Women’s Suffrage: Lucy Stone

On May 1, 1855 in West Brookfield, Massachusetts, Henry Browne Blackwell wed Lucy Stone.  Blackwell and Stone’s marriage defied conventional social norms in several ways. For starters, Stone refused to take her husband’s surname–an almost unheard of break from social conventions of the period.  Blackwell and Stone took on what was perhaps an even more radical measure by formulating and agreeing to a series of protests that actively defied traditional ideas about marriage and gender. Among the stipulations, Blackwell and Stone agreed that they would openly resist any laws that exclusively gave the husband “control and guardianship of their children” and “sole ownership of her personal and use of her real estate.”  Needless to say, Blackwell and Stone’s marriage immediately drew ridicule and confusion across Massachusetts.   

In many ways, Lucy Stone’s defiant and unconventional marriage typified her enormous legacy and many contributions to the women’s rights movements of the 19th century, including the growing fight for suffrage.  Raised in a family of nine children in rural Massachusetts, Stone spent her adolescence and early adult years exposing herself to progressive ideas of gender and race, as well as actively defying social expectations of a woman’s role in society by fighting for greater rights and privileges.  A district teacher at only 16 years old, Stone protested her school’s committee to increase her salary of $1 a day, which was far less than her male counterparts. Stone ultimately enrolled at Oberlin College–the first American college to admit both women and African-Americans–where she continued to protest for equal wages after receiving lower pay as a female instructor.  And while Oberlin was perhaps the most socially progressive higher education institution of its time, Stone was even more forward-thinking. She even refused to accept an invitation to write a commencement speech in 1847 because the college would only allow a man to recite it.

Despite the constant backlash and resistance she faced in even the more open-minded settings, Stone worked tirelessly and courageously throughout the mid-19th century to advocate for the rights of women and African-Americans.  For years, Stone worked with the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison’s American Anti-Slavery Society, including writing speeches advocating for the abolishment of slavery and protection of basic rights to African-Americans and women and delivering them to often-combative audiences.

Today, Stone is perhaps best known for organizing the first national Women’s Rights Convention in 1850.  Held in different cities in the following years, the Women’s Rights Convention allowed women across the country to meet and organize campaigns for an array of women’s rights issues and hear from powerful and influential figures like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.  Stone continued to tour the country and advocate for suffrage and other essential rights for women and African-Americans throughout her later life, until she passed away in 1892 at the age of 75.

Stone and Blackwell had one daughter together–Alice–who spent her life preserving and promoting her mother’s work and continuing her legacy to fight for the rights and freedoms of women across the country.       

To learn more about women’s suffrage, check out the “Get Out The Vote: Suffrage & Disenfranchisement in America” exhibition from the Special Collections and University Archives.  

David Biel, Candidate for Master of Library & Information Science, University of Maryland.

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