Lucy Stone: Crusader for Freedom (A Play)

She fought hard for the rights of "suffering humanity everywhere."
by Kathy Wilmore

About This Play

In 1776, this nation's founders signed the Declaration of Independence. In declaring America's freedom from the tyranny of Britain's king, they said: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness..."

For many generations, however, not all Americans enjoyed the full rights that declaration promised. In many states, blacks were considered property, not people. Women were not allowed to vote, own property, or seek advanced education.

In the years before the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865), a growing number of Americans spoke out against slavery. Called abolitionists, they believed it was wrong for one human to own another, and demanded that slavery be ended.

Some abolitionists also believed that women should have the right to vote, attend college, and take jobs normally held by men. Both of these struggles — for abolition and for women's rights — lasted many years. One of the leaders of both struggles was Lucy Stone.

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Narrator A: It is a rainy evening in 1818. On the Stone family's farm in western Massachusetts, Hannah is hard at work. She is pregnant, and due to give birth any time now.

Hannah: Let me see. I have woven more cloth and mended the children's clothes. The dinner dishes are washed and dried. I should make some more candles next—

Francis: Hannah! The boys and I must go, if we are to save the hay from this wet. See to the cows.

Hannah: Of course, Francis.

Narrator A: Uncomplaining, she milks all eight cows and tends to many other chores before sleeping. The next day, her baby is born.

Hannah: Tell me! What is the child?

Midwife: Hannah, it's a girl!

Hannah: Oh, dear! I am sorry it is a girl. A woman's life is so hard.

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Narrator B:: That baby, Lucy, is now a teenager. Her mother calls her...

Hannah: Lucy, quit your dallying and come help with the washing!

Lucy: I'm not dallying, Mama. I was reading. Did you know that Thomas Jefferson once said that—

Hannah: I don't want to hear it. There's work to be done!

Lucy: But the boys get to read!

Hannah: They are going to college.

Lucy: So am I!

Hannah (wearily): Child, you will be the death of me. How many times must I tell you? Leave men's work to men. It's a woman's lot to cook and sew and tend to her menfolk. You will be a wife, not a scholar.

Lucy (angry): I'll never get married. Mama, never! Why should I make myself a slave, like you are to Papa?

Hannah: That is the way it has always been for women. And you will do as we all do: Learn to live with it. Now wash those clothes!

Narrator B:: Later that day...

Lucy: You wished to see me, Father?

Francis: Yes. Lucy, you are a hard worker. You help your mother with the chores. You can cook and clean and sew. You know as much as any female needs to: it's time you quit school.

Lucy (upset): Please, Father. Let me stay! I want to go to college, and—

Francis: College! Did you hear that, Hannah? Is the child crazy?

Lucy: You are sending my brothers!

Francis: School for a girl is a complete waste of money. Your sisters know a woman's place; so should you. This discussion is over!

Narrator B:: In time, Lucy convinces her father to let her stay in school. But he refuses to pay for it, as he did for the boys. He lends her the money, making her sign an IOU.

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Narrator C:: At 16, Lucy takes a job teaching. Eventually, she pays her father back. She works hard, dreaming always of college. Finally at 25, she has saved enough to attend Oberlin College in Ohio — the first college in the U.S. to accept women and blacks as students. There she befriends another student, Antoinette Brown, who dreams of becoming the nation's first ordained woman minister (a goal she achieves in 1853).

Lucy: Professor, my friend and I want to take your debate class.

Professor: But Obelin's rules say that only male students can take part in debates.

Lucy: That's ridiculous!

Professor: The rules come from the Bible: "Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness."

Antoinette: But we need the practice in public speaking just as much as the men do, if not more!

Professor: Why is that?

Lucy: I want to be an anti-slavery orator, like William Lloyd Garrison, the famous abolitionist.

Antoinette: I want to be a minister.

Professor (startled): But those are not jobs for women. Don't you know that women are not allowed to share speaking platforms with men?

Antoinette: If we cannot debate, what is the point of the class? One of the reasons we came to Oberlin was to learn public speaking!

Lucy: Mr. Garrison says, "Wherever there is a human being, I see God-given rights inherent in that being, whatever may be the sex or complexion." I believe that, and must convince others of its truth.

Professor: Ladies, you may take my class. You may not debate with the men, but I will let you debate each other. We will be breaking the rules, so be prepared for an uproar.

Narrator C:: News of the women's debate spreads. The idea is so unusual, it draws a large crowd. The college administrators, angered by the breach of the rules, make the rules more specific: Female students will not be allowed to debate — not even against one another. But that does not stop Lucy Stone. She organizes an off-campus debate group for Oberlin women.

