Who Was Lucy Stone?

This is Lucy Stone, as photographed this week by Matthew Ireland.* Intriguing, no? So I wanted to learn more.

Her statue is on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. It's near my friend Dev's condo. Our high school is also on Comm Ave, a few miles west.

Our middle school, meanwhile, is in Jamaica Plain. It abuts Forest Hills Cemetery, which is 275 acres, complete with an arboretum and sculpture garden. Buried there: e.e. cummings, Anne Sexton, and Eugene O'Neil. So there's some good writing in the neighborhood soil. Lucy Stone also rests there.

(Note to Orin: Reggie Lewis is buried there, too. No wonder you have our b-ball team undefeated).

Like many of our students, Stone had a tough upbringing. Dad was a hard drinker (cider) with a bad temper. There were 9 kids and little money.

But she was plucky from the jump. When told the Bible described women as inferior, she figured the locals had simply mistranslated, and that she'd grow up to learn Greek and Hebrew to set the record straight.

Our teacher training program enrolls a lot of 22-year-olds. Lucy Stone started teaching full-time at age 16.

In 1837, she replaced a male teacher in Paxton but was paid less than half his wage. Stone asked for equity, and her salary subsequently increased to $16 per month ($310 in current value)—higher than average pay for a woman but less than that of a man doing the same work.

Many of our students go on to become first-in-family to attend college. Lucy Stone was first woman in Massachusetts to go to college: Oberlin. There she did learn Greek and Hebrew. Also, she was a fairly good public speaker. Just one problem. Women were forbidden to speak in public.

Stone and Brown both took part in Oberlin's rhetoric class, but women were not allowed to speak in public, supposedly because of specific passages in the Bible which forbade it. Women studying rhetoric were required to do so by listening to the men debate....

Stone and Brown both intended to speak in public after graduation, and they convinced Professor James A. Thome, the head of the department and a liberal Southerner who had freed his slaves, to let them debate each other. The session was heavily attended, and the debate "exceptionally brilliant", but, through complaints from the Ladies' Board (an organization of faculty wives), the college clamped down on any further such experiments.

A few years later she was chosen to be the graduation speaker by peers. But Oberlin faculty wouldn't let her.

After graduation, William Lloyd Garrison hired her for the American Anti-Slavery Society in Boston. Her job was to speak against slavery.

In 1848, while walking through Boston Common, Stone stopped to admire a statue known as The Greek Slave and broke into tears, seeing in the slave girl's chains, the symbol of man's oppression. From that day forward, Stone included women's rights issues in her speeches.

This was a problem. Garrison didn't want her mixing the slavery issue with the gender issue.

They worked out a compromise. Weekends she could talk about slavery. Weekdays she was free to talk about women. But her salary got cut from $6/week to $4/week.

In the summer of 1852, Stone went to Seneca Falls, New York to meet at the home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and help draw up the charter for a proposed "People's College." Horace Greeley was there, and Stone met Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Amelia Bloomer for the first time.

Wow, a charter school! Or rather, a charter college. The idea was a new school which would "admit women on the same terms as men." But the idea was instead incorporated into Cornell University.

I wonder what Stone would think now: with women significantly outpacing men in achieving college degrees. But Stone still got something out of that meeting.


Stone admired Bloomer's trousered dress that she had been advocating since 1850 as offering greater freedom of movement and being more hygienic.

Her boyfriend didn't love the pants, but he got used to them. Harry Blackwell liked Stone from his first glimpse of her, as she proposed full civil rights for women be added to the Massachusetts Constitution.

He said:

"I decidedly prefer her to any lady I have met, always excepting the Bloomer costume which I don't like practically, tho theoretically I believe in it with my whole soul."

Blackwell gained an introduction to Stone through his late father's friend William Lloyd Garrison, proposing marriage to her within an hour of their first meeting. Blackwell was soundly refused, but he began an irresistible two-year courtship with Stone.

They married with vows called "Marriage Protest," which John Stuart Mill had modeled -- basically a pact of equality. A year later she mentioned to Susan B. Anthony she wanted to keep using Lucy Stone as her professional name. It seems as if she was the first woman to do so.

Stone helped get the 13th Amendment Passed. During Reconstruction, she turned to voting rights. Her organization, AERA, split. Many, including Stone, supported a proposed 15th Amendment, giving voting rights to black men, while separately pursuing equality for women.

Others, including Susan B. Anthony, didn't want that half loaf: they wanted a constitutional amendment which would include women, too...or nothing.

Charter school advocates faced a similar issue in Massachusetts in 2009. There was a ballot initiative to eliminate all caps on charter schools. And there was a law under discussion which would reduce the caps, but keep them in place. It was a classic political decision: compromise or hold out for ideal scenario?

Charter opponents indicated that they'd be willing to allow the law (less cap) to move forward if the ballot initiative (no cap) were removed from the ballot. So charter opponents took the half loaf deal.

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There's an empty Boston school building named after her. It was shut down in 2009. This is a 10 minute tribute video.

It looks lonely. I'd bet that Lucy Stone would have wanted a thriving school there that would allow lots of boys and girls of all races to become first in their families to get college degrees....

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*I found the pic through a great Boston blog called Universal Hub.

**Beware, beware, beware. All this history came from Wikipedia. Who the heck knows how precise it is.

***Dear readers, I realize I owe 5 other blog posts about New Orleans, Houston, and other stuff. But today was a snow day. You're lucky I didn't just post photos of Nash "shoveling" snow -- and by that I mean transferring snow back onto the driveway, rather than off of it.