From the beginning, Mount Holyoke has attracted and fostered the growth of women who go on to make an indelible mark on the world. One of these notable students is Lucy Stone, a suffragist in the 1800’s. Now remembered as an influential women’s rights and abolitionist leader, Lucy’s origins were humble. Though she demonstrated a strong aptitude for knowledge and learning as a child, Lucy’s father forbade her from pursuing a formal education. Undeterred, she enrolled at Mount Holyoke at age nineteen, paying her own way through school from her income as a teacher. She was so confident in her decision to pursue an education that she later repaid her father the income she would have made had she not attended Mount Holyoke.
Though she strongly believed in her own mission, some obstacles arose in her path. When her older sister passed away, Lucy withdrew from Mount Holyoke to care for her two infant nieces. Though this delay set her back, she didn’t abandon her goal of attaining a college education. In the years immediately following, she taught at the local schoolhouse to save money to return to school and privately studied Greek and Latin. In 1843, Lucy enrolled at Oberlin College, where she graduated in 1847, making her the first woman from Massachusetts to earn a college degree.
After graduating, she didn’t slow down. A tireless opponent of slavery, Lucy traveled widely to give speeches on abolition as well as on women’s rights. During that time, a woman speaking publicly before audiences of mixed gender was frowned upon; on occasion, she was pelted with eggs, rotten fruit, ice water and prayer books, and posters for her appearances were frequently torn down. Nevertheless, Lucy never wavered in her efforts. She served as secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society and helped to plan the National Women’s Rights Convention held in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1850. Her speech on women’s property rights at that convention led Susan B. Anthony to support women’s suffrage.
After she married antislavery activist and women’s rights supporter Henry Blackwell in 1855, she chose to retain her own name — a radical decision at a time when convention demanded that she be known as “Mrs. Henry Blackwell.” In fact, well into the twentieth century, American women who kept their names after marriage were known as “Lucy Stoners.”
To this day, Lucy is commemorated for her efforts in the women’s rights movement and other activism. She is just one of many outstanding Mount Holyoke women who have pushed for change. From Mary Lyon redefining higher education for women and Frances Perkins fighting for the rights of workers to our current students actively pushing for positive change in the world, our history is defined by trailblazers who challenge the status quo. Because the march — for equality, opportunity, progress — goes on.
Pictured above: Statue of Lucy Stone in the Boston Women's Memorial; Photographic portrait of Lucy Stone, taken between 1840 and 1860; 1968 US stamp honoring Lucy Stone.