Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell

In honor of Valentine’s Day, Doug Muder told this love story to the children at First Parish in Bedford, Mass. on February 15, 2009. You can read the rest of the church service (which was more about death than about love).

When Lucy Stone was a little girl, she decided that she was never, ever, ever going to get married.

She had a pretty good reason for making that decision, because she was living in the 1800s. And in those days, when a man and a woman got married, the man became the boss. It said so right in the law. So if a woman owned some property, well, when she got married it wasn’t her property any more; it was her husband’s property. And if she had a job and made a little money – it wasn’t her money, it was her husband’s money. Because he was the boss.

Lucy didn’t want to have a boss, so one day she announced to her mother that she was never, ever, ever going to get married. And her mother said something that parents say a lot. I know I heard it from my parents and maybe you’ve heard it from yours. Her mother said: “When you get older, you’ll change your mind.”

In those days, when a man started looking for a woman to marry, he went courting. He’d visit a woman’s family and talk to her mother and father. And if they approved, then he’d talk to the woman. If that conversation went well, then maybe he’d come back for another visit, and another one after that, and maybe eventually he’d ask her to marry him.

Now in those days most women really wanted to get married, so when a man came courting they tried to be extra, extra nice. So if the man told a joke, the woman would laugh at it – even it wasn’t really that funny. And if the man had an opinion, she’d agree with it – even if she didn’t really agree with it. Because she wanted to convince the man that she’d be a really nice wife.

Well, when Lucy Stone was old enough to get married, men came courting. But she didn’t act that way. If a man told a joke that wasn’t funny, she didn’t laugh. And if he talked about some stupid idea, she’d tell him it was stupid, and go on to talk about her ideas.

That wasn’t what the men were expecting at all. So at the end of the first visit, they’d say to Lucy’s father: “You know, she’s really … different.” And they wouldn’t come back. Now that would have bothered a lot of women, but it didn’t bother Lucy, because she never, ever, ever wanted to get married.

Then one day Henry Blackwell came courting. Henry Blackwell was a little different himself, because he grew up in a strange family. Henry’s sisters were some of the smartest, most determined women anywhere, and they didn’t see why they shouldn’t be able to do the things men did. For example, one of the things a woman didn’t do in those days was become a doctor. There weren’t any female doctors – until Henry’s sister Elizabeth came along. Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman in America to graduate from medical school and become a doctor. And a few years later, Henry’s other sister Emily became a doctor too. And the two of them opened a clinic together, which was really something women didn’t do.

So, growing up with sisters like that, Henry naturally thought that’s how women were supposed to be. But when he went courting, the women he met weren’t like that. They’d agree with whatever he said and didn’t seem to have any ideas of their own. And that wasn’t what Henry was looking for at all.

Then one day he came courting Lucy Stone. Lucy had a lot of ideas of her own, and she wasn’t shy about them. Some of them Henry agreed with, and some they argued about. In the next room, Lucy’s parents could hear them arguing, and they thought: “This isn’t going well at all.”

When it was time for Henry to go home, he stopped to talk to Lucy’s father. “You know, she’s really … different,” he said. “When can I come back?”

And he did come back. And he came back again, and again. And when he was out of town he’d write letters, and she wrote back to him. And before too long, Henry asked Lucy to marry him.

And what do you think she said?

[The children at Bedford expressed opinions both ways, so I called for a vote. The majority thought she said yes.]

She said no! Because she never, ever, ever wanted to get married!

Well, Henry was confused. He said, “Lucy, I love you. You love me. We should be married.”

And Lucy said, “I do love you. But if we got married, then you’d be my boss. And I don’t think I could love you if you were my boss.”

And Henry said, “It wouldn’t be like that.”

But Lucy said, “Oh yes it would. Because that’s what marriage is. That’s what everybody says marriage is. That’s what the law says marriage is.”

And then Henry said something that may not sound so amazing today. But you have to remember that in 1855 this was a brand new idea. He said: “People can say whatever they want. And the law can say whatever it wants. But when we get married, our marriage will be what we say it is.”

So they started working on an agreement. The agreement said that neither one of them would ever be the boss of the other. And they wrote it down and they signed it. And then they got married.

They stayed together the rest of their lives. And they raised a daughter together, and together they did important work to help the slaves get their freedom and to help women get the right to vote.

And Henry’s new idea caught on. And that’s why today, when two people decide to get married, they don’t look to other people or to the law to tell them what their marriage will be like. They talk to each other, and they figure it out for themselves.

[As is the case in most children’s stories, I applied a certain amount of poetic license. But the basic outline of the story is true. We know a lot of the details because Alice Stone Blackwell – a suffragette who lived long enough to get the voting rights her parents had worked for – quoted Lucy’s and Henry’s letters in the biography she wrote.

What is also true, but didn’t make it into the story, is the part of their agreement that said Lucy could keep her own name. For about a century afterward, women who didn’t take their husbands’ names were known as Lucy Stoners. Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls wrote a song about the struggles of women in the music business, and called it Lucy Stoners. If you’ve heard it, you know why I didn’t sing it for the kids.

I don’t know of any songs about Henry or his sisters – he had four in all, and each one was interesting in her own way. Or about their brother Sam, who the next year married Lucy’s college friend Antoinette Brown, one of the first female ministers in America. There really ought to be some. If I ever get a time machine, a Blackwell family dinner is definitely on my itinerary.]