and meeting places. In January of 1854, she returned home after spreading her influence across the country.
For the next four years from 1854-58, Stone continued her lectures in many states: Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York, Vermont, Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ontario, Wisconsin, and Washington, D.C. “Lucy Stone was the first speaker who really stirred the nation’s heart on the subject of woman’s wrongs,” Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote.
A convention would meet in Massachusetts on May 4, 1853 to revise the state’s constitution. Stone aimed her petitions that year at the convention. Wendell Phillips drafted her petition, requesting that wherever the word “male” was used it be stricken in the constitution. Phillips also wrote an appeal to Massachusetts citizens to sign it. After nine months, the petition had over 5,000 signatures when Stone sent it to the convention. The two of them addressed the convention’s Committee on Qualifications of Voters on May 27, 1853.
On June 2, 1854, Stone called for a New England Woman’s Rights Convention in Boston to expand her petitioning efforts. At the convention, her resolution for petitioning the six New England legislatures was adopted. A committee in each state was appointed to organize the petition work. The second New England Woman’s Rights Convention was held the following June. There, Stone urged that one of the reasons why women needed suffrage was to protect any achieved gains.
The National Woman’s Rights Convention met on October 17-18, 1855 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Stone delivered an impromptu speech there that became famous as her “disappointment” speech. A heckler at the convention called female speakers “a few disappointed women.” In response, Stone said that she was indeed a disappointed woman. At the convention, they adopted Stone’s resolution that called for circulating petitions. Along with the New England states, suffrage petitioning also took place in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin. In Wisconsin and Nebraska, the petitions resulted in legislative hearings or action. Stone assisted in launching the New York campaign at a state woman’s rights convention that August in Saratoga Springs. Stone also took charge in Ohio by drafting its petition and placing it in newspapers as it circulated during lectures across Southern Ohio. She continued her lectures in Illinois and Indiana to support petitions.
Antoinette Brown Blackwell suggested they send a memorial to various state legislatures signed by National Woman’s Rights Convention officers. Stone presented this new strategy in 1856 at the national convention. Antoinette Brown had become Stone’s sister-in-law when she married Samuel Charles Blackwell in January of 1856. Stone, Brown Blackwell, and Ernestine Rose were all appointed to a committee to carry out Brown Blackwell’s planStone drafted the appeal and her sister-in-law sent it to twenty-five state legislatures. Massachusetts and Maine granted hearings and Indiana and Pennsylvania referred to the memorial to select committees. Along with Wendell Phillips and James Freeman Clarke, Stone addressed the Judiciary Committee of the Massachusetts senate on March 6, 1857. Four days later, Stone and Phillips addressed a select committee of Maine’s legislature.
Previously in the summer of 1853, Stone had begun a courtship with Henry Browne Blackwell, who had organized her Western tour. However, Stone told him that she did not want to marry because it meant surrendering control of her life. She refused to assume the legal position of a married woman. Blackwell responded that despite the law, they could create a marriage of equal partnership instead. He suggested they protect her from unjust laws, like placing her assets in a trustee’s hands. Blackwell believed that if they were married, they could achieve more together than alone. For eighteen months, they maintained a steady courtship primarily through correspondence. They discussed the nature of marriage and their own natures for it. Gradually, Stone found herself falling in love with him. By November of 1854, she agreed to marry him.
The two of them developed a private agreement that would preserve and protect her financial independence along with personal liberty. They agreed that their marriage would be more like a business partnership, being “joint proprietors of everything except the rules of previous labors.” They would not claim lands belonging to the other or any obligation to the other’s costs of these lands. As they were married and lived together, they would share their earnings. If they were to separate, they would relinquish any claims to the other’s earnings. Unless they had children, they had the right to will their property to whoever they wished. Stone also refused to be supported by him and insisted that she would pay half of their mutual expenses. She gave him a copy of Marriage and Parentage: Or, The Reproductive Element in Man, as Means to His Elevation and Happiness during their marriage discussions to come to a private agreement that he would accept the book’s principles.
On May 1, 1855, Lucy Stone married Henry Browne Blackwell at her home in West Brookfield, Massachusetts. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Stone’s friend and co-worker, officiated the wedding. Higginson sent the Worcester Spy a copy of Blackwell and Stone’s protests and it quickly spread across the country. Their marriage agreements, though drawing criticism, inspired other couples to make similar protests. Stone also refused to change her name, keeping it at Lucy Stone.
