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Lucretia Mott

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Lucretia Coffin Mott

Lucretia Mott
Born (1793-01-03)January 3, 1793
Nantucket, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died November 11, 1880(1880-11-11) (aged 87)
Abington, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Occupation Abolitionist, Suffragist

Lucretia Coffin Mott ( January 3, 1793 November 11, 1880) was an American Quaker minister, abolitionist, social reformer and proponent of women's rights. She is credited as the first American "feminist" in the early 1800s but was, more accurately, the initiator of women's political advocacy.


Early life

Lucretia Coffin was born into a Quaker family in Nantucket, Massachusetts. She was the second child of seven by Thomas Coffin and Anna Folger. At the age of thirteen she was sent to the Nine Partners Quaker School in Dutchess County, New York, run by the Society of Friends, where she eventually became a teacher. Her interest in women's rights began when she discovered that male teachers at the school were paid twice as much as the female staff. On April 10, 1811, Lucretia married James Mott, another teacher at the school. They had six children. Their first child died at age 5. Ten years later, she became a Quaker minister. She was an ancestor of several families in Tennessee, one of them the Starbucks.

It should be noted that Quakers, when compared to other religious and social groups in America since its founding, were unusual in their equal treatment of women. Quakers, at that time, were discriminated against for being neutral in their ways. This discrimination also included acts of racism and sexism. They had a rich history and singular respect from the majority of American people of those times, mostly due to their advocacy and martyrdom for being conscientious objectors to war, and later their anti-slavery efforts.

Early anti-slavery efforts

Lucretia Mott was first made aware of slavery upon encountering Priscilla Wakefield's book Mental Improvement. Her first physical encounter with slavery was during a visit to Harper's Ferry Virginia, accompanied by Sarah Zane, a minister of the Society of Friends. Lucretia and her husband were both opposed to the slave trade, boycotted all byproducts of slavery, and were active in the American Anti-Slavery Society. She moved to Philadelphia in 1821 and quickly became known for her persuasive speeches against slavery. Prior to her own involvement, many Quaker men had been involved in the abolitionist movement in the very early 1800s. Lucretia Mott was one of the first Quaker women to do advocacy work for abolition. She and her husband followed Elias Hicks in the "Great Separation" of American Quakerism in 1827 into the more liberal and mystical Hicksite branch, which drew away from the more evangelical and conservative Orthodox branch.

Mott's letters reflect her regular travels in the mid-nineteenth century throughout the East and Midwest as she addressed various reform organizations such as the Non-Resistance Society, the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women as well as the quarterly and yearly Quaker meetings. Her letters not only express the thoughts of a public figure but they also show the anxieties and joys of a nineteenth-century woman. Forceful and intelligent, her letters also reflect Mott's character and Quaker background.

Like many Quakers including Hicks, Mott considered slavery an evil to be opposed. They refused to use cotton cloth, cane sugar, and other slavery-produced goods. With her skills in the ministry, she began to speak publicly for abolition, often traveling from her home in Philadelphia. Her sermons combined antislavery themes with broad calls for moral reform. Her husband supported her activism and they often sheltered runaway slaves in their home. In 1833, they co-founded the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society.

By the 1830s, Mott was gaining considerable recognition as an abolitionist. It was around this same time that she and her husband befriended William Lloyd Garrison. A lifelong friendship stemmed from the initial meeting and also propelled Mott and her husband deep within the abolitionist circle. In December 1833, Garrison called a meeting to expand the New England Anti-Slavery Society. James Mott was a delegate at the Convention, but it was Lucretia Mott who made a lasting impression on those present. She tested the language of the Constitution and bolstered support when many delegates were precarious. Merely days after the conclusion of the Convention, at the expressed urging of the other delegates, Lucretia founded the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. The extensive participation of blacks in the organization tightly bound the actions of the Society to the Philadelphia black community. This female society was the first of its kind, where the black voice was heard. Lucretia Mott herself often preached at black parishes.

Amidst social persecution and even pain brought on by dyspepsia, Mott continued her unwavering work for the abolitionist cause. She kept a tight household budget to leave considerable space in their income to entertain guests and still donate to charities. For this Lucretia Mott was praised by many for her ability to maintain her household while still contributing to the cause. In the words of one editor, “She is proof that it is possible for a woman to widen her sphere without deserting it,” (Valient Friend, p.68).

Many members of the abolitionist movement opposed female participation. At the Congregational General Assembly a Pastoral letter was created, warning women that to lecture directly defied Paul’s instruction for women to keep quiet in the church and maintain the properties of the “clinging vine”. Some simply opposed to women preaching to “promiscuous” crowds of both men and women. Others were unclear as to which side to choose, for siding with the priests meant discounting the rising popularity of the Grimkés sisters.

Lucretia Mott received endless criticism for her leading role in the 1837 Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women, the same gathering that attracted the powerful prose of Angelina Grimkés. Rotten produce was hurled at their doors in protest and other, more maturely violent mobs burned books and roamed the streets of Philadelphia in search for such vile offenders as Lucretia Mott. Mott’s attempt to include all women in the movement by organizing fairs to raise awareness and revenue for the movement was seen as frivolous by most.

