The following exchange took place between Lucy Stone (Oberlin College 1847) and Antoinette Brown (Ladies Course 1847) while Brown was attending classes in the Oberlin Theological Department in Spring 1850. Brown later became the first woman ordained as a minister in a regular Protestant demonination; Stone and Brown further strengthened their lifelong friendship when Stone married Henry Blackwell in 1855 and Brown married Henry's brother Samuel Blackwell in 1856.
For more information on this remarkable friendship and the letters between the two, see Carol Lasser and Marlene Merrill, eds., Friends and Sisters: Letters Between Lucy Stone and Antoinette Brown Blackwell, 1846 - 93 (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1987).
[West Brookfield, Massachusetts, probably August 1849]
I am sending a lot of letters by Sarah, and it makes me feel heart sick to think how little can be said in them, when so much wishes to speak itself. This letter writing is a miserable way of communicating, after all, though I would not on any account be deprived of it. But when ones soul is full, and only a little sheet, to put it into, it is so aggravating. There are so many things I want to say, and feel with you, that I dont know where to begin&emdash;First I hope your brother Wm. will come east and settle in Westminster. It is in the association to which my brother belongs, and the towns join. Of course you know I do not agree with all your brother's orthodoxy but then, he has some spirit of progress, and would have a great deal if he were not in clerical trammels.
My brother has had to battle alone with all the proslavery ministers of the Association, and it was through his agency the question was stirred this year in the Massachusetts General Association of continuing in fellowship with slaveholders. Our brothers would be mutual help to each other I think. I hope Wm. will come east tho I have but little confidence in the good that can be accomplished by ministers, while they remain such, still if I have not mistaken Wm's character he will one day be a man, and not a minister in the common acceptation of that term, and his visible growth, by a "sympathetic emotion of virtue" will aid others. Besides, Nette, if Wm. settles in Westminster he will be only thirty miles from Brookfield and seven from Gardner where my mother and sister reside. And I guess you'd come to visit your brother, and if we would not visit too, it should be no fault of mine. O Nette when there are so many good reasons why he should come, wont you encourage him to do so.
I wonder if you have any idea how dreadfully I feel about you studying that old musty theology, which already has its grave clothes on, and is about to be buried, in so deep a grave that no resurrection trump can call it into being, and no prophet voice, clothe its dry bones with living life? Even now, it prolongs its existence only by a kind of galvanism. The quickening spirit iswanting. The centuries that are gone, "with outstretched arms" stand waiting to bury it in the deep darkness from which it came, while all the voices of the Ages that are beyond Us are saying "Give up"&emdash;"Give up"&emdash;The Great Soul of the Present, hungering and thirsting, for the bread and water of Life, falters by the wayside, finding no green pastures, or living fountains, that are not all polluted with the horrid stench which goes up from the decaying corpse of such a theology, with which Humanity, and God himself are weary. Yet my very own dear Nette is spending three precious years of her life's young prime, wading through that deep slough, from the stain of which she can never wash herself, and by which I fear, her vision will be so clouded that she can only see men through creeds, while her ear, will only hear God's voice speaking in the written Book, unconscious of the unwritten revelations so grand and glorious which stand out, in "living light" all over God's creation&emdash;Your heart, it cannot spoil I know, for God has made his own impress there so indelibly that it cannot be effaced. Your heart will ever feel after the heart of its fellows&emdash;to drop healing where sorrow's wounds are made&emdash;to purify, where Crimes viper brood nestle&emdash;to cheer where adversity lowers&emdash;and to banish Hate by its Love&emdash;You have honesty & candor now, more than most others. I dread to see these noble qualities trimmed, and your generous soul belittled to the defence of an outgrown creed&emdash;O Nette it is intolerable and I can think of it with allowance only when I think that the loss of what is invaluable in you will purchase apparatus to battle down the wall of bible, brimstone, church and corruption, which has hitherto hemmed women intonothingness&emdash;The fact that you have entered a field forbidden to women, will be a good to the sex, but I half fear it will be purchased at too dear a rate. Sometimes I think that you will leave Oberlin with the same free spirit with which you entered it, and blame myself for ever thinking otherwise, then it creeps over me again, like the cold sense of "coming ill," that you will be only a sectarian, and never dare to throw yourself out like "incense to the breese", careful only that the healing fragrane, shall be spread abroad&emdash;but you will have to be politic, so as not to injure your sect, and to keep in, with your craft, and not loose caste with the clergy, (if you ever get it (!) which God grant you never may) &c. &c. &c. &c.
