I recently read a book, Leaving Coy’s Hill: A Novel by Katherine Sherbrooke which is a fictionalized account of Lucy Stone’s life. Lucy Stone was an abolitionist and suffragette who also promoted marriage equality. She was the first woman in Massachusetts to obtain a college degree. She attended Oberlin, graduating in 1847.
She eventually married but kept her birth or “maiden name”. Today about twenty-five percent of women keep their own names. Since the 1970s, women, whether married or no,t have the option of calling themselves Ms. This was not available to Lucy Stone.
I liked the book, but I had some issues with it. I think there are inherent problems with writing fiction about a real person. If the author fictionalizes or imagines thoughts and feelings of the subject, the reader wonders how they could know.
Since Lucy Stone was an amazing person that many people know nothing about, my concern is that the novel’s version of her life may be the only information the reader receives. They may think it is all true when it is not.
Following the Civil War, the suffragist movement split, with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony advocating for the vote for everyone; leading them to oppose the 15th amendment which gave black men the vote. Lucy Stone took the opposite position supporting giving the franchise to black men; thus delaying the same opportunity for all women.
Leaving Coy’s Hill presents this controversy and division from Lucy’s point of view. With historical hindsight, we can see that there wasn’t a good choice. Given Sherbrooke’s approach, Susan B. Anthony becomes the villain of the story which may surprise people.
Reading Leaving Coy’s Hill made me think about winners and losers in history and who becomes the face of a political or social movement for subsequent generations. Stanton and Anthony won the suffragism history war while Lucy Stone lost. The women I write about in Dames, Dishes, and Degrees are the losers in a historical narrative that places second wave feminism front and center.