The Speech That Set the Women’s Rights Movement on Fire

Growing up on a farm in West Brookfield, Mass., Lucy Stone resented her father’s iron control over the income her mother earned from selling eggs and cheese. Stone channeled that resentment into leadership of the women’s rights movement.

Women's Rights Leader Lucy Stone

Women’s Rights Leader Lucy Stone

Stone, born in 1818, was the first Massachusetts woman to earn a college degree. She graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio in 1847 and became a lecturer for the women’s rights movement. She had a beautiful voice and proved a mesmerizing speaker. She was “a little meek-looking Quakerish body, with the sweetest, modest manners and yet as unshrinking and self-possessed as a loaded canon,” according to one description.

Two years after the Seneca Falls Convention gave birth to the women’s rights movement, Stone helped plan the first National Woman’s Rights Convention in 1850 along with a who’s who of abolitionist, temperance and women’s rights leaders:  William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Sojourner Truth, Abby Kelley Foster, and Frederick Douglass.

Organizers chose Worcester, Mass., for the convention, then a hotbed of radical thought and the home of Stone, several other abolitionists and networks of Quaker families who helped organize the anti-slavery cause. More than a thousand women from 11 states attended the meeting, held on Oct. 23-24 at Brinley Hall, along with condescending newspaper reporters who called it “an insurrection in petticoats.” Stone was one of the last to speak, but what a speech she gave.

“We want to be something more than the appendages of Society; we want that woman should be the coequal and help-meet of man in all the interest and perils and enjoyments of human life,” she said. “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 the “relict” of somebody.”

Stone wasn’t the only woman to give a terrific speech at the convention. But Stone paid to have the proceedings published in a book and distributed. Susan B. Anthony said reading that speech converted her to the women’s rights movement.  The scornful press backfired and enlisted new advocates for the cause of women’s rights as far away as the United Kingdom.

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