Lucy Stone was born on her family’s farm in 1818 in rural West Brookfield, Massachusetts. Her father did not believe in female education, and discouraged her at every turn except when it came to marriage. Even so, Lucy earned her own money to attend the Mount Holyoke Female Academy and then Oberlin College, becoming the first woman in America to earn a college degree. She would go on to become an influential leader in both the women’s rights and anti-slavery movements, forever securing her place in history.
Her key achievements include:
• First woman in America to graduate from college (Oberlin)
• First woman in America to keep her own name after getting married
• First woman in New England to be cremated (Forest Hills Cemetery, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts)
• Influential leader of the women’s rights and woman suffrage movements
• Influential leader of the abolitionist movement
• Writer and publisher of numerous pamphlets and convention proceedings
• Editor of a national newspaper (The Woman’s Journal)
• Early and effective female public speaker
• Mother of Alice Stone Blackwell, another pioneer in the woman suffrage movement and newspaper editor
What lessons can we learn from Lucy Stone – lessons we can apply to our cause, our business, or organization?
Believe in yourself
Lucy Stone didn’t let her father’s low opinion of her stop her from pursuing an education. Luckily, she had other people in her life who believed in her, and she had faith in herself and in her Creator. She also had a sense of the work she would do in the world because of her exposure, in writing and in person, to other abolitionists and women’s rights advocates.
Her faith in herself guided her throughout her life. At college, despite the fact that women did not speak in public at the time, she studied oratory (public speaking) and formed a club to practice. She started publishing controversial essays as a college student. She took to the stage to speak up for women’s rights and against slavery. She kept her own name when she married. She started a national newspaper. She sided with Frederick Douglass over African American men’s right to vote, even though it meant splitting apart the women’s movement. Decision after decision, although oftentimes controversial, seemed to come almost with ease because of her faith in herself and clarity of purpose.
Whatever it is that you doing in your cause, business, or organization, learn everything you can about it. Learn who the other players are, what’s been done in the past and what needs to be done, where you can plug in, and where you will be effective with your particular talents. Read books, find websites – you need to transform yourself into the expert on your subject. And this work is never done. You should always be learning and growing as you step up more and more into your work.
Lucy Stone never stopped studying, attending events, or discussing ideas with friends, colleagues, or influencers by letter or in person. She was a lifelong student of her two causes because so much was at stake.
Determine the right tactics
If you’re attempting to sway public opinion on something you care about (including attracting members or customers), you need to figure out who you need to reach, where those people are, and how to reach them. In the communications profession we would say: Audience, Message, Method. All three need to work in harmony for it to work.
In Lucy Stone’s case, she spoke at public events (her own or other people’s); met privately with people, including detractors; published and distributed pamphlets and the proceedings of women’s rights conventions; wrote newspaper articles; started her own newspaper; and prepared petitions to legislatures. She also showed up at other people’s events to make her presence known, thereby publicly endorsing other women’s rights advocates and abolitionists.
She also organized. While the first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848, the attendees were mostly local. Lucy Stone helped organize the first national women’s rights convention in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1850, where multiple train lines converged, overnight accommodations were available, the media would show up, and politicians would pay attention. She knew there was strength in numbers, and that a public showing of those numbers would attract others to the cause – and display their seriousness of purpose to opinion leaders and the public.
When the women’s movement split over the 14th Amendment in 1869, Lucy Stone’s group worked for woman suffrage state-by-state, and embraced working class members and issues as well as those from the middle class. The competing group, headed by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, focused on a federal Constitutional amendment and its middle class membership. The state approach is what worked many years later.
Network, and hang out
with like-minded people
Lucy Stone’s network of friends and colleagues was long and impressive. They gave each other strength, ideas, and support. They learned from each other, and raised each other up. Some of them mentored her, while she mentored others. They were in a constant state of learning and doing.
These are the kinds of people you want to be around! Please don’t waste one more second of time with people who don’t believe in you, your business, organization, or cause, or who lower you down in any way. These people are draining away your precious time and energy. You need a “tribe” that will support you!
Be prepared to make controversial
decisions and stand by them
When Lucy Stone married Henry Blackwell, she refused to change her last name, thus becoming the first woman in America to keep her own name. (Thereafter, women who followed her lead were called “Lucy Stoners.”) She and Henry also read a statement protesting the disturbingly sexist marriage laws at the time. Their vows, and their protest, were published widely. During their years together, if Lucy Stone had to sign a legal document or register at a hotel, she had to write, “Lucy Stone, married to Henry Blackwell,” for her signature to be legal.
