A Massachusetts suffragist returns from the dead
Presidents’ Day honors our country’s leaders. But what about lesser-known figures, like Lucy Stone?
Stone was the first Massachusetts woman to earn a degree, one of the first women in the country to keep her maiden name after marriage, and Susan B. Anthony’s inspiration to become a suffragist.
Actress Judith Kalaora, a 34-year-old West Roxbury resident, gives voices to some of history’s most under-represented individuals through her living history performances. She is the director of History At Play , a historical theater troupe, and will portray Stone at the Pembroke Public Library on March 7.
I am not by any means what you would commonly call a feminist,” Kalaora said. “But being aware and educated of the incongruences between the genders and ethnicities, the despicable treatment, it is impossible not to speak up for the oppressed.”
History At Play employs 15 professionally trained performers who visit senior centers, schools, libraries, museums, and other venues. Kalaora herself depicts women across eras, including heroines of World War II and Christa McAuliffe, the New Hampshire teacher and astronaut who died in the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. In 2022, she will begin portraying Princess Diana.
“I’ll know within the first 30 to 40 seconds if I want to portray a character,” Kalaora said. “But it takes me at least a year and a half to two years to do all the research, to find costumes.”
As the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women’s right to vote, approaches in 2020, Kalaora feels connected to Stone.
“She got people to listen that generally would block their eyes or turn away,” Kalaora said. “She captured men’s hearts.”
Stone was born in 1818 in West Brookfield. Her father sent her brothers to college, but refused to pay for her education, according to Kalaora. Stone worked as a teacher, eventually signing a promissory note with her father to fund her schooling.
She attended Mount Holyoke College for a semester, returning home when her sister became ill. Stone finished her education at Oberlin College in Ohio. After college, she took a job with the Massachusetts chapter of the American Anti-Slavery Association.
“At this point, she is touring the nation,” Kalaora said. “She’s a celebrity, really one of the first.”
Soon after, a schism in the women’s suffrage movement occurred, according to Kalaora. After the emancipation of slaves, Stone focused on getting black men the vote and working on the state level, while Susan B. Anthony believed in universal suffrage at the federal level. Stone formed the American Woman Suffrage Association in 1869 and Anthony sided with the National Woman Suffrage Association, two groups that remained divided for 21 years.
“That’s the tragedy. I wonder how much sooner we could have had our vote,” Kalaora said. “Men looked at them and said ‘They can’t even get their act together, why should we let them vote?’”
Stone died in Dorchester in 1893. She was the first person cremated at the Forest Hills Crematory, and her ashes were interred at Forest Hills Cemetery. Her last words were to her daughter, Alice.
“Make the world better,” said Stone.