Abolitionist and suffragist Lucy Stone was born on August 13, 1818, in West Brookfield, Massachusetts. Stone dedicated her life to helping women receive the same rights as men. She was the first woman from her state to earn a college degree and is considered the “heart and soul” of the women’s rights movement.
From an early age, Stone realized that women were not treated equally to men in American society. They had fewer rights, and were even paid significantly less for the same jobs. She was determined to rise above such accepted inequality. When she was 16, Stone began teaching at local schools. She received $1 a day, far less than that of the male teachers. She opposed this and pressed for equal wages, though she never matched the male rate of pay.
Stone was determined received the highest level education she could. She initially went to Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, but was disappointed in Mary Lyon’s stances on slavery and women’s rights, so she left after one term. In 1843, Stone enrolled in Oberlin College, which accepted female students and even granted them degrees. However, she saw that the injustices against women continued even at the progressive school. Despite this, she graduated in 1847, becoming the first woman from Massachusetts to earn a college degree.
Stone went on to work for William Lloyd Garrison’s American Anti-Slavery Society. In that role, she wrote and gave speeches in favor of abolition and joined in women’s rights activities. Soon, she was being paid more than many male lecturers. While Stone didn’t attend the 1848 Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention, she began corresponding with some of its organizers and other leading suffragists. In 1850, Stone helped organize the first National Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts. She would attend and preside over several more conventions in the years to come.
In 1855, Stone married abolitionist Henry Blackwell, brother of Elizabeth Blackwell. In a decision that was unusual for the time, Stone kept her birth name (even today, women who continue to use their maiden names after marriage are sometimes called “Lucy Stoners”). Stone stressed independence after marriage and publicly campaigned for women’s rights and equal pay. She fought for the right to vote, refusing to pay property taxes under a theory that it was “taxation without representation.”
During the Civil War, Stone helped form the Women’s National Loyal League, which fought for the emancipation of African Americans and the passage of the 13th Amendment. During Reconstruction, she helped found the American Equal Rights Association (AERA), which worked to attain equal voting rights for people of any gender or race. However, an 1869 meeting saw a division of the group – with one side supporting the 15th Amendment (granting voting rights to African American men) and the other side opposing the amendment because it did not include women’s suffrage.
As a result, the group was split into two new organizations, with Stone at the head of the moderate American Woman Suffrage Association. It was their goal to get the 15th Amendment passed and then work on women’s suffrage on a state by state basis. Years later, in 1887, the two groups reconciled and merged, forming the National American Woman Suffrage Association.
Stone registered to vote in Massachusetts in 1879, when women were permitted to vote in some local elections. However, she was denied the right to vote because she didn’t use her husband’s last name. Stone made her final speech at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and died later that year, on October 18, 1893.