Now Nette dear, do you think I am a monster? Wait forty years and see&emdash;Why Nette you would get as much discipline, in a thousand ways, with far less danger to yourself and you would learn more of the world, in one month, by actual conflict with it than you possibly can in the three years you will spend there.
I am not crazy Nette, nor getting wild, and you must not think because I write as I do that I am any less your friend, or that I love you less than formerly. It is because we are real friends, and because I love you so much, that I speak so freely.
The idea is horrible to me, that you shall ever be in the predicament of the poor things I meet with almost every day, who dare not speak fearlessly, against the giant sins of the time, because some of their church would be implicated! And almost any where, let a clergyman speak boldly as his heart, and conscience prompt and how soon, he is ostracized, and so they go, dumb dogs. Nette I would far rather see you in the grave, for then I should know your spirit was free, than to see you the poor victim to sect , and party . But some good Angel will I hope guard you, from the tendencies around and enabled you to come out, like gold tried. You have been tried there, and the trial, has brought to light noble traits in your character, and I love you all the better for what you have so nobly suffered. But do keep a free spirit my dear dear Nette.
[Oberlin, late February 1850]
It is a fine pleasant afternoon just such an one as makes me think of you. Dear Lucy if you were here now in this pleasant little room in the old boarding hall why then&emdash;I dont know what would happen; but I believe I should sit down and cry for joy. Yes here we are in the same room that I occupied at the time I came from home with the artificials in my bonnet, and you came in and cried over me for sorrow. Dear dear L. I love you better for those tears than I should have done without them, and I have no artificials in my bonnet now; but am just as much determined as ever to think them pretty and may perhaps wear them again sometime, but not to tease you though. I said "we are in the same room," but poor room! it has almost lost its identity, through the abundance of paint, white wash, and paper till not a particle of its former brown countenance can be discovered. In a word the old boarding hall looks almost like a new one. Then under the administration of Treas. Hill and wife together with Mrs Hopkins our Principal it is quite another place.
My sister Ella is here with me and helps to account for the plural "we" used above. She is a good girl but has "fallen on evil times" as far as regards her studies here and is obliged to wait two or three weeks yet before she can go into any classes. She is reading and studying with me but was crying half an hour ago and was almost inclined to wish she had never come to Oberlin. It has all gone now though and a moment since she was laughing heartily at some thing she was reading.
Now Lucy where are you and what are you doing. Laying out your plan for the lecture this evening? Success to you. I'll fancy I hear you talking when the time comes; and perhaps some good spirit will bring some of your thoughts to my ears and I'll try if I can to distinguish them from my own musings. So take care what you say, for I dont want to attribute naughty thoughts to you. Are you a believer yet in the spiritual presences of living friends! Its a good doctrine, but I had rather believe in special Providence if as you think they will enable us to meet sometime within the year. Why can we not meet at O. It will seem like old times to us both and then you may take your degree at Commencement. Do you not intend to do so. Do do do come. Sarah and I and all the rest of the good people will wellcome you with hearts larger and warmer than ever.
Lucy I thank you for your present of the Liberator. I have read carefully every number but the last, and that will be forwarded to me from home. It contains many good things, some noble ones some sweet ones, and some bitter ones. The refuge of oppression is exelent, and invaluable as a history of the times&emdash;a thermometer of the public pulse. The Editor certainly shows skill and tact in his selections and the hardest sayings are sure to find an antidote near at hand. Will you please send them now to Oberlin for notwithstanging all your "dont gos" I am here and will give my reasons for this hereafter.
How busy you must be in your lectures about congressional proceedings and how hopeful the times are. The world is going on to perfection and though the waters are turbid from agitation they will certainly settle to a calmer clearer purer state than they have ever been in before Poor Daniel Webster. Wm Day was too noble to be his grandson and it is better as it is.
You are informed doubtless that we are having some trouble about our President and Principal here. H. Cook calls it all childs play but though it looks serious enough to me it seems not to be alarming.
Mrs Burk[e] will never be Principal again. President is to remain and if the world is turned upside down it will be for good.&emdash;Helen has been quite sick and is far from well now. She is keeping house and seems to be quite comfortable there with her niece. You know I suppose that Hyman [Heman Hall] is trying to weave his golden snares around her and in due time he will doubtless be successful&emdash;more so I suspect than his friend and ally Dan Cupid. I wish some of my good friends would give to her their allegiance to the little blind God and so become again "in maiden meditations fancy free" Ha ha! Do you agree with me?
