Woman's Journal

views updated


The Woman's Journal was described by its longtime editor, Lucy Stone (1818–1893), as "a big baby which never grew up, and always had to be fed" (Kerr, p. 167). Born in 1870, the journal did manage to grow up, though not without pains, lingering on to the age of sixty-one. It took a new name briefly in 1917, when it joined two other journals to form the Woman Citizen, but before its demise in 1931 it had resumed its maiden name. The journal remains a rich archival resource, full of insights into the issues and struggles of the nineteenth-century woman suffrage campaign. As Inez Haynes Irwin mused in her history of the suffrage movement: "It is hard not to become lyrical and rhapsodic when one tries to estimate how much the Woman's Journal became to the suffrage cause. It was a burning cloud by day and a tower of flame by night" (p. 259).

From its very beginnings, the sparks flew. Friction between two factions in the woman suffrage movement led to the founding of the journal as the official organ of one branch. Members of the more conservative New England Woman Suffrage Association (later the American Woman Suffrage Association) established the journal after falling out with the movement's more radical New York members, who had formed the National Woman Suffrage Association. The New Yorkers, most prominently Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, demonstrated a willingness to align themselves with the likes of Victoria Woodhull and George Francis Train and to forgo a concentrated focus on suffrage for a broader reform agenda that included such contentious planks as divorce and free love. Members of the Boston-based group were disturbed by some of the articles and contributors to Anthony's Revolution and felt the need for a paper of their own. They found it in the Agitator, a paper edited and founded by Mary Livermore (1820–1905) in 1869. Livermore agreed to move from Chicago to Boston and allow her paper to evolve into the new Woman's Journal; she also agreed to serve as its editor, a post she occupied for two years before resigning to pursue a lucrative lecture career (though she continued to serve as one of the journal's corresponding editors). From that time until the Woman's Journal morphed into the Woman Citizen in 1917, members of the Stone Blackwell household took over primary editorial duties, joined on the editorial board by such luminaries as Julia Ward Howe, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and briefly, William Lloyd Garrison.

The journal was housed in the New England Woman's Club Building, close to the Boston Atheneum and the Old Burial Grounds. For a time Stone, her husband, Henry Blackwell, and their teenage daughter Alice lived above these offices, but they soon relocated to Dorchester, a fifteen-minute train ride away. Still, in a metaphorical sense the Woman's Journal remained the place where the Stone Blackwells lived. By 1870 Stone was already well known for her pioneering work as an abolitionist and suffragist (as well as for refusing to take her husband's name), and for the remainder of her days she would make the journal her last great cause. While, as one biographer suggests, the journal could be read "as a diary on Lucy's public life" (Hays, p. 224), it also played a significant role in her private life. In the new journal Stone saw her chance to stop lecturing and find more time for "home life," which was a difficult balance to strike. As Stone complained to a friend: "I do wish there was some way of carrying on the Woman's Journal without such a hard, constant tug. If only the housekeeping would go on without so much looking after!" (Blackwell, p. 240). Although the journal required just as "much looking after," Stone made it a priority because of its value to the suffrage movement. "Our cause has a wider hearing today," Stone wrote in tribute to the journal, "than it ever had" (Kerr, p. 198).


Five thousand copies of the first issue of the journal were printed on 8 January 1870; a second issue of seven thousand copies soon followed and sold out almost immediately. Each issue numbered eight pages of five columns each. The annual subscription price settled at $2.50. From the first, subscribers were numerous, and they remained fairly steady at around five thousand. By 1875 the journal could boast of subscriptions in every state as well as in thirty-nine foreign countries, although it could never boast a profit or break even.

The Woman's Journal was financed by a joint-stock company offering 200 shares at $50 a share. The largest stockholders were the Stone Blackwells, who held twenty shares; their daughter held five. Other shareholders included William Lloyd Garrison, the Grimké sisters, Stephen Foster, Julia Ward Howe, and Caroline Severance. During her editorial reign Livermore was paid an annual salary of $1,500, and Higginson, who had an invalid wife to support and could not afford to donate his work, received an annual salary of $50. There was also a female typographer who set type and printed the paper. Associate editor Lucy Stone raised much of the initial capital—some $10,000—and did a large portion of the work behind the scenes.

From the outset the journal suffered financial difficulties. It was especially hard-hit during the nation's periodic, severe economic depressions, and with each downturn Stone considered abandoning the work. She was encouraged to persevere by members of her crusading extended family. One stalwart supporter was her sister-in-law, the Reverend Antoinette Brown Blackwell, who in 1878 wrote: "I suppose you find the Journal suffers with every thing else in these depressed days. I do hope it can struggle on till better times. To stop that, would be a national calamity" (Lasser and Merrill, p. 200). Relief did come in 1883, when Stone (along with Anthony) received a $20,000 legacy from Eliza F. Eddy; Stone put most of her portion into the Woman's Journal. This sum helped the journal survive, if barely.


As its masthead stipulated, the Woman's Journal was "a weekly newspaper, published every Saturday in Boston and Chicago, devoted to the interests of woman, to her educational, industrial, legal and political equality, and especially to her right of suffrage." Suffrage was the journal's primary preoccupation; whenever the cause was advanced anywhere in the nation the journal ran a picture of a dove with an olive branch, a toned-down alternative to the political parties' crowing roosters.

But suffrage was not the Woman's Journal's exclusive focus. It involved itself in a number of other causes and concerns, taking on, for example, the Beecher-Tilton scandal, married women's property rights, women in the professions, political campaigns (though Stone maintained the Woman's Journal's nonpartisan status), and coeducation, dress, and temperance reform. Early issues covered news and literature and offered humor and advice. Regular columns included "What Women Are Doing" (later known as "Concerning Women") and "Gossips and Gleanings." Letters from readers published in the journal confirm the success of the editors' attempts to provide a paper that was more reformist than revolutionary.

