Although her name is mostly forgotten today having been overshadowed by choosing to shun the limelight and having had a rift in her relationship with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone was a highly influential suffrage leader and a part of her legacy lives on every day whenever women choose to keep their maiden name after marriage. Even the famous aviatrix Amelia Earhart was labeled a “staunch Lucy Stoner” by Time magazine in 1931.
Lucy Stone was one of nine children in a Massachusetts farming family. When her father refused to pay for her college despite having paid for her brothers’ educations, she spent 9 years working and saving money to pay her own way at Oberlin College. She became the first woman in MA to earn a four-year college degree. She then took on the very “masculine” job of being a paid lecturer and toured the country with her fiery anti-slavery speeches.
Her future husband and fellow abolitionist, Henry Blackwell immediately fell in love with this strong independent woman. He courted her for two years, but Lucy would lose her status as a “person” in the eyes of the laws if she ever married. Indeed, the current laws in 1855 reduced a woman’s status to an appendage of her husband. A married woman could not keep her own paycheck, own property or a business—even if it was hers before the marriage. A married woman didn’t even have legal guardianship of her own children.
However, she and Henry did love each other very much and wanted to have a family together, so they came up with the radical idea of signing a contract before they got married. They wrote a simple document protesting the laws that took power away from the woman and gave it to her husband. By signing, Henry pledged to never take advantage of the laws and to enter into the marriage as equals. Lucy even kept her own name! The first woman in America to ever do that!
Although women could always choose to be a “Lucy Stoner” many laws, even up until 1975, didn’t let a married woman use her maiden name on legal documents such as passports, bank accounts, or her paycheck. Today, it can sometimes be viewed unfavorably or “unromantic” in society but it’s becoming a more acceptable choice as women are having many work-related and educational accomplishments before marriage; keeping their maiden names not only assists with easier association of past accolades, but can help many women retain a sense of personal identity within a marriage partnership.
So, if a woman chooses to keep her maiden name or hyphenate it after marriage, she has Lucy Stone (and Henry Blackwell, who loved her even more for being her own person) to thank for paving the way.
This week’s song pick:
“You don’t own me” by Leslie Gore https://youtu.be/4QEqLTbEXy0
Posters of the full marriage contract are available in our zazzle shop
Episode 14 Sources: