Lucinda Hinsdale was born September 30, 1814 in Hinesburg, VT to Aaron & Lucinda (Mitchell) Hinsdale. Lucinda spent her early years attending the public school, briefly attending a female seminary before finding the academic rigor less than what she desired and at age 13 went to Hinesburg Academy, a boys’ high school. Though she surpassed her male counterparts in the curriculum of Greek, Latin, French, and literature, the gender biases of the time kept her from continuing on to college studies, so at age 15 she became a schoolteacher, which was a common occurrence during that time.
For 11 years she taught at various schools, including 3 years spent on a plantation in Natchez, Mississippi. Her experience there, witnessing the horrors of slavery firsthand, only further solidified her anti-slavery stance.
At age 25 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, she married Dr. James Andrus Blinn Stone, who was a Baptist minister and former educator at the Hinesburg Academy. Lucinda went with James to Massachusetts for a time but returned to Michigan in 1843 when Dr. Stone became the pastor of the First Baptist Church and the principal of the Kalamazoo branch of the University of Michigan (now Kalamazoo College).
The school did not formally accept female students, but Lucinda taught women on the second floor of the school, as well as teaching some courses to male students. As enrollment grew, Lucinda took on more, serving as “Principal of the Female Department” and also teaching philosophy and English literature. With the women’s and men’s departments separated, Lucinda pushed to allow for men and women to attend the same courses, allowing women exposure to the same curriculum as men, an uncommon practice for that time.
In the early 1860s the Stones were criticized for their approach to education, and some criticism as well as to the financial state of the college. The Stones both resigned from the college and Lucinda opened a private school in her home, and many of the college’s female students followed her. She continued teaching at her home until it burned down in 1866. She organized travel study trips to Europe between 1867 and 1888, and began writing for newspapers and lecturing.
Along with working at the college, Lucinda had, as she had since the mid-1840s, held reading circles. This evolved into the Ladies’ Library Association (LLA), organized in 1852 in Kalamazoo. Studying the structure of the New England Women’s Club in Boston, Lucinda decided that the LLA would take on a more rigorous study framework and re-organized in 1873. This change was the beginning of the women’s club movement in Michigan, and Lucinda’s involvement in this organization led to her nickname, “mother of clubs,” in the state of Michigan. In 1878, the LLA built their clubhouse, the first women’s club building planned and designed by a woman’s organization in the United States. She helped similar clubs form in Detroit, Lansing and Grand Rapids, among other Michigan cities, and wrote a column called “Club Talks,” which was printed in newspapers in Detroit, Port Huron and Kalamazoo.
Her work in the suffrage movement brought her friendships with Julia Ward Howe, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Lucinda, along with Julia Ward Howe, founded the American Woman Suffrage Association in 1869, which eventually merged with another group and became the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1890. Lucinda (and Dr. Stone) served as an officer of the Michigan Suffrage Association, started in 1870.
Lucinda was also a charter member of the Michigan Women’s Press Association, organized the People’s Church of Kalamazoo and the Twentieth Century Club, helped organize the Michigan Federation of Women’s Clubs, and served as Michigan correspondent for the national General Federation of Women’s Clubs. She served as executive secretary of the Women’s Auxiliary Association.
The year of 1870 was another marker of triumph for Lucinda, as it was the year the University of Michigan accepted Madelon Stockwell, a former student of Lucinda’s and the first woman to be admitted to the University. In 1890 the University of Michigan gave Lucinda an honorary doctorate degree.
Lucinda died March 14, 1900 and is buried in Kalamazoo. Her work lives on in the Ladies’ Library Association (which still exists) and Kalamazoo College, along with her tireless work for the cause of higher education for women, suffrage, and equality for all peoples.
Written for Sheroes of History by Regina Gorham
Find out more…
The Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame has a PDF about Lucinda which you can download here.