The woman’s suffragist movement took over seventy years from the inception of feminine
activism until the passage of the 19th amendment to the Constitution in 1920
granting women the right to vote. The
well-known leaders of this movement were Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. There was another leader who played a
substantial role in this regard for well over forty years, and yet who has not
received nearly as much recognition as she deserves. That woman is Lucy Stone.
She became an exceedingly eloquent spokesperson for equal
rights for women and for woman’s suffrage.
She was a woman of firsts –
• First woman to speak full-time as a relentless advocate
for woman’s rights
• First woman in Massachusetts to earn a college degree
• First woman to keep her birth name after marriage.
Stone was known for her remarkable organizing ability, adept
skill at lobbying lawmakers and especially for the power of her intellect and
her natural charisma.
Stone was born on August 13, 1818. After her birth her mother was reported to
say, “I’m sorry it’s a girl. A woman’s
lot is so hard.” She grew up on a
subsistence farm and lived in a clapboard farmhouse. She was the sixth child born to Hannah Stone
and the day before Lucy was born, her mother had milked eight cows. In the 19th century, women had few options besides
being a wife and mother. There were a
limited number of professions open for women, including nursing and
teaching. It was part of the plight of
women in that era to “suffer and be still.”
Paradoxically, this period in history was rife with social, moral and
Stone describes her growing up in the following way, “It was
so hard and so difficult that if I had been at the foot of the loftiest peak of
the Rocky Mountains with a jackknife in hand and had been told, “Hew your way
up” it would have been pristine compared to my task.” In fact, many aspects of her personality that
would typify her behavior throughout her adult life have been shown to be
common among abused children.
Her father was Francis Stone; he was hard working, had a
problem with alcohol abuse and was quick to anger. He saw himself as the undisputed head of the
household. Growing up in such a male-dominated
and repressive environment had a lasting impact upon the young and
impressionable Stone. She was variously described as extremely intelligent,
rebellious and stubborn.
In regards to her ancestry, Gregory Stone left England in
1635 and immigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Historically, of the sixty men who stood at
Lexington Commons on the morning of April 19, 1775 during an event what would
represent the first armed resistance of the revolutionary war, twenty-five were
related to Gregory Stone. Stone’s
grandfather, Francis Stone, led a tumultuous life – he fought during the French
and Indian Wars and was involved in the farmer-led Shay’s rebellion of 1786.
In a speech Stone delivered in 1855 in support of woman’s
equality, she describes herself in the follow way -“From the first years to
which my memory stretches, I have been a disappointed woman…In education, in
marriage, in religion, in everything, disappointment is the lot of woman. It shall be the business of my life to deepen
the disappointment in every woman’s heart until she bows down to it no longer
When Stone was thirteen years old, she heard of series of
lectures regarding woman’s rights that was touring Massachusetts, Pennsylvania
and New York. The woman who was leading
these discussions was Frances Wright. In these talks Wright called for equal
educational opportunities for women and insisted that women have the right to
control their own property after marriage.
Although Stone probably did not personally attend these talks, she heard
of them and was influenced by their content.
She was so upset when she learned of the inequities that women had to
endure when married that she vowed at a young age that she would never marry in
spite of the fact that during that era marriage seemed to be the only
economically viable option for women.
Stone was determined to go to college - in 1837 Oberlin College had initiated a college degree program for
women. Oberlin was founded in 1833 by
evangelical reformers; it rapidly became a center for the abolitionist
movement. Its agenda was focused on the
education of women and its mission was to instill in women a “moral
The political climate during the time she was a young woman
was tumultuous and was indicative of a culture in flux. It was earmarked by the populism espoused by
President Andrew Jackson. It was also an era driven by
industrialization, the fever of national expansion and the romanticism of the
Transcendental Movement. Stone had the opportunity to read and hear
women speak publicly about such issues as slavery and woman’s equality. She was particularly taken by the women who
had the moral courage to speak out about such controversial issues. Stone describe her experiences in the
following way, “I was young enough then so that my indignation blazed.”
Stone left home at Coy’s Hill in August of 1843 at the age
of twenty-five to attend Oberlin College and escape the confining and oppressive
environment of family life. She would,
however, return to her place of origin periodically to find some degree of
solace from her frenzied existence.
Within the nourishing environment of college life, Stone matured
rapidly. Ultimately, however, her
evolving ideas regarding a woman’s right to vote, run for office, have access
to a professional life commensurate with men and the content of her public
speaking became problematic for the college.
