“The Old Maids’ Convention, under the title of Woman’s Rights, met at Syracuse yesterday.”

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 16, 1855

Lavinia Goodell worked tirelessly for women’s rights in the 1870s, and she encountered a fair amount of resistance to her views from both men and women. But even though Lavinia struggled to win people over to her cause, societal attitudes toward women’s roles had already evolved considerably from the 1850s when Lucy Stone, one of Lavinia’s mentors, began advocating for equal rights for women.

Lucy Stone

Lucy Stone was born in Massachusetts in 1818. In 1850, she helped organize multiple women’s rights conventions. A convention held in Salem, Ohio in April declared: “The laws should not make a woman a mere prisoner on the bounty of her husband, thus enslaving her will, and degrading her to a condition of absolute dependence.”

The Liberator, a publication edited by William Lloyd Garrison, announced a convention to be held in Worcester, Massachusetts in October 1850 and said, “The signs are encouraging; the time is opportune.” The announcement continued:

Woman has been condemned, from her greater delicacy of physical organization, to inferiority of intellectual and moral culture, and to the forfeiture of great social, civil and religious privileges…. But, by the inspiration of the Almighty, the beneficent spirit of reform is roused to the redress of those wrongs.

In May 1855, thirty-six year old Lucy Stone married Henry Blackwell. The union was considered scandalous by many because Stone insisted on keeping her birth name and the wedding vows contained no promise that she would obey her husband. The couple also signed a protest detailing their disagreements against laws giving husbands control over their wives. Some commentators rushed to make fun of the couple. The Advocate, a newspaper in Buffalo, New York, wrote:

A copartnership has been formed between Miss Lucy Stone, and a man by the name of H. B. Blackwell. Lucy has sold herself so long as all things in the contract work harmoniously and agreeably to herself and the man whom she has permitted to do business with her in life. Both have protested against the marriage laws, and the wholesome regulation of the Bible and the State, concerning such contracts. They have a notoriety which neither of them deserve, and they have it from many sources, only as a warning to others. One excellent regulation will grow out of the limited contract. Lucy may be compelled to stay at home more than she otherwise would, and thus her taunting and scorning at the Bible and the Church will be less in public for the time being.

The New York Daily Herald reported on a women’s rights convention in Saratoga Springs in August 1855 by saying that Lucy  spoke to 300 or 400 listeners and made “a capital speech.” But the paper also found it necessary to comment on Lucy’s appearance, saying, “She is not gifted overmuch in the line of personal beauty: but there is no denying that she possesses great oratorical talent.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle was far less kind in reporting on a Syracuse convention, derisively calling it “the Old Maids’ Convention” and noting:

Lucy Stone has not yet turned up in the Convention. What these discontented spinsters want is not leave to vote, but the right to preside over a nursery of their own production. Matrimony is the only specific for the woman’s rights malady, and a most thorough cure it works when it can number Lucy Stone among its convalescent patients.

Stone and Blackwell spent the summer of 1856 near Viroqua, Wisconsin. On July 4, 1856 Lucy Stone delivered a women’s rights and anti-slavery speech. A historical marker in Viroqua commemorates the event.

Lucy Stone Memorial at Viroqua, Wisconsin

The Viroqua newspaper again damned Lucy Stone with faint praise:

On account of the great crowd in attendance, her lecture was delivered in the Grove. She is a very excellent speaker. Her Anti-Slavery, and a portion of her Women’s-rights opinions are all well enough, yes, very good; but Women never will demand universal suffrage, and accept the responsibilities and unnatural hardships inseparably connected with the exercise of that natural attribute of man.

Lucy Stone ignored the naysayers and continued to advocate for women’s rights for the rest of her life. The Woman’s Journal, which she founded in 1870, gave a platform to many women advocating for equality for their sex, including Lavinia Goodell. Lavinia wrote many articles for the Woman’s Journal and frequently corresponded with Lucy Stone. In an 1873 letter, Lucy Stone wished Lavinia good luck in her legal studies.

Lucy Stone letter to Lavinia Goodell

In 1876, during a visit to Boston, Lucy Stone and her daughter took Lavinia to visit their old friend William Lloyd Garrison. A few months before her untimely death in early 1880, Lavinia was formally listed as a contributor on the masthead of the Woman’s Journal. Lucy Stone survived Lavinia Goodell by thirteen years, dying in 1893 at the age of 75.

Sources consulted: Brooklyn Daily Eagle (August 16, 1855); New York Evening Post (May 9, 1850); The Liberator (October 4, 1850); New York Daily6 Herald (August 18, 1855); The Advocate (Buffalo, new York, May 17, 1855); Potosi Republican (Potosi, Wisconsin, May 19, 1855); Kenosha Democrat (Kenosha, Wisconsin, March 14, 1856); Vernon County Censor (Viroqua, Wisconsin, July 19, 1856); Letter from Lucy Stone to Lavinia Goodell (August 21, 1873).

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