The year after she was married, Lucy refused to pay property taxes. She and Henry had kept her house in her name, and she wanted to make the point that this was an appalling example of “taxation without representation.” If she couldn’t vote, why should she pay taxes?
After the Civil War, when the 14th Amendment to the Constitution was proposed giving the right to vote to all “male citizens, ” including African American men, the women’s movement split in two. The group headed by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton refused to support the amendment because it did not include women. Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, Frederick Douglass, and others believed that it was literally a case of life or death to secure the right to vote for African American. They also believed their efforts would pave the way for woman suffrage. Stone’s decision set woman suffrage back by many years, but this was the decision she had to make.
Know that you might be ridiculed, criticized, and possibly even threatened. Decide that you don’t care. Protect yourself, but carry on.
In Lucy Stone’s case, during her talks, (some) men would hiss at her, throw eggs, threaten to tear apart the stage, or hurl hymnbooks. (Why hymn books? Because she often spoke in churches, where she used her knowledge of Greek and Hebrew to translate the Bible differently – pointing out that the male ministers had gotten things wrong when it came to women’s supposed inferiority. Hence, the flying hymn books!)
And yes, it takes huge courage to take on the male ministers. Lucy had been raised in the Congregational church, but was outraged that women weren’t accepted as voting members. The church also condemned the abolitionist Grimké sisters, Sarah and Angelina, whose work Lucy so admired. Eventually the Congregational church expelled Lucy for her views, and she joined the much more accepting Unitarian church.
In 1870, Lucy Stone raised money to start a suffrage newspaper called The Woman’s Journal. It was the year after the split in the woman suffrage movement, and Stone wanted to make sure her group’s views were in the public sphere. Yes, she had spoken in public and published articles and pamphlets, but starting a national newspaper and becoming its editor (after Mary Rice Livermore edited it for two years) was quite a courageous endeavor!
Know that you will inspire others to
join you, and be prepared to give them something to do
Some people who sign on to your cause or organiztion will already know how they want to help. They will be self-starters and leaders in their own right, and you will become colleagues. But others may very well contact you to ask, “How can I help?” You need to have answers ready.
These days, anyone with a computer and online access can help you with your newsletter or website. They can forward your news releases or email blasts to their own networks. I’m sure you have a long list of tasks you should delegate to allow you to focus on big picture thinking and activities!
Don’t let people in your life
get in the way
Women are forever being asked to put aside their own aspirations in favor of a husband, their children, or a sick relative. Lucy Stone really had to be persuaded to get married, and it took Henry Blackwell a long time to persuade her to say “yes.” Why? Because almost all of the married women she knew had to put their husbands in first place and set aside their own work. In addition, at the time, marriage laws still favored the husband in all things – property rights, conjugal rights, control over finances, control over the children, you name it. For a woman in the 19th century, getting married was a risky proposition. Luckily, Henry supported her work 100%.
As for children, of course their needs come first, and I feel very strongly about that. But that does not mean martyring yourself by putting your work on hold until whenever. In Lucy Stone’s case, she did suspend her public speaking and traveling when her daughter, Alice Stone Blackwell, was born in 1857 (after an infant son had died). But she still found ways to remain active in women’s rights, and resumed her work fulltime several years later when her services were needed after the Civil War to help pass the 14th Amendment.
(It should also be noted that Alice Stone Blackwell grew up to become a leader in the suffragist movement, the editor of her mother’s newspaper, The Woman’s Journal, the successful peacemaker between the two hostile sides of the woman suffrage movement, a witness to the passage of woman suffrage in 1920, and the author of a biography of her mother. Clearly, Lucy made the right decision and was a wonderful mother and mentor!)
These are all your personal decisions, of course, given your own situation, including when it comes to the care of sick relatives or tolerating dysfunctional friendships. It’s just that historically, women have always been expected to put themselves in second place.
It is NOT selfish to put yourself in first place, even though women are told it is. In fact, as the life and business coach Baeth Davis says, “You cannot be of service to anyone or anything if you are not in service to yourself first.” She also says, “Be of service, not in servitude.” Again, women are still expected to be in servitude, and that is really not okay!
Even in the 19th century, Lucy Stone figured this out and was never in servitude, but happily of service – to her family, and the country.
Lots to be learned from the remarkable Lucy Stone and, as always, I welcome your thoughts!
2011 © Bonnie Hurd Smith
Bonnie Hurd Smith, the President and CEO of History Smiths, is an expert on using history in new and innovative ways. She is a marketing, PR, event planning, and cultural tourism professional who also happens to be a respected historian (especially women's history), author, and public speaker.