Written by: Gacee Ezekiel
The Feminist Movement was a socio-political movement that was mainly seeking equal rights for women arising from gender-based discrimination that characterized society during the early 1960s. While the first wave of feminism concentrated on legal challenges that women faced in their communities, the second wave of the movement mostly focused on every aspect of womanhood, including equal voting rights and labor practices. Some men thought women had it all since they did not have to do much except engage in household activities. It was not until the publication of the book The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedman that the people saw the challenges that a household woman faced. Friedman described the suburban woman as one who had to face untold boredom and lack of self-fulfillment continually. Thus, women became aware that they were meant for other things rather than just taking care of the household.
Lucy Stone is known for her role in the feminist movement and as a prominent abolitionist in the 19th century. Historians remember Lucy Stone as being the first woman ever to retain her name after marriage. Her achievements span over decades, and most of the things she did ended up being the first-ever to be done by a woman. According to Million (16), Lucy Stone was the first woman in Massachusetts to earn a college degree. After her death, she also became the first woman to be cremated in New England. Lucy Stone was a prominent figure in the suffrage movement, where she played a crucial role in uniting the conservative wing. However, she would later disagree with Susan B. Anthony, a situation that led to a split of the suffrage movement after the Civil War.
Lucy Stone was born in 1818 at her family’s farm in Massachusetts. She was the eighth child in a family of nine. Lucy grew up in a home where her mother had to be submissive and beg her father for money. Also, she lacked family support in pursuit of education even though she was a fast-learner compared to her brothers. Her inspiration came from the Grimke sisters, who were at the time championing for women’s rights. After someone told her that the Bible had rules for women in the household, she vowed to learn Greek and Hebrew to correct such mistranslation. Since her father did not support her quest for education, she resulted to self-educate herself through teaching. By the time she was 25 years, she had saved enough money to get admitted to Oberlin College in Ohio.
Lucy Stone graduated in 1847, and her performance was so exemplary that she was requested to draft a commencement speech for her class. However, she declined the offer because women were not allowed to give public addresses meaning that someone else would have to read her statement. Lucy Stone returned to Massachusetts’s home state, the first woman to receive a college degree. She gave her first public address on women rights at a church gathering in Gardner Massachusetts where according to Million, she stated that;
“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.” (65)
Soon after graduation, Lucy Stone became an American Anti-Slavery Society organizer. Her role included speeches on abolition and the need to respect the rights of women. Lucy got married to Henry Blackwell, who was at the time a Cincinnati businessman. However, Mr. Blackwell agreed to renounce his privileges as a husband. Among the rights that Henry Blackwell abandoned included Lucy Stone taking up his last name, although it was law. In the course of her marriage, Lucy Stone protested the payment of property taxes. According to her, such taxation was without representation because women had no voting rights. Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell became active again in the suffrage movement after the Civil War. This period saw the Fourteenth Amendment passage, which proposed conferring voting rights to black male citizens. However, the amendment thought to be a setback for women rights campaigners since it is the only act of the constitution that explicitly mentions ‘male citizens.’
Lucy Stone’s radical activities continued to inspire and enrage at the same time. In Massachusetts, women were able to gain some voting rights for the school committee. However, in Boston, Lucy Stone was denied a chance to vote unless she used her husband’s last name. In a later period, many people saw Lucy Stone as a conservative leader of the woman suffrage movement. Primarily, Lucy Stone is remembered as someone who stood for what she believed in and as the first woman to keep her name after marriage. It is no surprise that many people view women who retain their names after marriage as ‘Lucy Stoners.’