She worked long days in pursuit of her studies and during the spring of
her second year, she wrote for the biweekly paper, The Plain Speaker. In addition, she published articles and
letters in reform-minded publications.
Also, she began to help organize young women’s debating teams. These activities would certainly presage her
long and eventful career of public speaking.
Stone would express her feelings during this formative time of her life
in the following way, “Women will not always be a thing. The signs of the times indicate a
change. I see it in the coming events
whose shadows are cast before them, and in the steady growth of those great
principles which lie at the foundations of all our relations. I hear it in the inward march of freedom’s
host and feel it deep in my inner being.”
Stone graduated in 1847 and returned to Coy’s Hill. At that time, the nation was in the midst of
the Mexican War – General Zachery Taylor had advanced as far as Mexico City. She gradually established herself as an
effective orator. People began to attend
her talks in large numbers. She had a
remarkable gift for public speaking; she had the uncanny ability to incorporate
plain prose and timely anecdotes in her presentations; her style was remarkably
persuasive. Stone became particularly
involved in the abolitionist movement and, as a result, became close friends
with William Lloyd Garrison. She befriended such notables in the
transcendentalist movement as Henry Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bronson Ascott.
Eventually her passion shifted towards woman’s rights. At that time, she was the only woman making a
career of lecturing on such a hot-button issue.
In 1848, there was a woman’s rights gathering at Seneca Falls, New
York. The culmination of this meeting
was a Declaration of Rights and Sentiments crafted by Elizabeth Cady Stanton – a feminist theoretician and Lucretia Mott –
a Quaker abolitionist. This declaration
insisted upon equal equality for women and the right to vote (woman
suffrage). Momentum for the institution
of these rights was growing and Stone was recruited to participate in a traveling
tour in order to propel this cause forward.
Her talks drew crowds often numbering between two and three
thousands. Eventually, Stone began to
charge a nominal fee upon admission; she did well.
Although Stone’s focus was now clearly on woman’s suffrage
and equality, she had not forgotten her abiding interest in the abolitionist
cause. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, as a part of the Missouri Compromise,
made it abundantly clear that slavery remained a divisive issue within the body
politic. Under this act, all slaves who
fled their enforced servitude and were subsequently apprehended were subject to
forceful return to their captors. She
toured New England, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Ottawa, Canada speaking out
against slavery and advocating woman’s rights.
She also argued persuasively for divorce reform and for a woman to have
control over her own body.
In this regard, Stone said the following, “We want to be
something more than the appendages of Society; we want that Woman should be
coequal and help-mate of Man in all the interests and perils and enjoyments of
life. We want that she should attain to
the development of her nature and womanhood: we want that when she dies, it may
not be written on gravestone that she was the “relict” of somebody.”
In regards to her personal life, Stone was courted from 1850
by Henry Blackwell a successful southern businessman who was
committed to the reform movement and was one of the founders of the Republican
Party. They were finally married on May 1,
1855. Given her past history of abuse at
the hands of her often tyrannical father, Stone had serious misgivings
regarding marriage and especially in the area of sexual relations. Nonetheless, she relented. Both Stone and Blackwell, however, issued on
the day of their marriage what they referred to as a “Marriage Protest,” in
which they stated that, “…we enter our protest against rules and customs which
are unworthy of the name, since they violate justice, the essence of all
law.” Regarding her marriage Anthony
charged Stone with, “defection from the woman’s rights cause.” Their life together was not without problems
in matters of intimacy and economics.
In 1861, the South attempted to secede from the Union
creating what they referred to as the Confederacy. President Lincoln found this wholly unacceptable and the nation
entered a time of extreme strife and the Civil War ensued. Near the end of the war Stone and Anthony
presented a resolution to the New England anti-slavery society that specified
that the anti-slavery and woman’s rights organizations combine efforts to
secure political rights including suffrage for both women and the Blacks. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 decreeing that the slaves were free;
although, this would have no reality until the war was over with the assumption
that the Union forces would be victorious.
In April of 1865 the Confederate armies under General Robert
E. Lee surrendered.
The Union was preserved at a terrible cost – 620,000 lives were lost and
the nation was terribly wounded. As a
consequence, President Lincoln was assassinated in April of that year.
