because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Lucy Stone

In-your-face women Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton have gone down in history as two of the firebrands supporting women's rights in the 1800's, but who got them on the bandwagon? According to Stanton, it was Lucy Stone, about whom Stanton once wrote: "Lucy Stone was the first person by whom the heart of the American public was deeply stirred on the woman question."

And where did Stone get her ideas? From watching her mother scrape and beg to take care of her nine children while Stone's father drank, raged, and quoted the Bible about how women are supposed to be submissive to men. Stone's take on those Biblical exhortations (even as a child) was that if she learned Greek and Hebrew and read the original documents, she was sure they didn't actually say what the translators had written.

So Stone -- encouraged by the writings of the in-your-face women Grimke sisters -- studied one way or the other until she was nearly thirty. When her first teaching position (at the age of sixteen) offered her only half what a male teacher would make, she protested and received a raise, but not to equal wages. And she made it a practice all her life to counter every social demand that tried to reduce her.

Later, when the Congregationalist church, to which Stone's whole family belonged, sent out an edict that slavery abolitionists -- and most particularly those who were women -- should not be allowed to speak from Congregationalist pulpits, Stone determined to speak as often and anywhere as she saw fit. Even at Oberlin College in Ohio, the first U.S. institution of higher education that admitted both women and African-Americans, women in rhetoric class were supposed to learn by watching the men debate. So Stone and other women so inclined went out into the woods and debated loud and long among themselves to hone their skills for the future.

After her graduation from Oberlin in 1847, Stone proceeded to live the life of a lecturer on abolition and women's rights, though her family had strongly counseled her not to do it and ultimately asked her to at least stay out of Massachusetts where they were. Needless to say, she spoke anyway and headed straight for Massachusetts to boot. She shortened her skirts and wore bloomer-style pants for the freedom. After a year of marriage, during which she struggled with the issue, she officially refused to take her husband's name. And for her belligerence (both public and private), she had ice water, rotten fruit, eggs and even Bibles thrown at her pretty much everywhere she went.

Still, she said, "We want to be something more than the appendages of Society; we want that Woman should be the coequal...of Man in all the...perils and enjoyments of human life. We want that she should attain to the development of her nature and womanhood; we want that when she dies, it may not be written on her gravestone that she was [only] the [widow] of somebody [else]."

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