The couple’s daughter Alice Stone Blackwell was born September 14, 1857. Stone Blackwell would later go on to become a leader of the suffrage movement and wrote her mother’s first biography. Stone miscarried a baby boy while the family was temporarily living in Chicago in 1858.
After her marriage in 1855, Stone continued lecturing, petitioning, and organizing schedule up until the summer of 1857. She was accused in court in 1856 of a rumour that she gave a knife to Margaret Garner, a former slave, on trial for killing her own child to prevent the child from being enslaved.
When her daughter was born in September of 1857, Stone was no longer able to remain on the same level of activism. She had already arranged for the national convention to be held in Providence that year, but had to hand the responsibility over to Susan B. Anthony and Thomas Wentworth Higginson as she was no longer able to attend the convention. Anthony had planned to move the convention to Chicago, but that was prevented by the Panic of 1857. Stone announced that the next National Woman’s Rights Convention would be held in May of 1858 instead. Anthony assisted her in arranging the convention, then took full responsibility for the 1859 conventions. Elizabeth Cady Stanton then took charge and organized the 1860 meeting.
Frederick Douglass printed a rebuke of Stone’s combination of women’s rights and abolitionism in his newspaper. He said that she was taking the focus away from the anti-slavery movement. He then later accused and found her at fault for speaking at a lecture hall in Philadelphia that allowed whites-only. It would be years until the two reconciled after their past disagreements.
Stone staged a highly publicized protest in January of 1858 against the issue of taxation without representation that was present across the country. Her and Blackwell had purchased a house in Orange, New Jersey the summer prior. Stone returned the first tax bill unpaid because taxing women without giving them the right to vote was against the founding principles of America. The city then auctioned off some her household goods on January 22, 1858 to pay the tax and attendant court costs. Stone and Blackwell spoke out on taxation without representation before two large meetings in Orange and began circulating petitions asking the New Jersey legislature for women’s voting rights. Other tax paying women were inspired by Stone’s protests, some following her example and refusing to pay taxes.
Stone joined with many other women’s suffragists, Susan B. Anthony, Antoinette Brown Blackwell, Amy Post, Ernestine Rose, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Angelina Grimké Wels, during the Civil War to form the Woman’s National Loyal League. They held a convention in New York City , resolving to fight for full emancipation of African Americans. The organization was able to gather over 400,000 signatures to petition the United States Congress in 1864 to assist in the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment, which would ultimately abolish slavery. Stone helped to form the American Equal Rights Association (AERA) after the war when Reconstruction began. The main goal of AERA was to achieve equal voting rights from both genders and any race.
A division rose between the great majority during the AERA conference in May of 1869.Stone and other participants wanted to voice support for a proposed fifteenth amendment that would give African-American men voting rights. The minority was vocal in opposing any amendment that would not allow suffrage to all. This conflict in the AERA led to a muted resolution in favor of the fifteenth amendment being adopted. But the AERA was unable to hold together from the split between these two positions. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who were at the head of the minority, formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), open to females only, that promoted women’s voting rights. Stone, Blackwell, and Julia Ward Howe founded the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) in Cleveland on November 24, 1869. Their organization was open to men and women. The AWSA’s main goals were for the fifteenth amendment to be passed before moving on to women’s voting rights.
At the National Women’s Rights Convention’s twentieth anniversary celebration held in Worcester, Massachusetts, Stanton spent three hours speaking to rally the crowd for women’s rights for divorce in 1870. Stone wrote that she believed in marriage for life and was against free love.
That same year, Elizabeth Roberts Tilton told her husband Theodore Tilton that she had been having a adulterous relations with his friend Henry Ward Beecher. Theodore Tilton published this in an editorial and informed Stanton of the affair. In response, Stanton told Victoria Woodhull, who printed innuendo about Beecher while beginning to woo Tilton. Woodhull’s activities had begun to attract disapproval from both the AWSA and NWSA. From Michigan, Blackwell wrote to his wife that he was working on putting women’s suffrage in the state constitution , writing about the Tilton-Beecher affair as well and how it was messing with the women’s suffrage movement in Michigan.
