Alice Stone Blackwell: A life devoted to gender and social justice
Alice Stone Blackwell was an American feminist, suffragist, journalist, radical socialist and human rights advocate.
Alice was born on September 14, 1857, in Orange, New Jersey. She was the daughter of Lucy Stone and Henry B. Blackwell. She grew up in a family immersed in the fight for suffrage and human rights. When she was young, her family moved to Dorchester, Massachusetts. Her mother, Lucy Stone, was a prominent suffragist and abolitionist who played an influential role in Boston suffrage community. Her mother instilled within her the ideals of equality.
Alice’s father, Henry Blackwell, also was a suffragist who believed in marriage equality. Upon his marriage to Lucy Stone, the couple read a statement together denouncing all legal portions of marriage in which a woman must be subservient to her husband. Many of Blackwell’s family members did ground-breaking work in their own right. Henry’s sister Elizabeth Blackwell was the nation’s first female doctor. His sister-in-law, Antoinette Louis Brown Blackwell, was the first woman to be ordained a minister in the Congregational Church.
Alice helped to bridge the divide between her mother Lucy Stone’s AWSA and Anthony and Stanton’s NWSA.
Alice grew up in Boston where she witnessed her mother’s remarkable commitment to the suffragist movement. During this time, Lucy Stone split from the radical wing of the suffrage movement, which included Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, over disagreements about universal suffrage. Lucy Stone founded the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) when Alice was 12 years old. As a response, Stanton and Anthony formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA).
Alice graduated with honours from Boston University in 1881 and immediately joined the editorial staff of the The Woman’s Journal, organ of her mother’s American Woman Suffrage Association, where she served as an editor for the next 35 years. The Woman’s Journal served as the country’s leading women’s newspaper.
Alice helped to bridge the divide between her mother Lucy Stone’s AWSA and Anthony and Stanton’s NWSA. This is considered as one of her most important contributions to the suffrage movement. In 1890, these organisations merged to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Alice understood that the young women who were interested in suffrage actually did not understand why two separate organisations existed. Alice’s vision to unite the two organisations strengthened the suffrage movement. She also served as the recording secretary of the NAWSA until 1918.
Alice’s relentless campaigning through The Women’s Journal and the role she played in the formation of the National American Woman Suffrage Association was instrumental in the ratification of the 19th Amendment.
After the death of Lucy Stone in 1893, Alice became the co-editor of The Women’s Journal with her father, and the sole editor from 1909 upon the passing of her father. She remained in that position till 1917. As the editor of The Woman's Journal, Alice took strong decisions. She used the paper to advocate for various causes such as the Armenian genocide. She also helped create the Friends of Armenia Society which provided information about Armenian genocide to American media.
Alice’s relentless campaigning through The Women’s Journal and the role she played in the formation of the National American Woman Suffrage Association was instrumental in the ratification of the 19th Amendment. However, she quickly recognised that this was not the end of her work pushing for social change. According to American suffragist Florence Luscomb (1887-1985), “Alice Stone Blackwell, the 63-year-old woman whose whole life was the suffrage cause, was the one person in that moment of victory who turned their head towards the future.”
Alice continued with her social activism. After the ratification of the 19th Amendment, she became involved in supporting the Russian Revolution. She helped in founding the Friends of Russian Freedom Group and used The Women’s Journal to speak out against the Russian regime. The Women’s Journal, according to National Park Service, compared Russia’s oppression of its Jewish people to the oppression of Black Americans.
Alice was also involved in many social rights organisations like the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, the Women’s Trade Union League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Progressive Party, and the American Peace Society. In 1920, she helped in creating the League of Women Voters in Massachusetts, which is an organisation that exists till today.
Alice also became interested in various other causes. She translated and published works of poetry from oppressed foreign writers. These works include Armenian Poems (1896 and 1916), Songs of Russia (1906), Songs of Grief and Gladness (1908; from Yiddish), and Some Spanish-American Poets (1929). Alice wrote against Czarist oppression in The Little Grandmother of the Russian Revolution – Catherine Breshkovsky’s Own Story (1917).
Alice Blackwell died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on March 15, 1950. Born into a radical and revolutionary family, Alice devoted her life to fighting for universal suffrage and advocating for oppressed people. Her advocacy through The Woman’s Journal proved crucial in the ratification of the 19th Amendment and it serves as a powerful example of how language can be used for bringing change in society.
Now put on your thinking hats and think about the following questions for a couple of minutes.
Can you think of how the formation of NAWSA strengthened Suffragist movement?
How would you describe the contributions of Alice Stone Blackwell in the ratification of the 19th Amendment?
Write down your thoughts and discuss them with your students, children and your colleagues. Listen to their views and compare them with your own. As you listen to others, note how similar or different your views are to others’.
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