Are you a Lucy Stoner?
If we asked you if you were a Lucy Stoner, you would probably not understand what we are saying. However, when we explain the concept, you will realise that you might be a Lucy Stoner, you might known many women who are Lucy Stoners and might be an advocate for women who want to be Lucy Stoners.
So who was she? Lucy Stone was a leading advocate of women’s rights. She had very progressive views of women’s lib and women’s suffrage and she happened to marry someone who shared them. When Henry Blackwell married Lucy Stone, they both shared a common view, apart from their shared interest in promoting equality for women in all spheres of life. They agreed that if Lucy take on her husband’s surname – become Lucy Blackwell – after marriage, then it would be giving out a message that was contrary to what they were trying to advocate. Taking on a man’s name after marriage would imply that the woman’s family name and history was immaterial and irrelevant, and that would never do.
Lucy Stone ( 1818 – 1893) became the first woman in America, who was recorded as having retained her maiden name after marriage, in a time when patriarchy was at its peak in society, and the mentality of “women are meant to be seen and not heard” prevailed. She was also the leading figure in speaking out actively for women’s rights, at a time when public speaking by women was heavily frowned upon and discouraged.
In the 1850s, this was a big step for a woman to take, and not only did the men in the society raise their eyebrows disapprovingly, many women also thought this was taking the concept of women’s rights too far. Advocates of women’s rights felt that this radical step that she had taken would adversely affect all the good work they were doing to raise women to equal levels with men. And Lucy had to bear the brunt of many an obstacle in her path for simply choosing to retain her own name. for example, her name was no longer considered valid or official when she had to sign legal documents. She had to actually a sign an explanatory note which mentioned that she was “Lucy Stone, wife of Henry Blackwell” and hotels would not allow them to rent a room under the names Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell till they signed the register explaining that they were married and a brief note with regard to the surname confusion. However, despite such strange behaviour from the rest of society she decided not to back down, and with the support of her husband, persevered against the tide of opposition till eventually, other women saw the logic in her stance and followed suit.
“Lucy Stoners” became a common moniker for women who chose to keep their maiden names even after marriage. The US laws also refused to comply with this step towards women’s lib and many women had to overcome plenty hurdles when trying to get passports, open accounts in the banks and even copyright issues professionally, in case their work had been copyrighted in the same name before marriage.
While they were supported by a growing number of women who agreed with them, many people, women included, scoffed at what they termed “fanaticism” over something as “insignificant” as a surname, arguing that the woman’s maiden name is also given by a man – her father. The movement died down a bit in the mid twenties with children, especially daughters feeling embarrassed that their parents had different names etc. and were loath to explain details to prying friends. However, it regained its fervour when women’s liberation became a big deal again and now, it is a fairly common practice all over the world, though women are still looked at askance if they do not take their husbands name post marriage. They are labelled “independent” and “rebellious” – not in any way complimentary – and they are asked numerous unnecessary questions. However, these women, now and those women then, stood for a very significant aspect of women’s lib and feminism, and made a point about their identity, in the wake of an idea that germinated over 140 years ago in the US.