"Dont go to Oberlin Nette" those words are ringing in my ears. Thank you L. for your kind advice. I would have heeded it but suspected you did not know all the circumstances. First I was anxious to have my sister Ella come here and she probably would never have done so if I had not returned here this Spring. My Mother would never have consented to her coming alone. She is the baby and Agusta was taken sick here. By the way she is much better, so much that we now think she will recover if she is careful. It is the cod liver oil that has done it. Again Providence did not open the way for me to go elsewhere. I had neither money nor health for this year, and was anxious to get through studying that I might commence acting. There are but few months longer and I shall be greatly profited by them every way. Our studies have never been more interesting, Prof. F. gone notwithstanding. We hope he will return soon.
What shall I do Lucy when my studies are finished. I dont like the idea of teaching at all and am some in debt for my education. Please suggest something if you can. May be I shall go to Cincinatti but what can I do there at first. Work for the Lord and he'll board you is Prof. Finneys motto and I believe it but I must work better than I have done if I shall have to get in debt for a part of it.
How glad I am that you are going to spend the summer at Providence and glader still that you are going to write. What do you think of Elisabeth Wilsons book. I have not been able to obtain a copy. I searched Rochester over for one but they had not received any there at that time. Of course you do not care for her defence of the bible except so far as the influence upon community; but is it not hopeful to think a woman is the first to write upon that subject very extensively. She is old school I suppose in her views from some things she said in the Liberator.
You see dear L. I have made no appology for not writing you before. It is because I have no good one. Some of the time after writing you last I was teaching, some of the time quite sick some of the time resting and thinking absolutely nothing, some of the time waiting to know whether I should come to Oberlin this year or not and for the few days since arriving here waiting to get settled. All this time have not forgotten you but I do believe have kept loving you better and better at least I have thought of you more than usual not thinking of so many other things perhaps. Your letter and the Paper showed me you had not forgotten me either and as it came Valentines day I received it as friendships gift. It was very kind in you Lucy and I know I ought to have thanked you before.
Are you not getting 'worn and weary' by your labors. Do be careful of your mind and body both for I suspect you need more rest than you are disposed to give them.
If you will only come you shall be one of my children in Cincinatti the oldest too&emdash;mamas favorite you know.
O dear! Lucy I do wish we believed alike. I wish somebody believed as I do and some people are beginning to believe so; but then we'll 'agree to disagree' as you used to say so often. Some people here do agree with me in sentiment near enough now, only we have no tasks and heart sympathies in common and it seems almost as bad as though we were Jews and Gentiles.
How I wish ladies would act and talk as sensibly as gentlemen no matter what they thought if they would think sense nor what they said if it had some meaning to it but as it is I really like the "gentlemen" better than the 'ladies' and as Ella my sis says "I half wish I was a boy so I could have somebody that liked to talk with." Dont you feel just so when you are traveling about from place to place and see women so little interested; or do they think they must talk with you upon important subjects. I like Mrs Hill, Mr Hill too that is they are kind pleasant sociable intellegent &c. I sit at their table you know. Mr Hill said once that if I wanted to be a man I should be one and go to Tappan Hall to room. He does not talk so now. Maybe he thinks it though but I suspect he never knew either me or my sentiments and probably never will. No one hardly has patience and interest enough to learn at least the latter so they set up a straw man and quarrel with it and as it is neither me nor my effigy they beat it without affecting me at all. So I get along as nicely as you please. H. Cowles is sick, with consumption it is to be feared, her voice sounds badly. She was engaged to Mr. Kendall&emdash;What is Mrs. Foster doing and what does she intend to do.
How many children has Lucretia Mott. Please give me a brief sketch of her history. I have a particular use for it. Are her children intellegent respectable and well trained. How did she manage to bring them all up and still speak so much in public. If you can tell me a few things about her I shall be much obliged. I admire her character far as I know it.
Elihu Burritt will be here in a few weeks.
Sarah is going to write you too and enclose her letter with mine.
In much love ever
Dont give "Measure to Measure" but write immediately and You shall see I am grateful.
Click here to return to the short biography of Antoinette Brown Blackwell.
Click here to return to "People of Oberlin: Images Over Time".
Click here to return to the "Lucy Stone walk-a-thon Tour" of some herstoric sites in Oberlin.