At this time in Stone’s life, she had a daughter, Alice, now
eight years old and Blackwell was in the midst of serious financial
difficulties. Immediately after the war
the nation entered a period of national Reconstruction. At that time Lincoln was pushing for the
passage of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The contents of this amendment are listed
Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States,
and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and
of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which
shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States;
nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without
due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal
protection of the laws.
Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the
several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number
of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to
vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice
President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and
Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is
denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of
age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for
participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein
shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall
bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such
Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in
Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil
or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having
previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the
United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or
judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United
States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or
given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may, by a vote of
two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.
Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United
States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and
bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be
questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any
debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the
United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all
such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by
appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
This amendment was eventually ratified and passed due in
large part to the impassioned persuasion of Senator Charles Sumner for
Massachusetts who was well a known champion of the abolition of slavery. In section 2, as shown above, it clearly states
that any state that denied its male citizens twenty-one years of age the right
to vote could have its representation in Congress reduced. Stone lobbied to broaden the definition to
include women. This proved unsuccessful.
Nonetheless, Stone was determined to keep both Black and
woman suffrage before the public. She
argued for what she regarded as, “natural justice.” She stated that, “Women and Blacks need the
ballot to secure equal means of education.”
These sentiments were not shared by either Anthony or Stanton. In fact, the issue of race would divide the
ranks of woman suffragists and retard the progress of the movement for more
than 30 years.
Wendell Philips, a leading voice in the
American anti-slavery society, was opposed to joining forces with the woman’s suffrage
movement. This represented a growing
breech between the two movements.
According to Philips the, “Negro’s hour and the hour of women had not
yet come. “ He refused to merge forces;
for, he believed that such a merger would endanger the chances for full Black
suffrage. In addition, Stanton was
attempting to win the support of the Democratic Party for women suffrage in spite of the fact that
the party was on record as being in opposition to Black civil rights and Black
suffrage. Frederick Douglass strongly objected to this tactic. Stone felt that this was an error in judgment
on Stanton’s behalf; for, it risked the loss of allies in the anti-slavery
movement. She refused to separate the
two causes being deeply passionate for both.
Stone was invited to address the Impartial Suffrage
Convention in Topeka Kansas. This proved to be a problematic event in
regards to the history of woman suffrage movement. At that time, the state of Kansas was in
the midst of the divisive politics that resulted from the destabilizing effects
of Reconstruction. Kansas was a hotbed
of mistrust and political corruption. In
addition, the Republican Party was dominant in the state and it was riven by
factionalism. Kansas Republicans had no
interest in supporting woman suffrage; their focus was directed exclusively to
Black suffrage. To make matters worse,
decidedly racist statements made by leading suffragists including Anthony and
Stanton added to the developing controversy.
In fact, at the opening session of the American equal rights association (AERA) Anthony’s response to
Frederick Douglass’ criticism of her reference
to blacks as “Sambo” and “bootblacks” was the following, “If the “entire
people” could not have suffrage , then it must go first to the most intelligent
for if intelligence, justice and morality are to have precedence in the
Government, let the question of woman be brought up first and that of the negro
last.” Stone was devastated by these
and other comments made by her associates;
this was to represent a definite split within the suffrage leadership.
In addition, Anthony enlisted the help of George Frances
Train, a so-called Copperhead
Republican and unabashed racist, and did not oppose accepting Train’s
connection with AERA. In
fact, she traveled around Topeka with him.
These statements and affiliations cost the woman’s suffrage
movement dearly. They lost the support
of William Lloyd Garrison who wrote a letter to Anthony proclaiming that
she had, “departed so far from true self-respect as to be travelling companions
and associate lecturers with that crack-brained harlequin and semi-lunatic,
George Francis Train.”
On February 27, 1869 the fifteenth amendment to the
Constitution was passed granting Blacks full voting
rights. Anthony and Stanton had
published anti-fifteenth amendment articles hoping to prevent its final
ratification to no avail. This position
did further damage to the cause.
Disheartened by these countervailing forces, Stone argued that, “If one has a right to say that you cannot
read and therefore cannot vote, then it may be
said that you are a woman and therefore cannot vote. We are lost if we turn away from the middle
principle and argue for one class…Woman has an ocean of wrongs too deep for any
plummet, and the negro too has an ocean of wrongs that cannot be fathomed. There are two great oceans; in the one is the
black man, and in the other is the woman.
But I thank God for the Fifteenth Amendment and hope that it will be
adopted in every State, I will be
thankful in my soul if anybody can get out of the terrible pit.”
