Document HS II-12: Celebrating Change: Excerpts from “The Progress of Fifty Years,” a Speech by Lucy Stone, 1893.
Lucy Stone gave this speech to the Congress of Women held at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. It was her last public speech. She died a few months later at age 75.
I think, with never-ending gratitude, that the young women of today do not and can never know at what price their right to free speech and to speak at all in public has been earned. Abby Kelly once entered a church only to find herself the subject of the sermon, which was preached from the text: "This Jezebel is come among us also." They jeered at her as she went along the street. They threw stones at her. They pelted her with bad eggs as she stood on the platform. Some of the advocates of the very cause for which she endured all this were ready to drive her from the field. Mr. Garrison and Wendell Phillips stood by her. But so great was the opposition that one faction of the abolitionists left and formed a new organization, after a vain effort to put Abby Kelly off from the committee to which she had been nominated.
The right to education and to free speech having been gained for woman, in the long run every other good thing was sure to be obtained.
Half a century ago women were at an infinite disadvantage in regard to their occupations. The idea that their sphere was at home, and only at home, was like a band of steel on society. But the spinning-wheel and the loom, which had given employment to women, had been superseded by machinery, and something else had to take their places. The taking care of the house and children, and the family sewing, and teaching the little summer school at a dollar per week, could not supply the needs nor fill the aspirations of women. But every departure from these conceded things was met with the cry, "You want to get out of your sphere," or, "To take women out of their sphere;" and that was to fly in the face of Providence, to unsex yourself–in short, to be monstrous women, women who, while they orated in public, wanted men to rock the cradle and wash the dishes. We pleaded that whatever was fit to be done at all might with propriety be done by anybody who did it well; that the tools belonged to those who could use them; that the possession of a power presupposed a right to its use. This was urged from city to city, from state to state. Women were encouraged to try new occupations. We endeavored to create that wholesome discontent in women that would compel them to reach out after far better things. But every new step was a trial and a conflict. Men printers left when women took the type. They formed unions and pledged themselves not to work for men who employed women. But these tools belonged to women, and today a great army of women are printers unquestioned….
Women have acquired a certain amount of political power. We have now in twenty states school suffrage for women. Forty years ago there was but one. Kentucky allowed widows with children of school age to vote on school questions. We have also municipal suffrage for women in Kansas, and full suffrage in Wyoming, a state larger than all New England.
The last half century has gained for women the right to the highest education and entrance to all professions and occupations, or nearly all. As a result we have women's clubs, the Woman's Congress, women's educational and industrial unions, the moral education societies, the Woman's Relief Corps, police matrons, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, colleges for women, and co-educational colleges and the Harvard Annex, medical schools and medical societies open to women, women's hospitals, women in the pulpit, women as a power in the press, authors, women artists, women's beneficent societies and Helping Hand societies, women school supervisors, and factory inspectors and prison inspectors, women on state boards of charity, the International Council of Women, the Woman's National Council, and last, but not least, the Board of Lady Managers. And not one of these things was allowed women fifty years ago, except the opening at Oberlin [College]. By what toil and fatigue and patience and strife and the beautiful law of growth has all this been wrought? These things have not come of themselves. They could not have occurred except as the great movement for women has brought them out and about. They are part of the eternal order, and they have come to stay. Now all we need is to continue to speak the truth fearlessly, and we shall add to our number those who will turn the scale to the side of equal and full justice in all things.
Quoted in The Congress of Women Held in the Woman’s Building, World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893, ed. by Mary Kavanaugh Oldham Eagle (Monarch Book Company, 1894. pp. 58-61).
- What changed to open up opportunities for American women?
- What signs of progress for women did Lucy Stone see?
- What did Lucy Stone hope would happen next?