On the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, here’s a quick primer on Lucy Stone, a Massachusetts native and one of the pivotal figures in the US women’s movement of the 19th century. Though she helped lay the groundwork for the constitutional amendment that finally gave American women the right to vote, she died a quarter century before the 1919 congressional vote and 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution.
What was so significant about Stone? Together with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Stone was a prominent orator, writer, and activist, working to change the nation’s thinking about gender equality and secure the right to vote. Simply speaking publicly before an audience was rare for women in Stone’s day (at Oberlin College, she was asked to write a commencement speech but not permitted to actually deliver it), and her appearances drew protests. If she is less well-known than the others, that’s in part because of a rift between them. After the Civil War, Anthony and Stanton focused their activism exclusively on women’s rights. Stone, a longtime abolitionist, continued to speak out for the rights of African-Americans as well. When the 15th Amendment to the Constitution was passed, granting the right to vote to all male citizens, regardless of race, Stone saw progress; the others saw a blow to the women’s movement.
Who were the Lucy Stoners? Initially, Stone rejected the idea of marriage as inherently unfair to women. She finally agreed to marry Henry Blackwell in 1855 but insisted on keeping her own name, apparently a first. Eventually other women who married but kept their “maiden” names were called Lucy Stoners — sometimes a term of derision, sometimes proudly embraced.
Tax fight: In 1858, taking a cue from the founders, Stone took on the issue of taxation without representation. That is, she argued she was being asked to pay property taxes on a home she owned in New Jersey but had no say in electing those who imposed the taxes. When the first tax bill arrived, she refused to pay — and garnered significant publicity, if not a victory. The city eventually seized and auctioned some of her household goods.
Disappointment. In one of her most well-known speeches, given in 1855, Stone declared that “Disappointment is the Lot of Women.” She wrote: “In education, in marriage, in religion, in everything, disappointment is the lot of woman. It shall be the business of my life to deepen this disappointment in every woman’s heart until she bows down to it no longer. I wish that women, instead of being walking show-cases, instead of begging of their fathers and brothers the latest and gayest new bonnet, would ask of them their rights.”
Progress: In a speech shortly before her own death in 1893, Stone looked back on 50 years of women’s activism and saw signs of hope, even without having secured the right to vote:
“The last half century has gained for women the right to the highest education and entrance to all professions and occupations, or nearly all. As a result we have women’s clubs, the Woman’s Congress, women’s educational and industrial unions, the moral education societies, the Woman’s Relief Corps, police matrons, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, colleges for women, and co-educational colleges and the Harvard Annex, medical schools and medical societies open to women, women’s hospitals, women in the pulpit, women as a power in the press, authors, women artists, women’s beneficent societies and Helping Hand societies, women school supervisors, and factory inspectors and prison inspectors, women on state boards of charity, the International Council of Women, the Woman’s National Council, and last, but not, least, the Board of Lady Managers. … These things have not come of themselves. They could not have occurred except as the great movement for women has brought them out and about. They are part of the eternal order, and they have come to stay. Now all we need is to continue to speak the truth fearlessly, and we shall add to our number those who will turn the scale to the side of equal and full justice in all things.”
Felice Belman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org