Marriage Contract

Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell

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Wendy McElroy, 1982

Lucy Stone (1818–1893) firmly opposed the loss of legal status for women inherent in 19th-century marriages.  Upon marriage, women frequently lost their rights to property, contracts, wages, protection by the law from wife-beating, and parental jurisdiction.  Although she resisted marriage with Henry Blackwell, Stone finally agreed to the ceremony under two significant conditions: the marriage included a contract that repudiated the degrading marital laws and refused to abide by them.  In case of dispute, both parties agreed to enter arbitration rather than appeal to the law.  Moreover, Lucy Stone maintained her maiden name and for generations thereafter women who did not substitute their husbands’ surnames for their own were known as “Lucy Stoners.”

A Note

Originally posted on

The following was signed by Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell prior to their May 1, 1855 marriage.  The Rev. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who performed the marriage, not only read the statement at the ceremony, but also distributed it to other ministers as a model that he urged other couples to follow.

The Marriage Contract of Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell

Also known as “Protest Against the Laws of Marriage”

While acknowledging our mutual affection by publicly assuming the relationship of husband and wife, yet in justice to ourselves and a great principle, we deem it a duty to declare that this act on our part implies no sanction of, nor promise of voluntary obedience to such of the present laws of marriage, as refuse to recognize the wife as an independent, rational being, while they confer upon the husband an injurious and unnatural superiority, investing him with legal powers which no honorable man would exercise, and which no man should possess.  We protest especially against the laws which give to the husband:

  1. The custody of the wife’s person.

  2. The exclusive control and guardianship of their children.

  3. The sole ownership of her personal, and use of her real estate, unless previously settled upon her, or placed in the hands of trustees, as in the case of minors, lunatics, and idiots.

  4. The absolute right to the product of her industry.

  5. Also against laws which give to the widower so much larger and more permanent interest in the property of his deceased wife, than they give to the widow in that of the deceased husband.

  6. Finally, against the whole system by which “the legal existence of the wife is suspended during marriage,” so that in most States, she neither has a legal part in the choice of her residence, nor can she make a will, nor sue or be sued in her own name, nor inherit property.

We believe that personal independence and equal human rights can never be forfeited, except for crime; that marriage should be an equal and permanent partnership, and so recognized by law; that until it is so recognized, married partners should provide against the radical injustice of present laws, by every means in their power.

We believe that where domestic difficulties arise, no appeal should be made to legal tribunals under existing laws, but that all difficulties should be submitted to the equitable adjustment of arbitrators mutually chosen.

Thus reverencing law, we enter our protest against rules and customs which are unworthy of the name, since they violate justice, the essence of law.