Mrs. Stuart, the daughter of a large landowner near Greenwood who served in the
Delaware senate, grew up in a genteel household. She married Dr. William Stuart in
1859 and had five children before becoming a widow. At that point, she became aware of
women's unequal status and set her mind to fight for equitable treatment, becoming Delawares first feminist.
In the mid-nineteenth century, women lost all their legal and property rights when they
married. They could not buy or sell land, control their own earnings, or make a will. A
single or widowed woman could own property, but she could not vote for the officials who
levied the taxes that she paid on that property.
Mrs. Stuart and Thomas Garrett, the famous Quaker abolitionist from Wilmington, planned the first Delaware Suffrage Conference in Wilmington in November
1869. They also attended the National Suffrage Association in Washington, D.C.
that year. Mrs.
Stuart worked to bring nationally-known advocates for
womens rights, including Julia Ward Howe, to Wilmington to speak at Town Hall. As the vice
president of the National Womans Suffrage Association in 1881, she brought Elizabeth
Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Belva Lockwood to Delaware to lobby
the General Assembly for a
The papers reported Mrs. Stuart's appearance at the State House in this way: "she
dresses in black, weighs 250 pounds, is good-natured, and can talk ten hours a day, at a
rate of 200 words a minute."
Mrs. Stuart believed women could never gain legal equity until they had
gained the right to vote. She worked for many years for suffrage and equal
status under the law. She worked
to get laws passed in the General Assembly that gave married women the right to buy
property, control their earnings, and make wills. "I have by my own individual
efforts, by the use of hard earned money, gone to our legislature time after time and have
had this law and that law passed for the benefit of women, and the same little ship of
state that has that has sailed on on the subject of taxation without
representation." Speaking to the members of a United States Senate Committee, she stood on her
tiptoes to declare, "under protest for 20 years I have paid my taxes,
and if I live 20 years longer, I shall pay them under protest every time."
Very little documentation remains of Mrs. Stuarts life. Certainly she proved
herself an early, formidable crusader for women.