Lucy Stone (1818–93) was an orator, abolitionist, and suffragette who founded the American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1877 she campaigned for a women’s suffrage referendum in Colorado alongside fellow suffrage champion Susan B. Anthony. Although the 1877 measure was defeated, Stone and Anthony’s campaign laid the groundwork for the state’s eventual approval of women’s suffrage in 1893.
Lucy Stone was born on August 13, 1818, the eighth of nine children in a farming family in West Brookfield, Massachusetts. As she grew up, Lucy noticed the inequality in her parents’ relationship. Within the household, her father, Francis Stone, was obeyed without question. Her mother, Hannah Matthews, had to beg her father for money. Lucy received little support or encouragement from her family when it came to her education. The female members of the family worked so that their brothers could attend college.
After being told that she had to work so her brothers could go to school, Lucy decided instead to put herself through Oberlin College without her family’s support. To pay her tuition, she taught and cleaned houses. While in college, she became interested in public speaking and began writing speeches. She found success as an orator and was even asked to write the commencement speech for her graduation. However, after being informed that the school would not let her deliver her own speech and a man would read it in her place, she declined. In 1847 Lucy Stone became the first Massachusetts woman to graduate from college.
After graduating, Stone became an advocate of social reform. She worked for abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and his American Anti-Slavery Society, with her speeches often drawing bigger crowds than the group’s male speakers. She is also known for protesting unequal marriage laws during her own wedding in 1855. Instead of taking the name of her husband, Henry B. Blackwell, Stone chose to keep her own surname in defiance of laws that forced women to change their name and lose their legal status upon marriage. She was the first American woman to do so. At the wedding, a statement was read declaring the couple’s refusal to adhere to prevailing marriage laws. By rejecting these laws, Stone and Blackwell paved the way for more women to secure better treatment in their marriages.
Stone was also a dedicated suffragist. In the late 1860s, however, the women’s suffrage movement split over the proposed Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, intended to grant African American men the right to vote. One side, led by Susan B. Anthony and the National Woman Suffrage Association, opposed the Fourteenth Amendment because it provided voter protections only to “male citizens” and the Fifteenth because it neglected to prohibit voter discrimination on the basis of sex. The other side, which counted Stone as a leading member, wanted to keep working for women’s suffrage while not denying voting rights to black men in the meantime. In this spirit, Stone, Blackwell, and others founded the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) in Boston in 1869.
Stone and Blackwell also cofounded a newspaper called Woman’s Journal, which featured news on suffrage and other political issues, as well as poetry, stories, and editorials for its readers.
Work in Colorado
Stone spent the majority of her time in the Boston area, but she also played a major role in the suffrage movement in Colorado. When Colorado joined the Union in 1876, its new state Constitution included a unique clause (Article 7, Section 2) that allowed for the extension of suffrage by majority vote and required a referendum on women’s suffrage to be held at the next election.
Suffragists targeted Colorado’s 1877 election because they believed that if Colorado women gained the vote, the rest of the western states would follow. For this reason, Stone, Blackwell, Anthony, and other influential suffragists campaigned to sway the state’s male voters. Some Coloradans were displeased that outside parties were interfering in state politics, but they drew a national spotlight to Colorado’s suffrage campaign and were deemed by supporters as “the immortals of the east.” Stone published articles in Woman’s Journal encouraging her readers to support the cause in Colorado by donating or by attending suffrage and equal rights events.
Stone and Blackwell began their campaign in the southern part of Colorado, where they encountered resistance due to the strong influence of the Catholic Church among the region’s largely Hispano residents. The group found more support in the northern counties, especially Boulder.
Despite the efforts of Stone, Anthony, and others, the women’s suffrage referendum was soundly defeated in 1877. Still, suffragists learned much from the campaign. For instance, Blackwell published an article titled “The Lesson of Colorado” in Woman’s Journal, which cited both the movement’s lack of affiliation with political parties and the national weariness from the black male suffrage movement as causes of the campaign’s failure.
By the time women’s suffrage again came to a vote in Colorado in 1893, the obstacles Blackwell identified had been overcome. Decades had passed since the contentious debates over the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and Colorado suffragists built greater institutional support in the years between 1877 and 1893. The state’s suffrage movement became heavily affiliated with the national chapter of the American Woman Suffrage Association as well as the Populist Party. Support from these groups provided a platform to sway enough voters to achieve suffrage for women in Colorado some thirty years before suffrage was granted to women nationally in 1920. Tragically, Lucy Stone died of stomach cancer just months before Colorado’s 1893 referendum passed. Her legacy as a champion of equality helped secure more rights for women across the country.