The editorial duties shifted among the Stone Blackwells during the years of their proprietorship. After a decade of coediting with her peripatetic husband, Henry, Stone in 1880 appeared on the masthead as the sole editor, with Blackwell, Higginson, Howe, and Livermore listed as contributing editors. Around the time of this shift, though, she was receiving help from her daughter, Alice Stone Blackwell, who by 1881 was writing the literary column and contributing other articles.

Since the journal was a family affair and was entrenched in the family's daily routine, Alice had begun helping with the journal as soon as she was able. Her first published work, a poem about a tabby named Toby, appeared in the journal in 1872. As she entered her teens, Alice helped handwrite names and addresses on mailing wrappers in addition to penning occasional reviews. She got a taste of solo editing in 1882, when her parents went to Nebraska and Wisconsin to campaign for suffrage. Shortly thereafter mother, father, and daughter began to be listed on the mast-head as editors. After Stone died of stomach cancer in 1893—whispering on her deathbed to Alice (or so legend would have it), "make the world better"—Alice set out to fulfill her mother's last wishes, joining with her father to make coediting the journal their shared lives' work. After Stone's death the text "Founded by Lucy Stone" appeared on the Woman's Journal's front page.


The journal was never exclusively a one-family show. True, Stone continued to draw on her extended family, as when Stone's sister-in-law Brown Blackwell wrote a series of seven articles "Sex and Work" for the Woman's Journal in the mid-1870s. Brown Blackwell later turned these articles into her book The Sexes throughout Nature (1875). Other contributors were less closely related though still deeply invested in both journal and cause. For example, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860–1935) signed on during Alice Stone Blackwell's (1857–1950) reign for a one-year stint as associate editor. A frequent visitor to the Stone Blackwell home in Dorchester, Gilman made it her base while in the Boston area and occasionally contributed to the paper through the years. Her relationship with the journal had begun as early as 1884, when it published her bitter poem "In Duty Bound." During 1904 she contributed to a regular department titled "Vital Issues," for which she penned essays, poems, stories, and sketches. Her motive was to enlarge the horizons of the journal to make it representative and to expand its focus from suffrage to other causes vital to women's interests and rights in hopes of making it a voice within the world-reforming chorus.

Gilman worked for the journal gratis, as did other contributors. Still, her contributions were contentious enough that by April 1904 the journal began running a disclaimer suggesting Gilman's sole responsibility for the contents of her department. On several occasions, Alice Stone Blackwell criticized opinions Gilman expressed in her column, and it may have been with relief on both sides that Gilman resigned her post at the end of the calendar year. Blackwell nonetheless publicly and graciously acknowledged Gilman's contributions to the journal, claiming that her department had maintained the interest of both those who agreed and those who disagreed with her (intimating that the latter group was sizable). Gilman continued to contribute occasionally to the journal and as late as 1912 was recommending it to readers of her own one-woman magazine, the Forerunner. In a column therein, she recalled the role of the Woman's Journal as "the only Voice of the Woman's Movement in this country, if not the world" and maintained that it remained a "noble paper of which America has every reason to be proud" (p. 111).


Around the time Gilman wrote this encomium, the Woman's Journal became the official organ of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (the two divided suffrage groups had been reunited around 1890 thanks largely to the efforts of Alice Stone Blackwell and Henry Blackwell). This affiliation proved only a temporary arrangement, however. In 1917, with the suffrage victory looming, Carrie Chapman Catt (1859–1947) moved the journal to New York and consolidated it and two other suffrage papers under the name Woman Citizen. In the new journal's inaugural column, Catt concluded: "There can be no overestimating the value to the suffrage cause of the Woman's Journal in its long and vivid career. . . .[I]t has been history-maker and history-recorder for the suffrage cause. The suffrage success of to-day is not conceivable without the Woman's Journal's part in it" (Blackwell, p. 243). Nor, she acknowledged, would it have been conceivable but for Lucy Stone and Alice Stone Blackwell's heroic efforts. Still, the mother-daughter team would have been the first to admit that the Woman's Journal always was more than simply one woman's journal.

See alsoEditors; Feminism; Periodicals


Primary Works

B. "A New Department." Woman's Journal, 26 December 1903. Disclaimer. Woman's Journal, 2 April 1904, p. 106.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. "Comment and Review." Forerunner 3 (April 1912): 111.

Secondary Works

Blackwell, Alice Stone. Lucy Stone: Pioneer of Woman'sRights. Norwood, Mass.: Alice Stone Blackwell Committee, Plimpton Press, 1930.

Blodgett, Geoffrey. "Alice Stone Blackwell." In NotableAmerican Women: A Biographical Dictionary, 3 vols., edited by Edward T. James. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

Gillmore, Inez Haynes. Angels and Amazons: A HundredYears of American Women. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran, 1934.

Hays, Elinor Rice. Morning Star: A Biography of Lucy Stone,1818–1893. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1899.

Kerr, Andrea Moore. Lucy Stone: Speaking Out for Equality. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1992.

Lasser, Carol, and Marlene Deahl Merrill, eds. Friends andSisters: Letters between Lucy Stone and Antoinette Brown Blackwell, 1846–93. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987.

Merrill, Marlene Deahl, ed. Growing Up in Boston's GildedAge: The Journal of Alice Stone Blackwell, 1872–1874. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1990.

Cynthia J. Davis