Lucy Stone was born in 1818 on a farm in Massachusetts. She was the 8th of 9 children, 6 of them boys. Her mother, Hannah, had a difficult life and often wished aloud that her three daughters had also been born boys because "a woman's lot is so hard." Lucy's father, Francis, was an abolitionist and a believer in as much education as he could get for his sons, but he was also a drinker who became violent on occasion, and insulted his daughter Lucy's looks even when sober.
Since her mother's health was poor, Lucy was doing a lot of the household work by the time she entered her teens. Lucy's daughter would eventually write about how Lucy "drove the cows to pasture by starlight, before the sun was up, when the dew on the grass was so cold that she would stop on a flat stone and curl one small bare foot up against the other leg to warm it." Despite all this work, she managed to do well at school. At 16, she began teaching school herself, and to her father this certainly meant she had enough learning. However, Lucy wanted to attend college and saved enough money to start at Oberlin College in Ohio (the only U.S. place of higher learning that admitted women at the time) in 1843 when she was 25. At least, she had the $70 for the first year's tuition; earning money to stay on involved cleaning houses at 3 cents an hour and taking a job teaching African-Americans to read (though some of them objected to being taught by a woman) for 12.5 cents an hour. Her work and determination impressed her father enough that he did agree to lend her $15.
Oberlin had granted degrees to both white women and African-American men in the decade since its founding, but even among such radicals, Lucy Stone stood out for her views. Abolitionism was commonly supported in the college community; women's rights were not. Most female students at Oberlin wanted to be educated largely for the sake of being able to educate the children they planned to have. Lucy was the sort to organize a female debating club when she was forbidden to join the male students' debates. At graduation in 1847, her classmates chose her to present an essay at the graduation ceremony, but the college would not allow her to read it in front of a mixed audience. Lucy chose not to write an essay at all if it would have to be read by a man.
After her graduation (making her first woman in Massachusetts to earn a college degree), Lucy wanted to become a professional lecturer, despite people's negative attitudes about women speaking in public. Her sister wrote her that "Father says you better come home and get a schoolhouse." However, when Lucy went back to Massachusetts and spoke against slavery in the pulpit of her brother's church, her father attended the lecture and gradually become reconciled to Lucy's choice of career.
Lucy was hired by the American Anti-Slavery Society as a lecturer. Speaking on the controversial subject of abolition was dangerous for anyone, much less a woman who in many opinions shouldn't be speaking out at all. All sorts of tactics were used to try and break up the lectures and meetings, but Lucy was almost never stopped. Her daughter records, "Once, in the winter, a pane of glass was taken out of the window behind her, the nozzle of a hose was put through, and she was suddenly deluged with cold water in the middle of her speech. She put on a shawl and went on with her lecture."
The people of the anti-slavery cause, however, felt that Lucy's mixing in thoughts on women's rights into her abolitionist speeches was out of place and hurting their cause. An arrangement was made with the Anti-Slavery Society where Lucy would speak against slavery during the better-attended weekend lectures and on women's rights only on weekdays.
In 1850, she first made the acquaintance of Henry Blackwell, brother of the U.S.'s first female physician Elizabeth Blackwell. She made quite an impression on him, and he did his best to get to know her better; they corresponded and eventually he started to court her. But Lucy was not then interested in marriage; her parents' situation had probably convinced her that it was impossible for any marriage to be happy and fair for both spouses. She also believed that a true reformer couldn't be distracted by a personal life. Henry did his best to win her with words, offers to organize her lecture tours, and promises that "I would not have my wife a drudge . . . Perfect equality is the relationship . . . I would have."
The action that spoke louder than words to Lucy was in September 1854 when Henry participated in the rescue of an eight-year-old girl who was an escaped slave on her way back to Kentucky after being captured before reaching safety in Canada. The rescue was successful, but Blackwell's role in it lost business for his Ohio store, made Kentucky and Tennessee pro-slavery groups place a bounty on his head, and could have gotten him indicted under the federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.
This proof that Henry was willing to act on his principles warmed Lucy's heart to his courtship. As their daughter, Alice Stone Blackwell, phrased it, "After two years of arduous courtship, they were married on May 1, 1855." But it wasn't a traditional ceremony; Henry read aloud a protest which said, in summary, that just because they were getting married did not mean that they supported or meant to live by the laws which "confer upon the husband an injurious and unnatural superiority." This protest was published in the Worcester Spy newspaper the next day.
