’s Affect On American Women’s Rights Essay, Research Paper
On August 13, 1818, Lucy Stone was born. The daughter of a meek, docile mother and an oppressive, alcoholic father, few would have expected that she would become so important in the suffrage scene. Stone became the first Massachusetts woman to get a college degree, the first woman to keep her own surname after marriage, and the first New England person to be cremated. She converted great women such as Julia Ward Howe, Frances E. Willard and even Susan B Anthony to suffrage. She started the American Women’s Suffrage Association upon the split of the American Equal Rights Association and edited the Association’s popular and influential “The Woman’s Journal.” Without her work in the women suffrage circles and the AWSA’s influence in the nation, American women might not hold the place in society they do today.
Lucy’s father, Gregory Stone, was a wealthy, prominent farmer and tanner in Massachusetts. He held strong to the belief that men were divinely ordained to rule over women. Lucy’s mother Francis, quiet and reserved, accepted this, but Lucy had some trouble with it. When she found that the Bible seemed to agree with her father, she “wanted to die,” until she began to suspect that the translations of the Bible from Greek and Hebrew might not be entirely true. This inspired in her a desire to study Greek and Hebrew to find out whether the Bible was correct. Lucy Stone wanted to go to school.
Even though her brothers were sent to college, her father was shocked at her idea and refused to pay her tuition. She knew she would have to educate herself, so she began to teach school to earn money. During this time, her anger toward women’s status of the day increased, especially when she learned that, because of her gender, she had no vote in the church she attended. She eventually became Unitarian. After nine years of work, she eventually had enough money to go to collge. She went and worked while there to ensure she had enough money, but during her third year her father finally relented and decided to help her. In 1847, she became the first Massachusetts woman to graduate from college (Malone 80).
In 1848 Lucy lectured at a woman’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. There was no formal woman’s rights society yet in existence. But this changed in 1850, when Lucy Stone headed the first national Woman’s Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts and helped arrange later annual conventions. She paid with her own money to have the proceedings published. The Woman’s Rights Convention served to produce a Declaration of Sentiments, stating that women deserved certain rights and speaking out against the seventeen crimes they claimed men had done against women. After attending this convention, she traveled throughout the US giving lectures on suffrage and abolition. She was earning between $500 and $1000 per week from lecturing fees. This was an enormous amount of money in a time when the average laborer’s salary was around $600 a year. Lucy Stone, however, earned between $25,000 and $50,000 a year (Kerr 653).
Stone had many suitors and rejected each of them. But she reviewed her attitudes toward marriage after receiving the attentions of the untirable Henry Browne Blackwell, already a fellow suffragist and abolitionist. Blackwell wooed and eventually won her with visions of an equal marriage founded on woman’s rights principles although it went against her true feelings (Lasser and Merrill 91). She wrote the following in a letter to a Antoinette Brown Blackwell, a dear friend and the wife of Henry Blackwell’s brother:
“If the ceremony is in N.Y. we want you to harden your heart enough to help in so cruel an operation, as putting Lucy Stone to death. But it will be all according to law, so you need feel no punishment. I expect however to go to Cincinnati & have the ruin completed there– (Lasser and Merrill 143)”
But marry she did, and with the understanding that she would retain her maiden name. She did this to protest restrictive marriage laws. For example, in most states, a husband had a legal right to beat his wife. All of a woman’s earnings belonged to the husband, she couldn’t make a contract, and she couldn’t make a valid will without her husband’s consent, unless she left everything to him. He was the sole owner of any children, could part them from their mother, could give them away for adoption without her consent, and could bequeath by will to whomever suited him. She also felt that when a woman gave up her own name, she also gave up her individuality in order to conform to her husband. Stone’s husband respected this, and joined with her in her cause. He has often been referred to as the “one man in America who devoted his life to securing equal rights for women.” They had two children, a son that died shortly after birth, and a daughter, Alice Stone Blackwell. Alice later became well known in the suffrage movement (Filar).
The Stone-Blackwell family lived in New Jersey for a while, and in 1858 she let her household goods be sold for taxes. She used the incident for a written protest against “taxation without representation (Malone 81).”
