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Our Rich History: In 1869 Lucy Stone lectures in Cincinnati, refuting stereotypes of her day

By Paul A. Tenkotte
Special to NKyTribune

Sometimes in American history, it seems harder for us to extend dignity and equality for others than it is for us to deny and dehumanize those different from us. Ironically, this behavior betrays our democratic sense of fairness for all, and further, deprives our economy from capitalizing on hidden and undeveloped talents in our population. In other words, it places us at a competitive disadvantage.

In 1869, the Civil War had been over for only four short years. Between 600,000 and 700,000 people died in this tragedy, the worst in the nation’s history. After the war, blacks, women, and others dreamt of a future where individual rights of freedom were color-blind and gender-neutral. Largely, these reformers were to be disappointed. Changes came far too slowly, and even then, some of those changes would later be revoked or have hurdles placed in their way. Such was the case with suffrage (the right to vote) for women.

Lucy Stone. From the collections of the Library of Congress.

In 1869, it would not have been uncommon for a reader to open many newspapers across the nation and to see journalists and editors disparage women. The techniques used to demonize and dehumanize women, in particular, were, perhaps not surprisingly, focused on “attractiveness” or lack thereof. Women suffragists and feminist leaders were all too often depicted as “manly,” or inappropriately dressed. If they were unmarried, newspaper columns took swipes at their appearance or personality, conflating their feminist views as somehow related to a presumed underlying sense of anger for being homely and unmarriageable.

Other journalists thought that women were too emotional, giddy, or childlike to be taken seriously. Women, these male reporters argued, were less educated than men of their day, and seemed designed by nature to be mothers. Further, they had squeaky, high-pitched voices, and raged against men. To women, of course, the arguments used against them were ironic. Men had brought about wars, corruption, and poverty—why not allow women to have a chance at making the nation a better place?

Into such a hornet’s nest, Lucy Stone (1818-1893), one of America’s greatest advocates for women’s rights, commonly walked anytime she made a speech across the nation. Stone was an accomplished orator, the first woman to earn a college degree in Massachusetts, a former abolitionist, and one of the founders of the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) in 1869.

In 1869, the Fifteenth Amendment, guaranteeing African-American males the right to vote, was in the process of being ratified by the states. Many women who had worked assiduously for the cause of abolition of slavery felt rightfully betrayed. Women’s rights reformers became seriously divided over the exclusion of women from the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. In response, Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) founded the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) in May 1869. The NWSA preferred to embrace a much wider platform of women’s rights, in addition to a constitutional amendment for women’s suffrage. On the other hand, Lucy Stone established the AWSA in November 1869. It pursued a more gradual approach to attaining women’s suffrage, focusing on the states themselves.

Pike’s Music Hall on Fourth Street, Cincinnati, Ohio. Completed in 1868, Pike’s “New Music Hall” replaced the older Pike’s Opera House on the same site, which was destroyed by fire in 1866. Source: D. J. Kenny, Illustrated Cincinnati. Cincinnati: Geo. E. Stevens & Co., 1875, p. 38.

On January 26, 1869, Lucy Stone gave a lecture in Cincinnati at the prestigious Pike’s Music Hall on Fourth Street. The Cincinnati Commercial Tribune reporter covering the event managed to tackle some of the worst stereotypes of his day, stating that “Those who had come expecting to be lectured about the pre-eminent excellences of the sex, and the unbearable brutalities to which they were subjected at the hands of the arrogant ‘lords of creation,’ by the traditional female of bluestocking proclivities, of a severe and venerable aspect—and we have no doubt such apprehensions were entertained by many—were agreeably disappointed on being presented to a lady pleasing in appearance and agreeable in voice, whose utterances, marked as they were by the evidence of refined thought and culture, and delivered in a manner singularly natural and engaging, commanded the undivided attention of the audience” (“Mrs. Lucy Stone at Pike’s Hall. Her Lecture Last Night,” Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, January 27, 1869, p. 8).

In a well-attended lecture entitled “Women’s Rights,” Lucy Stone was quick to define her main topic as women’s suffrage. The founding fathers, she claimed, had established the foundations of a nation based upon the government deriving its power from the governed. The Declaration of Independence, as well as the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution, upheld liberty as a self-evident truth. “‘Our fathers did not say that governments derive their just power from the consent of the male sex, they did not say from the consent of the men, black or white. . . . they made the broad statement that governments derive their just power from the consent of the governed. There is where we base our claim, and by consent, the people all mean the same thing—simply suffrage; it is the right to vote . . . so that it follows by our theory of government that every person capable of rational choice is rightfully entitled to vote’ ” (“Mrs. Lucy Stone at Pike’s Hall. Her Lecture Last Night,” Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, January 27, 1869, p. 8).

Lucy Stone also made other connections in her lecture, proclaiming that “ ‘the vote protects the voter.’” For instance, Stone noted that since women could not vote, it was no surprise that “‘almost without exception, that a woman doing the same work is paid far less than a man. We need the vote that we may secure a fair compensation for our services’” (“Mrs. Lucy Stone at Pike’s Hall. Her Lecture Last Night,” Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, January 27, 1869, p. 8).

Lucy Stone rejected the common argument that women were already represented by their husbands, sons, brothers, or other relatives. “ ‘It is no representation at all, for no human being can represent another—no human being can discharge another’s duty.’” (“Mrs. Lucy Stone at Pike’s Hall. Her Lecture Last Night,” Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, January 27, 1869, p. 8).

About eleven months after Lucy Stone’s Cincinnati lecture, Wyoming Territory became the first place in the United States granting women, unconditionally, both the right to vote and to hold political office.

Interestingly, the governor of Wyoming Territory at the time who signed the bill into law was John Allen Campbell (1835-1880). Campbell was born in Salem, Ohio, a city settled by Quakers and a focal point of abolitionism.

We want to learn more about the history of your business, church, school, or organization in our region (Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, and along the Ohio River). If you would like to share your rich history with others, please contact the editor of “Our Rich History,” Paul A. Tenkotte, at tenkottep@nku.edu. Paul A. Tenkotte, PhD is Professor of History at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) and the author of many books and articles.

Photos of Lucy Stone are available at this website.

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