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"Woman's Suffrage"

Woman`s Suffrage Engraving
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[ This description is from the project: Object of the Month ]

This illustration by Fredrikke S. Palmer, staff artist of the Boston-based Woman’s Journal, appeared on the cover of The Torch Bearer, a pamphlet published in 1916 to outline the history and finances of the Journal. The Woman’s Journal was founded in 1870 by Lucy Stone and her husband Henry Blackwell as the official publication of the American Woman’s Suffrage Association.

Who was Lucy Stone?

Lucy Stone was born on 13 August 1818 in West Brookfield, Massachusetts, the eighth of nine children born to Hannah Bowman (Matthews) and Francis Stone. Francis was a tanner and farmer and as was typical with such a large family, the children were expected to contribute financially as soon as they could—once chores were done for the day, Lucy and her sisters were employed in sewing the uppers of shoes and, later, teaching. Early on, Lucy chafed against the traditional role of woman as wife and mother and the causes of woman suffrage and abolition of slavery became her life's passions.

Her father was staunchly opposed to paying for his daughter's schooling, so Lucy used her own earnings from teaching to fund her education, first for a single semester at Mount Holyoke in 1839 where her radical abolitionist views clashed with those of the administration and later at Oberlin Collegiate Institute. Oberlin was founded in 1833 and began offering admission to women in 1837. Lucy earned her degree in 1847 at the age of 29—the first Massachusetts woman to do so and one of only a few nationwide.

In 1848, Lucy was hired as a lecturer by the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, a career choice utterly disdained by her family and society at large. Courageously responding to her mother's concerns about lecturing, Lucy wrote "If, while I hear the wild shriek of the slave mother robbed of her little ones, or the muffled groan of the daughter spoiled of her virtue, I do not open my mouth for the dumb am I not guilty?" In 1851, Lucy turned her prodigious oratorical talents towards the cause of woman's suffrage, although she continued to speak on abolition. It was on a lecture tour through Cincinnati in 1853 that she met the man who would overcome her opposition to marriage and become a life partner in abolition and suffrage—Henry Browne Blackwell. Henry and Lucy married in 1855, breaking with tradition and reading a "protest" at their wedding aimed at preserving Lucy's autonomy against laws that ceded all of a woman's rights to her husband. The protest ended with the following statement:

We believe that personal independence and equal human rights can never be forfeited, except for crime; that marriage should be an equal and permanent partnership, and so recognized by law; that until it is so recognized, married partners should provide against the radical injustice of present laws, by every means in their power.

In defiance of tradition and the law, Lucy kept her last name after her marriage, the first woman in the United States to do so. Henry and Lucy had one child, Alice Stone Blackwell, born in 1857, who would continue her parents' crusades after their deaths and write the first biography of her mother. After a long and tumultuous career, Lucy Stone died at the age of 75 on 18 October 1893, having seen the end of slavery, but not the attainment of a woman's right to vote. A trailblazer in death as in life, Lucy Stone became the first woman in New England to be cremated. Her remains, along with those of her husband and daughter, lie in Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston. 

The AWSA and the Woman's Journal

In 1869, due to disagreements about the Fifteenth Amendment granting the vote to African American men, a schism formed in the women's rights movement leading to the formation of two competing national associations dedicated to women's suffrage. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who opposed the Fifteenth Amendment, formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) while Lucy Stone founded the more conservative American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). The organizations both fought for women's right to vote, but the NWSA also took stands on broader women's rights issues such as divorce laws and wage discrimination.

In 1870, Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell founded the Woman's Journal, the official organ of the AWSA. The journal operated in the red almost from the beginning and Lucy and Henry subsidized the publication heavily in addition to their (unpaid) work soliciting subscriptions, advertisements, and financial and editorial contributions. In 1883 their daughter Alice joined the staff, becoming sole editor after her father's death in 1909. Although the journal was never a financial success, it had a wide circulation and played a vital role in the success of the woman's suffrage movement. In 1917 the journal was purchased by the Leslie Woman Suffrage Commission headed by Carrie Chapman Catt and renamed The Woman Citizen. After the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, The Woman Citizen gradually went from a weekly to a monthly publication, finally ceasing publication in 1931.

"Can She Do It?" Massachusetts Debates a Woman's Right to Vote: Now on Exhibit

Commemorating 100 years since Massachusetts ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, this exhibition at the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) explores the activism and debate around women's suffrage in Massachusetts. Featuring dynamic imagery from the collection of the MHS, "Can She Do It?" Massachusetts Debates a Woman's Right to Vote illustrates the passion on each side of the suffrage question. The exhibition is open at the MHS 26 April through 21 September 2019, Monday through Saturday, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM.

For Further Reading

Baker, Jean H. Sisters: The Lives of America's Suffragists New York: Hill & Wang, 2005.

McMillen, Sally G. Lucy Stone: An Unapologetic Life Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Ryan, Agnes E. The Torch Bearer: A Look Forward and Back at the Woman's Journal, the Organ of the Woman's Movement Boston: The Woman's Journal and Suffrage News, 1916.