Blackwell, Henry Brown
BLACKWELL, HENRY BROWN
Henry Brown Blackwell (1825–1909) was an English immigrant who became an activist for many reform issues in the United States including the anti-slavery movement. He is best known as an advocate for women's suffrage and was married to feminist Lucy Stone (1818–1893). Together the couple founded a women's suffrage organization and a women's journal.
Henry Brown Blackwell was born May 4, 1825 in Bristol, England. He was the second of five children born to Samuel and Hannah Blackwell. His father was a successful businessman in the sugar refinery industry and a community activist. Samuel Blackwell taught his children to treat people equally, regardless of race, sex, or social class. Through his examples he also taught his children to act on their beliefs.
The Blackwells emigrated to the United States in 1832 after an accidental fire destroyed the family business in England. Henry Blackwell was seven years old when the family moved to the United States, and he spent his childhood years in New York. The family became actively involved in the anti-slavery movement, and their Long Island home often served as a refuge for persecuted abolitionists. Financially the Blackwells were not as successful in the United States as they had been in England. Their sugar business struggled until the financial panic of 1837 destroyed it completely. In the same year the family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio for a fresh start. Soon after the move Samuel Blackwell died, plunging the family into a financial crisis.
In response to the poor financial situation, the Blackwell women opened a day school for girls, and Henry Blackwell and his brother found office jobs. A few years later, the boys opened their own hardware business. During this time Henry Blackwell continued to be involved in the anti-slavery movement in Ohio and became interested in other humanitarian movements. While watching his older sister Elizabeth struggle to become the first female doctor in the United States, Blackwell took an interest in the women's suffrage movement. In 1853 he made his first public speech in support of women's suffrage at a convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Later that same year he attended a legislative meeting in Massachusetts, where Lucy Stone, an ardent feminist, spoke in support of a women's suffrage petition.
After that first meeting, Blackwell began to court Stone. He promised her he would devote himself to the suffrage movement and after a two-year courtship, the two activists married. On their wedding day the couple signed a pact of equality, agreeing, among other things, that Stone would keep her maiden name. The couple also made a public statement against the inequalities of marriage law at that time, especially with respect to property rights for married women.
Soon after their marriage Blackwell and Stone moved to New Jersey, where Blackwell started a bookselling business. He also had some business interests in real estate and sugar refinery and was able to make money with each venture. The couple then moved to Boston, Massachuetts, where they helped organize the American Women's Suffrage Association in 1869. The organization was devoted to promoting women's rights at the state, rather than the federal, level. Because of his earlier business successes, Blackwell was financially secure and able to devote much of his time to this cause. In 1896 he spoke before the United States House of Representatives on behalf of the American Women's Suffrage Association stating that: "It is as much for the interest of men as women, as much the duty of men as women to advocate [the women's suffrage] cause."
A year later Blackwell and Stone started their next venture together. In 1870 the couple founded the Woman's Journal in Boston, a magazine devoted primarily to professional women. Blackwell financed most of the project and jointly edited the weekly magazine with his wife. When Stone died in 1893 Blackwell continued to edit the journal with their daughter, Alice Stone Blackwell.
While the women's movement occupied much of Blackwell's life, he was actively involved in other causes as well. For example Blackwell publicly opposed the deportation of political refugees, the Armenian massacres of 1895, and the Russian pogroms. Blackwell died in Boston on September 7, 1909, eleven years before women were granted suffrage in the United States.
See also: Women's Movement
Ashby, Ruth, and Doborah Gore Ohrn, eds. Herstory: Women Who Changed the World. New York: Viking Childrens' Books, 1995.
Jolliffe, Lee. "Women's Magazines in the 19th Century." Journal of Popular Culture, 27 (Spring 1994): 125-140.
Stone, Lucy. Loving Warriors: Selected Letters of Lucy Stone and Henry B. Blackwell, 1853 to 1893. New York: Dial Press, 1981.