Common causes often draw people together, but it’s not always sufficient to keep them together. Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony are often called the “triumvirate” of the women’s suffrage movement. All three were ardent abolitionists, and all three began speaking for women’s suffrage early in the movement. In many ways that’s where the similarities end.
Lucy Stone was born in 1818, the eighth of nine children to Francis and Hannah Matthews Stone. Unlike Stanton, she was not born into a family of means. Francis Stone owned a small farm in Massachusetts where everyone in the family had to contribute to survive. The boys fished and hunted; the girls made cheese and did piecework to help make ends meet. Francis was also a drinking man and one that believed firmly in a “woman’s place.” He was physically and verbally abusive and Hannah often had to beg him for money to get things for the girls. Where Stanton’s father wished she were a boy because he wanted a boy, Lucy’s mother wished she and her sisters were boys because “a woman’s life is so hard.”
Around the age of twelve Lucy took on much of the housework because of her mother’s ill health, yet she still managed to do well in school. In 1837, at the age of 16, she started to teach. Her dream was to go to Oberlin College. Her father paid for the boys to go to boarding school and then college, but he didn’t believe it was necessary for a woman. At this point, Lucy had probably begun to be a trial for her father. She saw her mother’s position as a trap in which she didn’t want to be caught. They were members of their local Congregationalist church which reinforced many of her father’s ideas. In 1838, the officials of the church condemned the use of the pulpit for abolitionist speeches particularly by women. The Grimke sisters from South Carolina and Abby Kelley had begun to speak against slavery to mixed groups of men and women. The church viewed this as a violation of what they saw as the Bible’s prohibition against women teaching men. Lucy decided two things then: that she would study Greek and Hebrew to better understand the Biblical passages and that if she ever had anything to speak about in public that she would do it.
Between 1838 and 1843, she continued to teach and study when she could. Two of her sisters died during this time and she helped with the children, supporting her mother. One thing that she did learn from her family was her hatred for slavery. She kept up with the fight by reading The Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison’s anti-slavery newspaper, with particular interest in the divisions in the American Anti-Slavery Society caused by women speaking out. She wrote to her brother that some in the Society wanted to “crush Garrison and the women. While it pretends to endeavor to remove the yoke of bondage on account of color, it is actually summoning all its energies to rivet more and more firmly the chains that have always been fastened upon the neck of woman.” Later when she began to speak publicly for the abolitionist cause, she was criticized for injecting women’s rights issues into her speeches.
In 1843, Lucy had finally saved enough money for her first year at Oberlin. She continued to work and study and was able to graduate in 1847 with honors. (Her father also insisted that she compensate him for the money that she was denying the household by being away at college, which she did.) Although Oberlin was ahead of it’s time in many ways (they admitted both African American students and women), they were still constrained by the society in others. The student body selected Lucy to write a speech for the graduation ceremony. The catch was that she would not be able to deliver the speech because she was a woman and the audience would contain both men and women. After much thought, although she had decided to pursue a career as a public speaker, she chose not to write the speech rather than compromise her principles.
One thing that helped Lucy make her decision to pursue public speaking was her experience in a debate club that she founded while at school. During her time there, she met Antoinette Brown, a young woman who was studying to be a minister. While studying rhetoric, they were not allowed to debate in the class, you guessed it, because they were women and the class contained men. They were expected to watch the men debate and keep silent. So they started their own debate club off campus. Then in October of 1847, Lucy gave her first public speech called The Province of Women and her career began.
In 1848, Lucy was hired by William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Philips as a lecturer and organizer for the Boston Anti-Slavery Society. In 1850, she worked with Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis and others to organize a national convention on women’s rights. At the convention her speech met with wide acclaim. She continued her speaking engagements and organizing activities for the next ten years, until the start of the Civil War when most of the women put their activities on hold to assist in the war effort.
Like Susan B. Anthony, Lucy had decided early in her life that she didn’t want to submit herself to the constraints of marriage. Unlike Anthony, she changed her mind. Henry Blackwell noticed Lucy during one of her speeches. He was immediately smitten and began to woo her, a process which took several years. If anyone could have won Lucy over it was Henry. He was raised in a family which strongly supported both the abolition of slavery and women’s rights. His one brother Samuel Blackwell had married Antoinette Brown, Lucy’s friend, who had become a minister as well as a prominent abolitionist and suffragist in her own right, and Henry’s five sisters had all opted to remain single and pursue careers of their own, the most prominent being Elizabeth Blackwell the first female doctor in the United States. Lucy and Henry were married in 1855. As part of the ceremony they read a “Marriage Protest” where they protested the laws which gave a husband control over a wife’s person and sole control and guardianship of the children. Needless to say the word “obey” was left out of the ceremony. Lucy continued her career as a speaker and continued to use her maiden name. She did take time off the lecture circuit when she gave birth to Alice Stone Blackwell in 1857 and throughout the years of the war.
After the war, the differences between some of the primary leaders within the women’s movement began to emerge. The issues are multi-faceted and I may write a future post on them, but for now, there was a split within the movement in 1869. The argument arose primarily over whether or not to fight for suffrage for black men and women at the same time within one amendment, or to work toward the vote for all men and once that was achieved return to the issue of suffrage for women. The 15th Amendment had passed in Congress in February ensuring that no citizen could be denied the right to vote based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Stanton was incensed that it didn’t include the word sex and resorted to racist language that alienated many in the group. She refused to support ratification whereas the majority wanted to support ratification and propose an additional amendment for the suffrage of women. The final result was Stanton and Anthony’s withdrawal and formation of the National Woman Suffrage Association. Lucy Stone responded by creating another organization – the American Woman Suffrage Association.
Over the next 20 years Lucy and the AWSA continued to work for women’s suffrage focusing primarily on individual states. In 1870, she founded the Woman’s Journal, a newspaper that she would write for and publish for the rest of her life. At some point she realized that she was not going to see the women’s vote become a reality in her lifetime, but she had raised Alice to have the same values and knew that she would carry on the fight. She also spent time with Carrie Chapman Catt for the same purpose, preparing her to take up the mantle.
In 1890, the NWSA and the AWSA were finally reconciled, and in 1892, Lucy spoke before the House Judiciary Committee with Stanton and Anthony in support of women’s suffrage. Her last speech was in 1893 at the World’s Congress of Representative Women in Chicago where women from over 27 countries spoke to an audience of over 150,000 people in favor of women’s rights. She died later that year.
When Stanton and Anthony began their History of Woman Suffrage, Lucy was still in disagreement with them and chose not to send a biographical sketch for inclusion. For this reason she is not represented to the degree that she probably should be. But in recent years, her tremendous contributions to the advancement of women’s rights have received more attention. She was truly one of the founders of the women’s rights movement in the United States.
History of Woman Suffrage by Elizabeth Cady Stanton et. al. (6 volume work)
Sisters: The Lives of America’s Suffragists by Jean H. Baker
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815 – 1902)
Susan B. Anthony (1820 – 1906)