Zimmer on McMillen, 'Lucy Stone: An Unapologetic Life'

Sally G. McMillen
Rebecca Zimmer

Sally G. McMillen. Lucy Stone: An Unapologetic Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. xiii + 338 pp. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-19-977839-3.

Reviewed by Rebecca Zimmer (University of Southern Mississippi) Published on H-SHGAPE (February, 2017) Commissioned by Jay W. Driskell

Unrecognized Innovator and Rule Breaker: Lucy Stone’s Life

Sally G. McMillen begins her Lucy Stone with a discussion of statues of great national figures found in the rotunda of the Capitol Building. Addressing the statue of woman’s rights workers Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Susan B. Anthony, McMillen contends that “there should be a fourth figure memorialized here, and her absence is nearly astonishing” (p. x). McMillen is, of course, referring to Lucy Stone, and throughout the book, McMillen notes both the reasons that Stone’s statue should have been included and the likely reasons it was not.

Only four biographies of Stone precede McMillen’s, the most recent being Joelle Million’s Woman’s Voice, Woman’s Place: Lucy Stone and the Birth of the Woman's Rights Movement, which came out in 2003. McMillen used previous works for background, including Alice Stone Blackwell’s 1930 biography of her mother. McMillen indicates that sources written by Lucy Stone are scarce, as she kept neither a diary nor any other accounting of her reform activities, which is, in part, why Stone has not been given the recognition McMillen argues she deserves.

From her childhood, Stone was a Garrisonian abolitionist and argued ardently in favor of woman’s rights. Wanting to join her older brothers away at college, Stone was unable to do so until Oberlin College opened its doors, making way for women to attain university degrees. However, Stone still had to work against the barrier presented by her parents, who did not wish her to attend university, and who refused, for the first few years Stone was at Oberlin, to help her pay her way.

It was while at Oberlin that Stone made several important decisions. First, she decided she would never marry, because of the inequality of the institution. Second, and arguably more importantly, Stone decided she would become a public speaker, despite the fact that she was not allowed to speak in public forums at Oberlin. Following the examples of the Grimké sisters and Abby Kelley Foster, Stone began to speak publicly on issues of slavery and woman’s rights. Although her audiences were small at first, Stone soon became famous on the lecture circuit. Her popularity as a public speaker is one of the many reasons McMillen indicates she should have been included in statue in the Capitol rotunda.

After her extended courtship with Henry Browne Blackwell, Stone abandoned her collegiate resolution to never marry. An abolitionist and woman suffragist himself, Blackwell promised Stone she would be an equal in their relationship. Indeed, throughout their life together, Blackwell kept to that promise, and Stone was able to live her life in the manner she deemed fit, only with a companion, and eventually a child, rather than alone.

Together, Stone and Blackwell founded the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), an inclusive organization that included women and men among its membership. Although she argued that her goal was not to work against Stanton and Anthony’s National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), the two organizations rivalled one another. Although both organizations worked toward the goal of woman suffrage, the AWSA was almost completely omitted from the second volume of The History of Woman Suffrage (1882), McMillen notes, because “this was history from the perspective of the NWSA and its leaders” (p. 224). The exclusion of Stone and the AWSA from this book is another reason Stone’s impact on the woman suffrage movement has often been overlooked.

Although Stone was arguably exceedingly important in the struggle for woman’s rights, McMillen’s assertion of her primacy undermines the book to some extent. Stone’s work was important, and she deserves the recognition given her by McMillen, however, she did not work in isolation. Despite their disagreements, Stone, Stanton, and Anthony still worked toward similar ends, women’s equality. Additionally, her decision not to keep a diary or leave written speeches or other papers could indicate that Stone herself did not wish to be given too much credit. Furthermore, as McMillen states, Stone took significant amounts of time away from the movement, and occasionally had difficulty speaking in public in her later years, struggles that show that her contributions to the movement were interrupted by her personal life. Despite these minor shortcomings, McMillen has provided a comprehensive view of Stone’s life.

Showing Stone’s faults as well as the many ways she furthered the woman’s movement, McMillen has written a well-rounded monograph. The book is both clear in its argument and exceedingly readable. Indeed, as the most approachable of the Stone biographies, it would make an excellent addition to any course on the history of the woman suffrage movement or feminism in America at either the graduate or the undergraduate level.

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Citation: Rebecca Zimmer. Review of McMillen, Sally G., Lucy Stone: An Unapologetic Life. H-SHGAPE, H-Net Reviews. February, 2017. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=47554

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