Today is the 201st birthday of the activist Lucy Stone. Her last recorded words spoken to her daughter were: “Make the world better.” The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the los that she has left.
NAME: Lucy Stone
OCCUPATION: Women’s Rights Activist, Journalist
BIRTH DATE: August 13, 1818
DEATH DATE: October 18, 1893
EDUCATION: Oberlin College, Holyoke Seminary
PLACE OF BIRTH: West Brookfield, Massachusetts
PLACE OF DEATH: Dorchester, Massachusetts
REMAINS: Cremated, Forest Hills Cemetery, Boston, MA
NATIONAL WOMEN’S HALL OF FAME 1986 (posthumous)
BEST KNOWN FOR: Lucy Stone was a leading activist and pioneer of the abolitionist and women’s rights movements.
Influential women’s rights activist and abolitionist Lucy Stone was born on August 13, 1818, in West Brookfield, Massachusetts. One of Francis Stone and Hannah Matthews’s nine children, Lucy Stone was steeped early on in life the virtues of fighting against slavery from her parents, both committed abolitionists. Smart and clearly driven, Stone was also unafraid to rebel against her parents’ wishes. Having watched her older brothers attend college, the 16-year-old Stone defied her parents and pursued a higher education.
In 1839, Stone attended Mount Holyoke Seminary for just one term. Four years later, she enrolled at Oberlin College in Ohio. While Oberlin touted itself as a progressive institution, the school did not offer a level playing field for women. As a result, the college denied Stone the opportunity to pursue her passion in public speaking. Undeterred, Stone, who paid her way through school, graduated in 1847 with honors, becoming the first woman from Massachusetts to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Under the direction of William Lloyd Garrison, whom she’d met while at Oberlin, Stone soon found work with the American Anti-Slavery Society. Her work with the organization tapped into her continued and heightened passion to eradicate slavery. It also launched her career as a public speaker.
While she was regularly heckled by opponents (she was even ex-communicated by the Congregational Church, the religion of her parents), Stone emerged as an outspoken voice in the anti-slavery movement and the women’s rights cause.
In 1850, the pioneering Stone convened the first national Women’s Rights Convention. Held in Worcester, Massachusetts, the event was hailed as a significant moment for American women, and Stone was a celebrated leader. Her speech at the convention was reprinted in newspapers nationwide.
For the next few years, Stone, who was paid well for her speeches, kept up a relentless schedule, traveling throughout North America to lecture about women’s rights while continuing to hold her annual convention.
In 1868, she co-founded and became president of the State Woman’s Suffrage Association of New Jersey, which would later be succeeded by the League of Women Voters of New Jersey in 1920. She also launched a New England chapter of the association and had helped found the American Equal Rights Association.
In 1855, Stone married Henry Blackwell, a committed abolitionist who’d spent two long years trying to convince his fellow activist to marry him. Though initially taking on her husband’s surname, she opted to go back to her maiden name a year after their marriage. “A wife should no more take her husband’s name than he should hers,” she explained in a letter to her spouse. “My name is my identity and must not be lost.” At their actual wedding, both she and Henry also protested the idea via signed document that a husband has legal dominion over his wife.
The couple eventually moved to Orange, New Jersey and became the parents of a daughter, Alice Stone Blackwell.
As with any high-profile political movement, fissures emerged. After the Civil War, Stone found herself at odds with fellow suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, both former allies who deeply opposed Stone’s support for the 15th Amendment. While the amendment only guaranteed black men the right to vote, Stone backed it, reasoning that it would eventually lead to the women’s vote as well. Anthony and Stanton strongly disagreed; they felt that the amendment was a half-measure, and resented what they perceived as Stone’s betrayal of the women’s rights movement.
In 1890, however, thanks in large part to the hard work of Stone’s daughter, Alice, and Stanton’s daughter, Harriot Stanton Blatch, the women’s rights movement reunified through the formation of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.
While Stone did live to see the end of slavery, she died 30 years before women were finally permitted to vote (August 1920), on October 18, 1893, in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Her ashes are held at a columbarium within Boston’s Forest Hill Cemetery.