Unfortunately, this was not the end of the controversy that
besieged the suffrage movement.
Stanton, Anthony and others wove an insidious web of scandal that would
provoke harsh criticism of not only them but the movement that they supported. Among their ranks entered Victoria Woodhull who became a vociferous spokesperson for the
suffrage movement and was embraced by Anthony and Stanton. She was, in fact, an unabashed advocate of
free love. At thirty-three years of age
she was a self-proclaimed prostitute, mesmerist, spiritualist – claiming
Demosthenes as her medium, healer, blackmailer, extortionist, stockbroker and
journalist. Woodhull also became a
presidential candidate of dubious distinction in 1871. She also published an account of an alleged
affair between the prominent minister Henry Ward Beecher and Elizabeth Tilton, who were prominent
supporters of woman’s suffrage. Stone
had written to Anthony urging caution in regard to enlisting the support of
Woodhull within the movement. In the coming years, Stone began to despair
regarding the cumulative damage done by all of these missteps. Membership in Anthony and Stanton’s group,
the national woman’s suffrage association (NWSA), had fallen off to the point
that meetings had become “parlor-size.”
By 1882, the organization was all but dead.
Stone recognized, however, that there was also cause for
optimism. Woman’s suffrage proposals
were under legislative consideration in nearly every northern and western state
and women had been enfranchised in Utah and Wyoming. In 1881, suffrage amendments were presented
in Indiana, Nebraska and Oregon. In
addition, twelve states had passed laws granting women full access to all
levels of education and women were working alongside men in professions from
which they had been previously barred.
Even though Stone was tiring of her efforts and had been
suffering bouts of illness and in spite of the fact that Blackwell was prone to
serious depression, she did not shy away from making her views known. From a book entitled, Sex in Education
, the author, Dr Edward Hammond Clarke a Boston
physician and a member of Harvard Medical School, proposed that a woman’s
education needs to be adapted to her more delicate nature. In it he states categorically that, “Women
who tried to study ethics or metaphysics would suffer from menstrual
irregularities; their energy would be physically weakened and subject to brain
fever.” This book was immensely popular;
because, it gave credence to the prevailing notion regarding a woman’s role in
society especially held among the male population. Stone was persistent in her rebuttal to this
At a gala event in Boston in 1876 celebrating the Boston Tea
Party, Stone gave a speech that was well received. In it, she argued that women were still “held
politically below the pardoned rebels, below the enfranchised slaves, and on
the same level as idiots, lunatics and felons.” It must be remembered that at that time,
women had no legal rights to their own children. They were legally prevented from selling
their own land or leaving an estate to their descendants following their death.
The persistent sexual scandals centered around Woodhull,
Anthony, Stanton and Beecher had significantly diminished the ranks of
self-proclaimed suffragists and increased the difficulty of adding recruits in
the 1870’s. Tilton sued Beecher for the
“alienation of his wife’s affections.”
Yet Stone persisted in urging that women organize and engage in
political action, “in very town.” Yet
another factor that contributed to the apparent decline in interest among women
regarding the suffragist movement was the Panic of 1873 that had a profound
economic impact among the working class.
The rift between Stone and Stanton and Anthony continued to
worsen during this time. However, Stone
continued to write, lecture and encourage women to demand equal rights for
themselves. A major conduit for the
expression of her views was the Woman’s
. This was a publication she
was primarily responsible for and consumed considerable energy in keeping it
going. In this she was helped by her
daughter, Alice, who eventually took complete responsibility for its
In the meantime, Anthony and Stanton had published two
volumes of the History of Woman Suffrage
in which they made no mention of the Stone’s AWSA. In spite of this, Stone refused to press for
being given appropriate credit for her relentless efforts for the cause. By 1887, her health steadily worsened
ultimately impacting her joints, throat, heart and kidneys.
A funeral was held for Stone on October 21, 1893 in
Boston. The funeral was described in the
following way – “No woman in America had ever called out so general a tribute
of public respect and esteem.” Among
her pallbearers were two sons of William Lloyd Garrison, the noted abolitionist. Tributes were offered
not only throughout the nation but also around the world. She left behind a remarkable legacy including
scholarships and public buildings in her name.
Her most important contribution, however, was providing the momentum to
keep the woman’s rights and woman’s suffrage movements moving forward to reach
its ultimate goal almost forty years following her death with the passing of
the nineteenth amendment to the
Constitution in 1920 granting women the unalienable right to vote.