The mid and late 1800’s were a transformative time in American history in many ways. Traditional American values were limiting to women who wanted opportunities to expand their horizons. However, there were crusading activists who attempted to advance the cause of women’s rights during this time. Women such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, Lucretia Mott, Angelina Grimke Weld, and Susan B Anthony were truly ahead of their time. In Kalamazoo, another woman would achieve recognition for her efforts on behalf of education and women’s rights: Lucinda Hinsdale Stone.
Lucinda Hinsdale was born in Hinesburg, Vermont on 30 September 1814, the youngest of the twelve children of Aaron and Lucinda Hinsdale. She developed a thirst for knowledge at a young age and read voraciously. When she was 13 years old, she was a student at the Hinesburg Academy. Two years later Hinsdale taught summer school in her hometown. She attended a female seminary, where she also taught classes. Finding the curriculum of female seminaries somewhat limiting, she returned to the Hinesburg Academy, and took college preparatory classes with all boys. She excelled in literature, Greek--her favorite subject--and Latin, both languages useful primarily for further education, knowing that there were no colleges that would accept her. Dr. James Stone, her future husband, was principal of the Hinesburg Academy. Hinsdale then left Hinesburg to move to a plantation in Natchez, Mississippi, where she was the governess to three children. There she experienced firsthand the horrors of slavery and became a staunch abolitionist.
In 1840 she married James Andrus Blinn Stone in Grand Rapids. After living for three years in Gloucester, Massachusetts, they moved to Kalamazoo in 1843, when James was appointed principal of the Kalamazoo Branch of the University of Michigan. James and Lucinda Stone would transform the atmosphere of what would become Kalamazoo College. Lucinda began teaching part time, and eventually headed the Ladies Department of the college. The Stones’ methods were radical for their time. Female students were allowed to attend classes with male students and had access to the same curriculum. They implemented rigorous academic standards. Lucinda Stone taught both male and female students. She sometimes brought her children to class. In 1855 Kalamazoo College was chartered by the state of Michigan. Enrollment grew and the college continued to expand, but problems were on the horizon.
In the early 1860s, the conservative Baptist administrators of Kalamazoo College became critical of the Stones. They felt that James had mismanaged the college’s finances, and disapproved of their focus on co-education. They also disapproved of Lucinda’s teaching of the poems of Lord Byron, as well as her use of publications like Atlantic Monthly. The Stones resigned in late 1863, and Lucinda started a school of her own at their home, which she ran until the house burned in 1866.
A New Direction: Mother of Clubs
Lucinda Stone’s role as a college teacher may have ended, but her influence on society was far from over. The next great period of her life would begin. From the late 1860s through the 1880s, she organized traveling schools and took female students on several trips to Europe where they learned about history and culture. She re-organized a club that originated as a weekly Saturday gathering at her home for literary discussions in 1852. The Ladies Library Association would become the first women’s organization in the United States to build a clubhouse. The building was completed in 1879. The Ladies Library Association is the oldest women’s club in Michigan and the third oldest in the country. Women's study clubs were not merely social organizations. In an era when most colleges would not admit women, study clubs were one of the few avenues of continuing education open to them. She spoke at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago as a representative of women's clubs.
Lucinda Stone also organized the Twentieth Century Club, People’s Church of Kalamazoo, the Michigan Federation of Women’s Clubs, and the Women’s Press Association. She was executive secretary of the Women’s Auxiliary Association. In the 1870s she began writing a weekly newspaper column called “Club Talks” in which she advised women’s clubs, answered reader questions, and wrote about issues. She traveled around the country to speak at fledgling women’s clubs.
She continued to work for women’s suffrage with activists such as Susan B. Anthony. Lucinda and James Stone were instrumental in convincing the University of Michigan to admit its first female student, Madeline Stockwell of Kalamazoo, who had studied with Mrs. Stone. She also pressured the university to hire female faculty. The University of Michigan awarded Lucinda Hinsdale Stone an honorary doctorate degree in 1890.
Lucinda Stone died on 14 March 1900 and was buried at Mountain Home Cemetery in Kalamazoo. In recent years the Stone family gravesite had become unkempt. However, in 2006 members of the People’s Church of Kalamazoo helped rehabilitate the plot, and a ceremony was held to rededicate Lucinda Stone’s gravesite.
Stone’s reputation as the “Mother of Clubs” was well earned. Her contributions to the women’s club movement, women’s rights, and education should not be forgotten. She was one of the foremost activists and educators of her time, and an important figure in Kalamazoo history.