Alice Walker was born in Putnam County. Georgia, in 1944. Walker was the last born child of Minnie Tallulah Grant Walker and Willie Lee Walker. Her father, a poor sharecropper, once remarked that Alice Walker was “wonderful at math but a terrible farmer.” (Freeman 29). Growing up in a society rife with racism, Walker encountered numerous challenges, which is why she sought her passion for gender issues in later years. Her mother was well aware of Alice’s rare gift and love for education, a situation that saw her work eleven hours a day to send Alice to school. While in her second year at Spelman College, Alice received a scholarship to attend Sarah Lawrence College in New York. She was one of the few black students to attend the prestigious school. During her middle ages, Alice Walker, in many civil rights campaigns to the extent that she got an invitation to the home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Soon after graduating in 1965, Alice Walker became a social worker and a teacher but was still much involved in the Civil Rights Movement. She taught poetry at Jackson State College. It was at this time that she contributed immensely to the feminist magazine Ms. Magazine. The magazine was about how women were unappreciated in society. She also wrote her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, in 1970.
Alice Walker is best known for her novel The Color Purple, in 1982. The story went ahead to win the Pulitzer Award for Fiction and the National Book Award. The novel was adapted into a movie by director Steven Spielberg tracing the life of the main character in the novel Celie in the 20th century South America. Poverty, racism, violence, and sexism are consistent themes in both the book and the movie.
Alice Walker contributed to the rise of feminism and a woman rights campaigner after publicly coming up with the word feminist. Historians believe she is the first woman ever to use the term womanism in a public address. Walker sought to define women in a society where women were facing discrimination and had their civil liberties violated. Womanism shows the intersection between sexism and anti-racism concepts. The term embodies the strength and inner beauty of black women and their connection with black men. The name pointed out to the sexism that was rife in the society and the challenges that women and especially black women had to undergo in the community.
About the term womanism, Alice Walker wrote her book In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose in 1983 that acting womanish, “meant to refer to women who were strong and courageous. According to Walker (16), women had sought to expand the Women’s Liberation Movement in the late 1970s.
Lucy Stone and Alice Walker’s lives resonate with some of the challenges that women face today. Despite the strides made by the women rights activists in advocating for equal rights and gender balance, the contemporary woman always encounters some of the life experiences that the two campaigners went through. I share a common goal with Lucy Stone. Despite the lack of family support when she wanted to pursue her education, she went ahead to face the challenge and self-educate herself. The fact that she worked tirelessly for college fees is one of the great qualities that continue to inspire generations.
Lucy Stone and Alice Walker had one dream in common. To live in a world where women would be equal to men. I have the same passion because women today still face discrimination in some areas, particularly in the workplace. The difference between me and the two women rights campaigners is that the society I live in today is a little different from their life experiences. Thanks to the Feminist movement, women in the world today are accorded more respect and granted some rights that never existed during the mid-18th century.
Today, women can vote on national issues meaning that their voices and contributions to building our nation are essential. Alice Walker grew up in a world rife with racism, poverty, and slavery; some of these vices are still plaguing our country. The United States outlawed slavery trade and while racist acts have decreased significantly. The random cases of racist tendencies are in areas where there is weaker legislation on racial discrimination. The enactment of labor laws affords people equal opportunities at the workplace regardless of their gender; this is one reason why a woman can run for president and other leadership roles without any reservations.
During the mid-80s, leadership roles often were for men, including giving a public address, which was unheard of for women. Getting to know Lucy Stone and Alice Walker inspire me because their messages were unrelenting. Lucy Stone renounced the marriage law since, at the time, women were not allowed to own property and had to act dependently on their husbands; this was a bold move coming at a time when women could not serve as independent beings. On the other hand, Alice Walker spends most of her lecturing career, analyzing the challenges women face in the male-dominated world. The fact that Lucy Stone had her share of critics inspires the modern-day woman to stand firm in what she believes in.
Freeman, Jo. “The women’s movement.” The social movements’ reader: Cases and concepts (2009): 24-35.
Walker, Alice. In search of our mothers’ gardens: Womanist prose. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004.
Million, Joelle. Woman’s Voice, Woman’s Place: Lucy Stone and the Birth of the Woman’s Rights Movement. Praeger Publishers, 2003.