Radical Woman of the Day: Donna J. Stone

On this day in 1933 was born Donna J. Stone, poet, philanthropist, and advocate for the rights of mentally-challenged children. While bed-ridden due to rheumatic fever as a child, she became interested in writing, although she did not gain much recognition until later in life.

After her first marriage, to playwright John Pascal, ended in divorce, Stone dedicated herself to advocacy on behalf of children, particularly the mentally challenged. An early supporter of The Arc of the United States (known at the time as the Association for Retarded Children), she also moved beyond ordinary advocacy when she posed as a social worker to infiltrate New York’s Willowbrook State School, a home for disabled children reputed to be rife with abuse and neglect. The revelation of her findings to the press led to further media coverage and the ultimate closure of the institution.

After her second marriage to L.E. Stone and the couple’s subsequent move to Dallas with their son, Stone began to write poetry, and her poem “Mother at 75” was picked up for national syndication after its initial publication in her local paper. She later published Wielder of Words: A Collection of Poems, which the American Poetry Society selected as their book of the year in 1991. Stone gave away many copies of the book to various institutions and did not keep any of the profits from its sales.