Among those who will grace the back of our new $10 bill are Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. A white marble monument that stands in our Capitol’s rotunda heralds these three as “peerless” leaders of the 19th century women’s rights movement. Both tributes represent an incomplete rendering of our past, ignoring one of the greatest women of her day: Lucy Stone.
Born into a Massachusetts farm family in 1818, Stone acquired a remarkable education, putting herself through Oberlin Collegiate Institute and graduating at 29 as one of the first women in our nation to earn a bachelor’s degree. She chose public lecturing as her career at a time when women did not engage in such pursuits. The Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society hired her in 1848, and soon Stone became one of the best-known, most captivating lecturers of the 1850s, addressing in her uncompromising manner both anti-slavery and women’s rights. She often attracted thousands of listeners. She also was a key figure in organizing annual women’s rights conventions during the 1850s. When Stone married in 1855, she and husband Henry Blackwell publicly protested laws that subjugated married women. They created a partnership of equals, rare in those days. She also took the then radical step of keeping her maiden name.
At the end of the Civil War, Stone supported the passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, giving black men citizenship and the right to vote. Stanton and Anthony opposed these, insisting that white women come first, often employing racist rhetoric to argue their case. When these two women founded the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) in 1869, Stone, finding it impossible to work with them, established the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). Both fought for women’s suffrage. In 1870, Stone founded the Woman’s Journal, a weekly newspaper covering all news related to women. This paper, published until 1920 when women gained the right to vote, was later recognized as having had an indelible impact on passage of the 19th Amendment. Stone also remained a major presence in the AWSA, lecturing and traveling nationwide. When she died, she became the first New Englander to be cremated, not wanting her body to take up much space on earth.
Why have we forgotten Lucy Stone? For one, she was humble to a fault, never promoting herself, never writing about herself, refusing to let anyone write about her. To her, the movement was first, not the individuals running it. In contrast, Anthony and Stanton were self-promoters. In the 1880s, the two produced three massive volumes covering the women’s rights movement, filled with primary and secondary source material favorable to the NWSA and its members. Stone and her vibrant organization were ignored. Historians have relied on these slanted volumes for decades when researching the women’s suffrage movement, thus producing skewed accounts of our past. Tragically, Lucy Stone has been all but erased from our history.
Sally G. McMillen is Babcock Professor of History at Davidson College.