Women, Men and Suffrage
Nancy Kohlhoff, Valparaiso branch
(Ed Note: This is the seventh in a series of our exclusive publication of the manuscript written by Nancy after much research to fill in the gaps left by history books when dealing with women’s issues and their struggle to gain the vote.)
Elizabeth Stanton and Lucy Stone were contemporaries. Elizabeth was born in 1815, Lucy in 1818. Like Elizabeth, Lucy devoted her life to reform. Because of differences in their backgrounds and personalities, however, the two women experienced some rather large gaps in the fabric of their friendship. Although aware of each other’s work and respectful of each other’s accomplishments, they were cautious friends, especially in later years.
Lucy was not born into wealth and society. Her arrival took place on a lonely farm near West Brookfield, MA, on an August morning shortly after her mother had milked eight cows. Years later, Mrs. Stone recalled her disappointment at having delivered a girl baby because, she said, a woman’s life was so hard. Lucy learned from her mother’s example that a married woman’s lot was an endless series of pregnancies and the harshest manual labors.
She "loved her parents but chafed at the unequal treatment handed to her and her sisters." Although she worked harder and learned quicker, her next older brother Luther was "always given preference because he was a boy."
Education was not provided for Lucy at a fashionable woman’s seminary. She was fortunate to attend the village school. She often hand-washed a laundry for ten or twelve people before walking a mile to school, came home at lunch time to take in the clothes, and walked back to school for the afternoon session. Her father refused to buy her schoolbooks. She could, he said, use her brother’s. As a consequence, Lucy often picked and sold nuts and berries to buy the books she needed. Later, when she announced to her family that she intended to go to college, Father Stone looked at his wife in astonishment and asked, "Is she crazy?"
Lucy enters Oberlin College
It took Lucy nine years to save up enough money to enter Oberlin College. During vacations, she taught classes to earn expenses. Since Oberlin was a station on the Underground Railroad, it attracted many fugitive slaves. Soon a school was started for them, and Lucy was given the teaching assignment. The fugitive slaves, all male and all "densely ignorant and fresh from slavery," thought it was beneath their dignity to be taught by a woman. Eventually though, she earned the respect and loyalty of most of them.
Although as much an advocate of woman’s rights as Elizabeth Stanton, Lucy was less outrageous. When on the speaking circuit after graduation from college, she did not attack the church but simply tried to demonstrate how it was misguided in its subordination of women. On one of her lecture tours, however, she was accosted by an old, adversarial minister. He asked her how she could "possibly get over the scriptural text which says a woman should not speak in public." She replied that she had studied the text in the original and could attest that "the Greek verb which is falsely rendered ‘speak’ should be rendered ‘gabble.’" One observer wrote, "Had a thunderbolt fallen at the reverend’s feet, he could not have looked more astounded."
Also, Lucy confined her woman advocacy primarily to gaining the vote. She believed that once the elective franchise was won, other reforms would come as a result. She did not comment publicly on contraception or divorce and consequently was not accused of advocating "free love"as Elizabeth was.
Though circumspect, she was nevertheless subjected to insufferable humiliations. On one speaking occasion, a group of men broke the window behind her, pushed through a hose and drenched her with ice-cold water. After another of her lectures, an Indiana newspaper reported that she had been seen in a saloon "smoking a cigar and swearing like a trooper." Another newspaper said, "You she-hyena, don’t you come here!"
Marriage Prospects Dim
When still a young girl, Lucy said she would never marry. Father Stone concurred, saying, "Luce’s [sic] face is like a blacksmith’s apron; it keeps off the sparks." But in her mid-thirties, after nursing brother Luther to his death in Indiana, she made the acquaintance of Henry B. Blackwell, owner of a hardware store in Cincinnati. Recovering herself from typhoid fever, she was on her return trip back east. Not surprisingly, Henry Blackwell was an abolitionist.
In recalling their first meeting, Henry Blackwell wrote years later, "She was thin and pale, but with something beautiful in her expression and wonderfully eloquent in her voice and manner." In 1853, he began an intense courtship that lasted two years. He promised Lucy their marriage would be a partnership of equal, and unlike Henry Stanton, he kept his promise.
On May 1, 1955, Lucy and Henry were married at her farm home in Massachusetts. The Rev. Thomas Wentworth Higginson presided and later wrote, "They stood up together and read their Protest, which I enclose; and then my usual form of service proceeded. She had had some scruples about the form…[but] as our views agreed pretty well, she expressed her purpose to ‘love and honor’ (not obey) very clearly and sweetly…and I have to add with secret satisfaction that, after this, Lucy, the heroic Lucy, cried, like any village bride!"
The Protest was their public statement that the usual laws pertaining to the married state regarding ownership of the wife and her property, among other legal and social precedents they found obnoxious, would not apply to them. Lucy even kept her own name.
At news of the wedding, their friends were astonished. Harriet Beecher Stow was incredulous. "Is it possible that that wild boy has married Lucy Stone!" she wondered. According to Alice Stone Blackwell, their daughter, Lucy never regretted her marriage to Henry. Alice said they lived and worked harmoniously throughout their lives.
When Lucy died in their home in October 1893, she whispered her last articulate words, "Make the world better." As Henry and their daughter left her bedside, Henry said to Alice, "We must try to keep Mama’s flag flying."
(Quotes from Blackwell, Alice Stone, Lucy Stone, Pioneer of Woman’s Rights, Plimpton Press, 1930; general background from various published sources on woman’s history. Copyright 1993)
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