Lucy Stone: Speaking out for Equality

Lucy Stone: Speaking out for Equality

Lucy Stone: Speaking out for Equality

Lucy Stone: Speaking out for Equality

Excerpt

The nineteenth century gave us three great woman suffragists: Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony. Today, few are aware of Stone's importance. In the course of research into nineteenth-century American women, I read Morning Star, Elinor Rice Hays's fine biography of abolitionist and suffragist Lucy Stone. Afterward, I asked myself how it was that this great woman had lost her proper place in history. Hays's view of history as territory furnishes a partial answer. Stanton and Anthony, the two great nineteenth-century workers for women's rights whose conduct precipitated the first great schism in the suffrage ranks, were also the authors of the History of Woman Suffrage. Their insistence upon "whittling down" Stone's share in that history is part of the story told in this book. Stone's role in that history is part of the story told in this book. Stone's political activity is another part; and the story of her marriage--a remarkable and doomed effort at an equitable union--forms still another part.

Lucy Stone was a difficult subject for a biography. I am all too aware that hagiography is poor history, and I respect biography as a historian's tool. Stone posed a challenge to credibility: she was a noble woman, selfless to a fault; she hewed to the high ground, leaving her biographer to grasp at flaws. Rather than risk the "hagiography" label, I was tempted to turn the lens of popular psychology on Stone's behavior, seeing her heroism as dysfunction, her noble silence as repression, her altruism as bordering on pathology, and her self-abnegation as a form of co-dependency. Instead, I have tried simply to present the facts, leaving judgments to the reader.

Lucy Stone was in every sense a pioneer. In 1847, she launched her public speaking career on behalf of abolition and woman's rights. A natural and charismatic orator, she held crowds of two and three thousand spellbound. Stone's fame was so widespread that in 1854, P. T. Barnum tried to hire her for a series of lectures. An adroit politician . . .

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