The International Anti-Slavery Convention

Lucretia Mott (1842)

Mott spoke at the International Anti-Slavery Convention in London, England in June 1840. In spite of her status as one of six women delegates, Mott was not formally seated at the meeting because she was a woman. This led to the protest of other Americans advocates attending the convention, including William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips, whom both sat with the women behind the bar. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her activist husband Henry B. Stanton attended the convention while on their honeymoon. Stanton became angry when she couldn't see Mott as she spoke, as women in the audience were required to sit in a roped-off section hidden from the view of the men in attendance. Mott was however honored to the highest degree, as she was given a throne-like chair from which she could properly view all the proceedings. Delegates approached her in groups of two or three to become acquainted with Mott. She was deemed the "Lioness of the Convention" by one Irish reporter (Valient Friend, p.92).

Returning from the World’s Convention with unparalleled recognition, Mott also returned with a fiery disposition, born from her time abroad. It was during her stay in England and Scotland that she faced an equal number of opposition to her cause, yet it was because they were strangers that she suffered no guilt in berating her critics. Mott began sermonizing, first in Ireland, then New York, Boston, Baltimore, eventually traveling for 5 weeks, which extended into Slaveowning regions of Maryland and Virginia. She arranged to meet and converse with slaveowners on the morality of slavery. In the District of Columbia, Mott timed her lecture to coincide with the return of Congress from Christmas recess and over forty Congressmen were in attendance. She also had the pleasure of a personal audience with President John Tyler, who was impressed with her uncharacteristically good speech. Upon her departure, he proclaimed "I would like to hand Mr. Calhoun over to you," (Valiet Friend, p.105).

Seneca Falls

Mott and Stanton became well acquainted at the International Anti-Slavery Convention, and Stanton later recalled: "We resolved to hold a convention as soon as we returned home, and form a society to advocate the rights of women." However, it was not until 1848 that Mott and Stanton organized the Women's Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, New York. The Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 was the first American women's rights meeting. Stanton's resolution that it was "the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves the sacred right to the elective franchise" was passed, and this became the focus of the group's campaign over the next few years. Mott was a signatory of the Declaration of Sentiments. While Elizabeth Cady Stanton is usually credited as the leader of that effort, it was Mott's mentoring of Stanton and their work together that organized the event. Lucretia's sister, Martha Coffin Wright also helped organize the convention and signed the declaration.


Mott advocated equality in marriage, but opposed changing divorce laws.

Mott parted with the mainstream women's movement in one area, that of divorce. At that time it was very difficult to obtain divorce, and fathers were given custody of children. Stanton sought to make divorce easier to obtain and to safeguard women's access to and control of their children. The more conservative Mott opposed any significant legal change in divorce laws.

Mott's theology was influenced by Unitarians including Theodore Parker and William Ellery Channing as well as early Quakers including William Penn. She taught that "the kingdom of God is within man" (1849) and was part of the group of religious liberals who formed the Free Religious Association in 1867, with Rabbi Wise, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Her theological position was particularly influential among Quakers, as in the future many harked back to her positions, sometimes without even knowing it.

American Equal Rights Association

Elected as the first president of the American Equal Rights Association after the end of the Civil War, Mott strove a few years later to reconcile the two factions that split over the priorities between woman suffrage and black male suffrage. Ever the peacemaker, Mott tried to heal the breach between Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone over the immediate goal of the women's movement: suffrage for freedmen and all women, or suffrage for freedmen first?


In 1850 Mott wrote Discourse on Woman, a book about restrictions on women in the United States. She became more widely known after this. When slavery was outlawed in 1865, she began to advocate giving black Americans the right to vote. She remained a central figure in the women's movement as a peacemaker, a critical function for that period of the movement, until her death at age 87 in 1880.


In 1864 Mott and several other Hicksite Quakers incorporated Swarthmore College, which today remains one of the premier liberal-arts colleges in the United States .


In 1866 Mott joined with Stanton, Anthony, and Stone to establish the American Equal Rights Association. She was a leading voice in the Universal Peace Union, also founded in 1866. The following year, the organization became active in Kansas where Negro suffrage and woman suffrage were to be decided by popular vote.


Mott died on November 11 1880 (pneumonia) in Abington, Pennsylvania and was buried in the Quaker Fairhill Burial Ground in North Philadelphia. She is commemorated in a sculpture by Adelaide Johnson at the US Capitol, unveiled in 1921. In 1983 she was posthumously inducted into the U.S. National Women's Hall of Fame.

Biographical Excerpts

  • Carl Schurz first met Lucretia Mott in 1854. He described her in his autobiography published in 1906.
Lucretia Mott, a woman, as I was told, renowned for her high character, her culture, and the zeal and ability with which she advocated various progressive movements. To her I had the good fortune to be introduced by a German friend. I thought her the most beautiful old lady I had ever seen. Her features were of exquisite fineness. Not one of the wrinkles with which age had marked her face, would one have wished away. Her dark eyes beamed with intelligence and benignity. She received me with gentle grace, and in the course of our conversation, she expressed the hope that, as a citizen, I would never be indifferent to the slavery question as, to her great grief, many people at the time seemed to be.
  • Editorial, Time and Tide (July 9, 1926)
Beginning with Mary Wollstonecraft in the late 18th century, the feminist movement owed its next big impetus (in the eighteen forties and fifties) to Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony, of New England. It was Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth C. Stanton who organised the first Equal Rights Convention which was held in New York in 1848; and it was Lucretia Mott who laid down the definite proposition which American women are still struggling to implement today: 'Men and Women shall have Equal Rights throughout the United States.' A few years later Susan B. Anthony, the pioneer Suffragist, came into the American movement.
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