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 technological upheaval.
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 perfectionism.”
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 below –
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 State.
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 assumption.
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 Journal. 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 publication.
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.