It was only after the marriage that Lucy made her intention to keep using the surname "Stone," becoming the first American woman to keep her name completely (rather than just using it as a stage name or pen name and having her husband's surname in private life). She had spoken to several lawyers and was assured that it was custom, not law, that automatically changed a woman's surname on marriage. She went by "Mrs. Stone" to acknowledge that she was a married woman, but was often obliged to sign legal documents "Lucy Stone, wife of Henry Blackwell" to satisfy officials who insisted that her husband's name be noted in the document because of a husband's legal powers over his wife.
In 1856, Lucy made a gesture against the "taxation without representation" that women suffered, by refusing to pay property taxes on the family home, which was intentionally still in her name so that she could have an income that was legally her own and not Henry's. The local authorities seized some furniture from the house to make up for the money that was owed, but the publicity surrounding this incident was helpful to the cause of women's rights.
Lucy continued lecturing on behalf of abolitionism and women's rights, and Henry continued to try and make money to support himself and now Lucy, though he wasn't much of a businessman. He was often away from home. Since the historic Seneca Falls Women's Rights Convention in 1848, women's rights advocates held such conventions at least annually, and Lucy was frequently asked to organize such conventions. Often she did, but at times there were clashes of wills such as in 1857. Lucy refused to be in charge of that year's convention because she was near the first of her first child, but Susan B. Anthony, a friend of Lucy's but a single woman who was never pleased with any activist who let personal life interfere with their cause, insisted that Lucy had to be the organizer. The convention did not happen that year as a result of their mutual stubbornness.
Raising Alice, Lucy and Henry's only child to survive infancy, did put a damper on Lucy's lectures for a few years, and the Civil War did the same for the following few. At the end of the Civil War, the slaves of the U.S. were freed, and in 1866, the Fourteenth Amendment granted the freed slaves citizenship, but also introduced the word "male" to the U.S. Constitution in specifying who was allowed to vote. The period of ratification of this amendment caused a lot of division among people who had formerly worked together -- the sides were those who wanted the amendment passed so that black men could vote now, and votes for women could be the next priority, against those who felt that this amendment specifying gender was a bad precedent. When the amendment was ratified, women's rights campaigners started taking female suffrage as their number-one priority, even though in 1848 at the earliest conventions it had been seen as far less likely than reform of marriage and property laws.
However, there were still disagreements between women's suffrage advocates. As a gap grew in priorities and tactics between Lucy Stone and her former friends Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Lucy founded the American Woman Suffrage Association while the others led the National Woman Suffrage Association. Lucy's group, the AMSA, was more socially conservative, ignoring divorce reform and the positions taken by NWSA supporters Victoria Woodhull, a free-love advocate, and George Train, a racist (even for his era) eccentric who said white women's votes in the South could serve to cancel out those of the black population. The National lobbied for federal action on female suffrage; the American took a state-by-state approach. Lucy was editor of what was originally the AMSA's newspaper, the Woman's Journal, for much of its existence. The two groups did eventually merge in the 1890s, twenty-five years after their original division, with Alice Stone Blackwell as a major force toward the recombination.
Lucy Stone kept speaking in support of women's rights despite her growing ill health into her last years. She died of stomach cancer in 1893. Her final words to her daughter Alice, also a suffragist, were "Make the world better." More than 1000 people came to her memorial service, and she made another first by becoming the first person in New England to be cremated. After her death, Henry and Alice both worked as officers in the newly combined National American Woman Suffrage Association, and Alice wrote her mother's biography in 1930, 10 years after the United States finally granted women the right to vote. And the Lucy Stone League, an organization to promote married women's keeping their born names, was founded in 1921.
Baker, Jean H. Sisters: The Lives of America's Suffragists. New York: Hill & Wang, 2005.
Blackwell, Alice Stone. Lucy Stone: Pioneer Woman Suffragist. Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1930.
Lewis, Jone Johnson. "A Soul As Free As the Air: Lucy Stone." http://womenshistory.about.com/library/weekly/aa062899.htm June 28, 1999; updated March 16, 2000.