In January 2013, the Schlesinger Library received a two-year, $150,000 grant from the National Historic Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) to digitize its archival collections of the Blackwell family. The Blackwell family holdings contain close to 120,000 pages spread over five collections and spanning almost 200 years (1784–1981). The Blackwell family included a number of prominent leaders closely involved with the women’s suffrage, abolition, prohibition, health care, and education reform movements in the 19th and 20th centuries. Perhaps the most well-known member of the family is Elizabeth Blackwell (1821–1910), the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States. Other well-known members of the family include Emily Blackwell (1826–1910), the third woman to receive a medical degree in the US; their sister-in-law Antoinette Brown Blackwell (1825–1921), the first woman to be ordained as a minister in the US; Henry Browne Blackwell (1825–1909), his wife Lucy Stone (1818–1893), and their daughter Alice Stone Blackwell (1857-1950), all leaders of the abolition and women’s suffrage movements.
Much progress has been made in the past 10 months since the digitization project began. The team working on the project is nearing the halfway mark of completion. Over 60,000 pages have been digitized. One interesting document recently reviewed is a handwritten draft copy of Lucy Stone and Henry Browne Blackwell’s marriage protest statement.
Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell were both closely involved with and influential in the 19th-century struggles for abolition and women’s suffrage in the United States and beyond. Blackwell became smitten with Lucy in 1853, after witnessing an anti-slavery speech that she gave to an audience in New York. Soon after this speech, he asked for a formal introduction from fellow abolitionist and mutual friend, William Lloyd Garrison. At first, Stone was hesitant about her suitor and the idea of getting married in general, given the oppressive marriage laws and customs that were unfavorable to women at the time. Over the course of their two-year courtship, however, Blackwell continually outlined how a truly egalitarian marriage could be possible and won her over in the process. In time, they drafted this egalitarian marriage agreement and protest statement together. Stone became the first woman in the United States known to have kept her own surname after marriage, inspiring future generations of women to follow suit, the so-called “Lucy Stoners.”
Henry Blackwell and Lucy Stone’s marriage statement was read aloud at their wedding ceremony on May 1, 1855, in West Brookfield, Massachusetts. The sentiment behind the statement was quite radical in a time when marriage meant a woman would forfeit her property and legal rights to her husband. In the draft statement, it is interesting to note some of the subtle changes made before the final version, found here.
One difference between the two documents is the deletion of most references to “god” or the “sacred” in the final version. Another change is the removal of a more traditional wedding vow-like statement at the end of the draft document, replaced by a more politically charged sentence summing up the couple’s radical protest against unjust marriage laws.
Draft, Marriage Protest Statement, no date (circa early 1855):
“…We Promise to love honor and cherish each other to the utmost of our ability both in life and that which is to come So long as we both shall live”
Published, Marriage Protest Statement, May 1, 1855:
“Thus reverencing law, we enter our protest against rules and customs which are unworthy of the name, since they violate justice, the essence of law”
As a married couple, Blackwell and Stone continued to work for abolition, women’s rights, and suffrage into old age. In 1870, they founded the Woman’s Journal, a highly influential weekly newspaper focused on women’s rights and suffrage, which is also being digitized by the Schlesinger Library. The couple’s daughter, Alice Stone Blackwell, took over editorship of the Woman’s Journal in 1881 and went on to become a prominent suffragist and women’s rights leader in her own right. Lucy Stone passed away in October, 1893 and Henry Blackwell in September, 1909.
The Blackwell family digitization project is expected to be completed by the end of June 2015. More historic gems are almost certain to be uncovered and will be made accessible as the project continues over the next year. When completed, all digital images of documents found in the collection will be open and accessible to the public through the Blackwell family collection finding aids, HOLLIS, and a website dedicated to the collections.
Collection Finding Aids: