The History of Feminist Zines: The Woman’s Journal

The Woman’s Journal, the longest running suffrage journal in America, was born in Boston on January 8th 1870 under the editorship of Lucy Stone and her husband, Henry Browne Blackwell.

Perhaps what’s most interesting to us (TRR) about The Woman’s Journal was that it was deliberately launched on the second anniversary of The Revolution, and was marketed as “a conservative alternative” to Anthony and Stanton’s publication.

From its inception, The Woman’s Journal was connected to the American Woman Suffrage Association (of which Stone was a founding member), and it also absorbed the readership of two other publications (and audiences)—The Agitator and The Woman’s Advocate.

The seeds for Stone’s gender-based activism was planted at an early age. By 16, she and her siblings were all working as teachers, but she was earning far less than her brothers for teaching the same subjects. Upon protesting this inequity to the school board, they replied that they could only give her “a woman’s pay.”

In 1836, Stone began reading newspaper reports of the great “woman question” debate, which was raging throughout New England and attempting to grapple with women’s “proper role in society”—i.e. whether or not they should be relegated to the domestic sphere or allowed to engage in public life.

During this period, she was also aware of the work of the Grimke sisters, Angelina and Sarah, who had been lecturing to mixed-sex audiences. After speaking in Boston, the Boston clergy issued “a pastoral letter” condemning women who were assuming the role of “public reformer.” When Stone read Sarah Grimké’s infamous rebuttal, “Letters on the Equality of the Sexes,” she allegedly told her brother that she was “more resolved than ever…to call no man master.”

After completing a year at the co-educational Monson Academy in 1841, Stone learned that Oberlin College in Ohio had become the first college to admit both women and African Americans. Stone then enrolled at Quaboag Seminary in Warren, Ohio in preparation for Oberlin’s entrance exams.

In 1847, Stone became the first woman from Massachusetts to earn a college degree, and one of the few to carve out a future as a lecturer on women’s rights.

In June of 1848, Stone began lecturing for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, and that fall, she was invited to lecture at the Seneca Falls women’s rights convention and the Rochester women’s rights convention. In April 1849, Stone was invited to lecture for the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, which launched a series of campaigns that sought not only for voting rights for women but also the right to hold public office.

When Stone resumed her lecturing in the fall of 1851, she debuted an ensemble that she claimed was beneficial to women’s health and their freedom of movement. Amelia Bloomer had already written about the new, controversial women’s fashion in The Lily and adopted the style herself after seeing Stanton donning the loose pants underneath a shorter dress. The controversy of Stone’s “bloomers” placed her under constant scrutiny, which she felt detracted from her message, and by 1855, she’d returned to full-length dresses (despite criticism from dress-reformers).

During this period, Stone was expelled from the First Congregational Church of West Brookfield, advocated for a woman’s right to divorce “drunken husbands,” and refused to pay her property taxes give her inability to vote, elevating the issue of taxation without representation to the national stage.

In 1855, Stone married Blackwell under the agreement that the marriage would function like a “business partnership,” with the partners being “joint proprietors of everything.” She also famously refused to adopt her husband’s surname and partake in “the legal annihilation of a married woman’s identity.” She continued to sign correspondence as ‘Lucy Stone” or “Lucy Stone – only.” Thus, she was denied the vote in the 1879 Boston school elections because she refused to use Blackwell as her legal surname on the ballot.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton claimed that Lucy Stone “was the first person by whom the heart of the American public was deeply stirred on the woman question.” Not surprisingly, Stone urged Susan B. Anthony to take up the cause as well. Together, Anthony, Stanton, and Stone have been called the “19th century triumvirate” of women’s suffrage.

Needless to say, The Woman’s Journal was one of the most controversial of its day given her public image and polarizing persona. Remarkably, her death in 1893 did not mark the end of the journal. After 1900, it served in various capacities as an unofficial publication of several different organizations, and upon her father’s death in 1909, Alice Stone Blackwell took over the editorship and changed its name to Woman’s Journal and Suffrage News.

In 1917, The Woman’s Journal was sold to Carrie Chapman Catt’s organization, where it flourished under the title of The Woman Citizen.

Though Stone was unable to witness the passage of the 19th amendment, her journal was at the forefront of the suffrage movement under Catt, and it lived on in infamy until 1931.

RD is the founding editor of TRR.