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Narrator D: Lucy's classmates choose her to speak at their graduation — a violation of the rules. The college administrators offer a compromise: Lucy may write a speech, but a man must deliver it. Lucy is furious.

Lucy: To speak before the public is everything I have worked for, Nettie! How can they refuse me this honor, this great opportunity?

Antoinette: They say that if you don't do it their way, they won't let you graduate. What will you do?

Lucy: I will not sacrifice my principles. If I write a speech, no one will deliver it but me.

Narrator D: In the end, Lucy is allowed to graduate — but not to deliver her speech. With college behind her at last, she boldly takes on new challenges.

Hannah: Can't you see how crazy these ambitions of your are? A woman speaking before a crowd will be laughed at, spit upon, or — God forbid! — torn limb from limb. Just think of the disgrace to this family.

Lucy: Slavery is evil, Mother, and I mean to speak out against it. I expect to plead not for the slave only, but for suffering humanity everywhere. Especially do I mean to labor for the elevation of my sex.

Hannah: No one will hire you.

Lucy: You are wrong, Mother. The Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society has hired me as a speaker. I leave for Boston tomorrow.

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Narrator E: From the first, Lucy is a success in her work. She travels around the U.S. and Canada, lecturing on the evils of slavery and demanding its immediate end. She also speaks of women's rights . . . .

Lucy: Too much has already been said and written about woman's sphere . . . . Leave women, then, to find their sphere. And do not tell us before we are born, even, that our province is to cook dinners, darn stockings, and sew on buttons!

Narrator E: Lucy joins such well-known figures as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Lucretia Mott, and William Lloyd Garrison in organizing the first National Woman's Rights Convention, held in October 1850. Soon after . . .

Woman: Lucy, have you seen the papers? They call our meeting a "hen convention"! Listen: "When a hen crows like a cock, it is time to cut her head off." And the New York Herald calls us a "hybrid, mongrel, piebald, crackbrained, pitiful, disgusting, and ridiculous assemblage . . . . May God have mercy on their miserable souls," it says.

Lucy: Believe me, friend, I have heard far worse!

Narrator E: Lucy's career as a public speaker thrives, and she travels tirelessly. She draws crowds — of the curious and hostile as well as the truly interested. She is screamed at, spit on, and pelted with anything angry listeners have on hand.. But she never gives up. Her courage and clear, spellbinding voice impress many who come to see her — including a young abolitionist named Henry Blackwell. Henry has no fear of bold, independent women: all five of his sisters have careers of their own, two of them as doctors. In 1849, his sister Elizabeth became the first woman to graduate from medical school.

Henry: My dear Lucy, we have been good friends for some time now.

Lucy: Of course, Henry.

Henry: We share the same dreams, the same hopes for the future.

Lucy: What are you getting at?

Henry: I love you, Lucy Stone. Will you do me the honor of marrying me?

Lucy (upset): Henry, how can you ask me that? You know how I feel about marriage! You know full well how our laws make husbands into masters and women their slaves.

Henry: Don't give up a chance for happiness because men have built injustice into the laws. We shall be equals, Lucy, partners for life.

Lucy: But I cannot give up my life's work. There is so much yet to do.

Henry: Lucy, dear, I want to make a protest, distinct and emphatic against the laws. I wish as a husband to renounce all privileges...the law confers upon me.

Narrator E: Lucy agrees to think about it. As she travels and lectures, Henry gets more involved in the cause of women's rights. He also continues his abolition work, risking his life to help slaves escape from he South. In time, his courage and dedication win Lucy over.

Lucy: I will marry you, Henry, but only if you agree to our building a different kind of marriage.

Henry: Of course I will!

Lucy: I will keep the name "Lucy Stone." If I take the name "Mrs. Blackwell," the law will look always to you instead of to me.

Henry: I agree. And we will write new vows for our wedding ceremony, declaring a new form of marriage to protest the unfair laws.

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Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell were wed on May 1,1855. Their new-style marriage inspired many a young woman to continue her career after marrying — a shocking thing, in society's eyes. For many years afterward, women who followed Lucy's example and kept their birth names were known as Lucy Stoners.

In 1869, Lucy helped organize the American Woman Suffrage Association, dedicated to winning women the right to vote. In 1870, she and Henry began a nationwide feminist newspaper, Woman's Journal — the second in the U.S.

Through the Journal and her many public appearances, Lucy spent the rest of her life campaigning for the causes she so deeply believed in: "If the right of one single human being is to be disregarded by us," she once said, "we fail in our loyalty to the country."

Lucy Stone died in 1893. She lived to see the end of slavery, but not the right of women to vote. The 19th amendment gave women that right in 1920.

Adapted from Junior Scholastic, January 27, 1989.

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