When the long-anticipated Civil War finally began in 1861, Lucy Stone and Antoinette Brown Blackwell began to help to secure the freedom of black Americans and the reunification of the nation by giving speeches and leading meetings all over. When the war ended, Stone and her husband devoted themselves to fighting for full rights of citizenship, especially the right to vote, for ex-slaves. They hoped that by broadening the voting public they could perhaps broaden it to also include women (Lasser and Merrill 164-165). Lucy was there in 1866 when the American Equal Rights Association was formed to help fight for universal suffrage, and she was made a member of the executive committee (Malone 81). But because of the wording of it, even though the 14th Amendment was passed, it proved controversial among woman’s rights advocates and former abolitionists. The amendment allowed for black citizenship and suffrage, but it contained the first explicit gender reference in the Constitution. It read,
“But when the right to vote at any election…is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such state,…the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such state (U.S. Constitution).”
This amendment didn’t contain just one negative gender reference, but three. By implication, then, women would remain second-class citizens in American.
In 1867 the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association was organized, mostly through her efforts, and she was appointed president. In 1868 she and her husband helped organize the New England Woman Suffrage Association, and soon moved to Boston to aid the movement in Massachussetts. Then a split occurred in the American Equal Rignts Association, because of differences in methods. The group split into the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association, Lucy helping to form the latter. The AWSA was more concerned with gaining suffrage by states. As chairman of the organization, Lucy felt that Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, leaders of the NWSA, were too radical in their approach. She began to help to publishing the group’s magazine, “The Woman’s Journal of Boston,” in 1870 and took over publication two years later. The Journal’s publication lasted for 47 years with help from her husband and daughter. With the income from the magazine, she was able to raise money for her women’s rights campaigning (Malone 81).
Under Lucy Stone’s leadership, the AWSA sent a Memorial “to the Honorable Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States in Congress Assemblies.” It was a letter requesting a law authorizing women citizens of the United States and of the District of Columbia and “all other Territories” to vote and hold office on the same terms and conditions as men. It also asked that Congress use necessary steps to amend the Constitution to make sure the right was unquestionable (AWSA). This memorial was drawn up in 1872. Women didn’t get the vote until 44 years later.
As the years passed, Lucy became more and more aware of her aging. Concerned with the future of the suffrage movement and afraid of burdening her daughter too heavily, she began to think seriously about the reunification of the suffrage movement. In 1887, after many years of refusal to compromise, mere spiritedness, and pointless stubborn acts, she finally agreed to negotiate with the leaders of the rival NWSA. However, after twenty years of mutual hostility and mistrust, negotiations weren’t easy. But she and her daughter met with Susan B. Anthony and her protegee Rachel Foster to negotiate conditions for the reunion. The merger was completed in 1890, with the first meeting of the National American Woman Suffrage Association held in Washington D.C. (Lasser and Merrill 234).
Exhausted by her seemingly fruitless labors, Lucy Stone died after years of illness on October 18, 1893, at her home in Dorchester before she could finally see the suffrage battle finally won (DuBois 619). The 19th Amendment was finally passed in 1920, but it seemed to be passed only to make the suffragists happy, to quiet them after years of annoyance. This is obvious in the wording of the Amendment which reads, in its entirety,
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation (US Constitution).”
But Lucy didn’t die without hope. According to her daughter, some of her last audible words were, “Make the world better,” a legacy that she left to all of us.
American Woman Suffrage Association. Memorial. Feb 4. 1988. (26 Jan 1999)
The Constitution. Amendments XIV and XIX.
DuBois, Ellen Carol. “Book Reviews.” Journal of American History Sep. 1988; 618-619.
Filar, Beth. Lucy Stone 1818-1893. Oct 31, 1996. (10 Jan 1999)
Kerr, Andrea Moore. “Reviews of Books” American Historical Review Apr. 1994; 653.
“Lucy Stone 1818-1893.” Women in the Past (10 Jan 1999)
Malone, Dumas. Dictionary of American Biography. Vol 9. New York; Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1964. 12 vols.