In 1870, Stone and Blackwell moved from New Jersey to Pope’s Hill in Dorchester, Massachusetts. There, they organized the New England Woman Suffrage Association. Many women in the town were active in the Dorchester Female Anti-Slavery Society. By 1870, many of them had also become suffragists. Stone also founded the Woman’s Journal, which was a publication out of Boston that voiced the AWSA’s concerns. For the rest of her life, Stone would continued to edit the journal with assistance from Henry Blackwell and their daughter, Alice Stone Blackwell.
Rachel Foster Avery invited Stone to assist activists in Colorado in organizing a popular referendum campaign aiming to gain women’s suffrage in Colorado. Stone and Blackwell worked the northern half of the state in late summer together in 1877 as Susan B. Anthony traveled through the less-promising southern half. Most Coloradan politicians either ignored or fought women’s suffrage with the exception of a small handful. Stone’s main focus was convincing voters in Denver during the ballot in October. However, 68% voted against it. Blackwell called this “The Colorado Lesson”.
Stone organized a petition of suffragists across Massachusetts in 1879. At the time, women in the state could vote if they had the same qualifications as male voters to cast votes for school boards. Stone applied to the Boston voting board, but she was required to use Blackwell as her surname in her signature instead of Stone. Stone refused.
Eighteen years after a rift had split the women’s rights movement, Stone proposed they merge the two groups in 1887. They drew up plans at their annual meetings and vote on propositions before passing them on to the other group to evaluate. The organizations finally resolved their differences in 1890 and merged, forming the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Due to heart problems and respiratory illness, Stone was unable to attend the first convention, though she was elected to chair the executive committee.
Carrie Chapman Catt began visiting stone repeatedly at Pope’s Hull beginning in early January of 1891. The purpose of these visits was for Catt to learn Stone’s ways of political organizing. The two of them had met before in October of 1889 at a state women’s suffrage convention in Iowa. Stone had been impressed by Catt’s ambition and sense of presence. For the rest of the winter, Stone mentored Catt, teaching her lobbying techniques and about fund-raising. Catt would later on use this knowledge to finally gail women’s voting rights in 1920.
Stone traveled with Catt and Blackwell to the NAWSA convention in Washington, D.C. in January of 1892. Stone, Stanton, and Anthony, who made up the “triumvirate” of the movement were called away, along with Isabella Beecher Hooker, by an unexpected woman suffrage hearing held before the United States House Committee on the Judiciary. Stone argued that men should be working to pass equality laws in property rights between the genders and demanded for an eradication of coverture, which was a wife folding her property into that of her husband. Her impromptu speech paled in comparison to a preceding speech made by Stanton though. She published the whole of Stanton’s speech in the Woman’s Journal. When they went back to the NAWSA convention, Antony was elected president and Stanton and Stone were made honorary presidents.
Sculptor and poet Anne Whitney convinced Stone to sit for a portrait in sculptor in 1892. For over a year, Stone had protested Whitney’s proposed portrait because she believed the funds would best go towards suffrage work instead. Frances Willard, the New England Women’s Club, and some friend in Boston put so much pressure on her to accept the offer, she finally did Stone invited her brother frank and his wife to see the bust in February of 1893 before being shipped off to be put on display in Chicago for the World’s Columbian Exposition.
In May of 1893, Stone and her daughter traveled to Chicago, where she gave her final public speeches at the World’s Congress of Representative Women. There, she witnessed a strong international involvement in women’s congresses. Nearly 500 women had attended from twenty-seven countries at eighty-one meetings. Stone made a speech where she described the milestone of change entitled “The Progress of Fifty Years”. To form a plan to organizing in Colorado, Stone met with Carrie Chapman Catt and Abigail Scott Duniway. At the end of the month, Stone and her daughter returned home to Pope’s Hill.
Stone wished to attend more meetings at the exposition with her husband, but she was far too weak to go. That September, she was diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer. She began writing final letters to her friends and family, preparing for death with “an unwavering concern for the women’s cause.”
Seventy-five year old Lucy Stone died on October 18, 1893. At her funeral held three days later, over 1,100 people crowded inside the church while hundreds more stood outside. Stone’s death was the most widely reported at the time of any American woman. As she had wished, her body was cremated, the first person in Massachusetts to ever be cremated. Her remains are a Forest Hills where a chapel is named in her honor.