What is this book about?
This fantastically well researched and written book is a biography of Lucy Stone, a badass woman who graduated from college at a time when the vast majority did not accept women and made her living as a public speaker on the topics of abolitionism and women's rights when women generally weren't allowed to speak in public and both topics were incredibly controversial. She's mostly known today for being the first married American woman that anyone knows of that deliberately kept her own last name. This is due in part to her own stubbornness in refusing to give interviews to journalists and in part to a feud with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton; she's barely mentioned in a lot of important works on women's rights activists/suffragettes and has alas, become much less known these days than Anthony and Stanton, even though they were all rather famous during her lifetime.
Who would love this book?
Anyone who stands for women's rights or is interested in learning about the history of that movement or abolitionism. Lucy was heavily involved with both, and this follows a lot of the conversations and divisions in each movement during her lifetime. It's also just really well written and interesting, with just enough spice to keep things moving along. I read a lot of it while spending almost an entire day in various lines relating to the Yayoi Kusai: Infinity Mirrors art exhibit in DC, and I was able to speed through it and stay very absorbed in it despite all the crowds, noise, and screaming children around me.
My Favorite Parts
Lucy Stone was so incredibly fierce. I love reading all the different sources' descriptions of her lectures, and how her tiny, feminine presence and high, gentle voice contrasted with her powerful words. I also admire how the author doesn't hold back from illustrating Lucy's faults as well - her general lack of humor and her stubbornness to a fault on some issues, among them.
On a more humorous note - her husband Henry Browne Blackwell is described throughout as a bit of a spacey dreamer, jumping from job to job. It made me crack up to read of the many many times throughout his life he ran off and tried to start a sugar beet refinery. It seemed like every 10 pages, old Blackwell was off messing about with sugar beets again. It really was admirable of him, as it was all part of an industry trying to move people away from slave farmed sugar cane, but it still was pretty hilarious.
Does it talk about marital surname changes at all?
Yes! The story of her husband's pursuit of her (which led to her decision to keep her name) is really quite adorable. She basically refused Henry Brown Blackwell (the brother of the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States, Elizabeth Blackwell) constantly for two years until she finally gave in. They wrote a delightful public letter called their "Protest" of Marriage protesting the massively sexist marriage laws of the time, read it at their wedding ceremony, and published it afterward. Lucy kept separate bank accounts and property from her husband for her entire life. She briefly changed her name to his for about a year, then after consulting with lots of lawyers and judges, changed it back to Stone after realizing it didn't break any laws for her to keep her own name.
Her dedication to keeping her own name was so intense that the ONLY time she had the opportunity to vote in her life in a minor local election, she walked away from voting after the administrators refused to let her vote under Lucy Stone, saying she could only vote under Lucy Blackwell.
The Lucy Stone League, a women's rights organization dedicated to name rights formed in 1921, took its name from Lucy. "Lucy Stoner" even became a descriptor for anyone who advocates that a married woman should be allowed to keep and use her own name. The group is not super active right now, but it sounds like there are chapters of larger Women's groups that operate under the name Lucy Stone. I myself belong to an awesome private Facebook group called the Lucy Stone League. The members often commiserate on the still often archaic views on women's last names in the world today.