|There are no known images of Lucrecia Mott as a young woman this deguerotype by Granger of her in middle age is about the earliest. Note the Quaker plain dress which she maintained all of her life.|
Note: Note this is an example of one of the fascinating topics that take on a life of their own when I tackle them. What started out as a brief item on Lucretia Mott’s January 3 birthday grew and I did not post for while I worked on it. I decided to put it up starting today in three parts. I think you will find her as interesting as I did.
She was the essential woman to birth of American Feminism as she was to a raft of social justice crusades including but not limited to abolition, peace, prison reform, and religious liberty. In 1848 Lucretia Mott was the most famous female orator—and almost the only one. When she was invited by the remarkable group of young women in Seneca Falls, New York to speak in the Upstate Finger Lakes town she was already 55 years old, a generation senior to her hosts who included an ally from the anti-slavery movement, Elizabeth Caddy Stanton. Together, virtually on the spur of the moment, the women decided to take advantage of Mott’s fame by calling what became the Seneca Falls Convention, the first American Women’s Rights Convention. She helped draft Stanton’s wildly radical Declaration of Sentiments which she signed despite misgivings about political action in a system corrupted by slavery, greed and moral compromise. In the end she recognized that women’s “right to the elective franchise however…should be yielded to her, whether she exercises that right or not.” And that was just part of her story
She was born Lucretia Coffin on January 3, 1793, in Nantucket, Massachusetts to Peter Coffin and the former Anna Folgier. Through her mother she was a descendent of Peter Folgier, the Baptist poet and translator of native languages who became the surveyor of Nantucket Island, a joint proprietor of the land, and founder of the village. Folgier had to avoid contact with the Puritans on the mainland or risk trial for heresy but made Nantucket a place of refuge for dissenters and of amity with the natives. Folgier’s daughter became Benjamin Franklin’s mother and thus Lucretia was a cousin of the Founder and polymath.
Even when Lucretia was growing up the island and her family remained beacons of free inquiry and exceptional social equality. Her parents recognized their daughter’s sharp mind and keen sense of justice and sent her to one of the few places in the infant United States where a young woman could get a quality formal education. At age 13 she began studies at the Nine Partners School, located in Dutchess County, New York, which was maintained by the Society of Friends—the Quakers to which she became a devoted member. Upon graduation she joined the faculty as a teaching assistant.
|The Nine Partners school wittin a decade of Mots's time there.|
While working at the school, Lucretia was moved to her first protest when she discovered that male instructors and aids were paid more than women for the identical work. She was not so sheltered that that she did not realize this was commonly the case in the rare instances when women could find any paid work outside the home, but she was deeply shocked that the allegedly egalitarian Quakers would practice such discrimination.
She soon left the school but instead returning to New England Lucretia moved to Philadelphia, the epicenter of Quakerism in the United States. So did a young former male teacher from Nine Partners, James Mott, perhaps the very young man who had alerted to the pay imbalance at the school. Both were passionate about social justice issues, especially slavery. They married in 1811 when Lucretia was 18 years old. James Mott remained a devoted and supportive husband through all of his wife’s ground breaking work and actively collaborated with her on many endeavors. It was a long and loving marriage that produced six children.
|Lucretia with her devoted and supportive husband John, an active partern in her abolition and women's rights work.|
The same year as the Motts married, 1811, the radical visionary Quaker minister Elias Hicks published Observations on the Slavery of Africans and Their Descendents in which he linked the moral issue of emancipation to the Quaker Peace Testimony, maintaining slavery was the product of war. Since slavery was sustained by “purchasers and consumers of the produce of the slaves’ labour; as the profits arising from the produce of their labour, is the only stimulus or inducement for making slaves.” He argued to end slavery peacefully, it must be made unprofitable by a total boycott of slave produced goods, most significantly cotton cloth and cane sugar. This led to the Free Produce Movement which although never officially endorsed by most Quaker Annual Meetings was principally support by Friends members.
Both Motts became fervent supporters of Hicks and his movement. The young couple spent the early years of their marriage concentrating on their family. For Lucretia it was her brood of small children and for James it was his successful career as merchant trader. But by 1820 James could no longer reconcile his personal trade in cotton with his moral scruples and gave up that part of his business at a significant financial hardship to the family. Lucretia explored domestic alternatives to cotton and white sugar and promoted them in her Quaker circles.
The couple also embraced Hick’s radical theology which emphasized focus on the Inner Light of Society of Friends founder George Fox at the expense of orthodox stress on scripture and doctrine. He specifically refuted penal substitution, original sin, the Trinity, predestination, an external Devil while maintaining the impossibility of falling from grace. This essential universalism was deeply shocking and offensive to many Quakers who had been influenced by Evangelical Great Awakening that had recently swept much of the nation up in a religious frenzy. Orthodox English Quakers came over to denounce Hick’s and his views and tensions were growing in the Philadelphia Annual Meeting and elsewhere.
In 1821 Lucretia determined to enter the fray in support of Hick’s religious and ethical views. With her husband’s full support, she decided to become a Quaker Minister. She traveled extensively, especially through the Burnt Out District of Upstate New York where the Evangelical frenzy had been the most intense and various self-anointed prophets battled to establish new cults and back to New England where a schism was brewing between orthodox Calvinists and the religious liberals who soon became, officially, Unitarians. As a Quaker she was regarded as an ancestral enemy by the Calvinist Congregationalists but she found much to resonate with among the Unitarians. In fact she would go on to be deeply influenced by Unitarians like William Ellery Channing and Theodore Parker.
At the time Mott began preaching no Protestant denomination had yet ordained a female minister. In some areas Methodists tolerated a handful of women lay ministers. Most denominations denied women the right to speak in Church under any circumstances. Only the Quakers, who eschewed an ordained professional ministry as a priestly interference with a direct experience of the Holy, allowed women to regularly preach, although they were not welcome at all Meetings.
As Mott’s fame as a minister grew and her radical message gained public attention, some became alarmed that she might inspire good Christian women to seek the ministry. Others were equally offended by women making any public appearances including the lectures that Mott increasingly mixed with her preaching. Congregational Church General Assembly delegates voted for a pastoral letter warning women that lecturing directly defied St. Paul’s instruction for women to keep quiet in church.(1 Timothy 2:12) Other people opposed women speaking to mixed crowds of men and women, which they called “promiscuous.”
Her ministry not only honed and improved her oratorical skills, but Mott had to learn valuable skills which she would continue to use in her broadening career. She learned to make travel arrangements, find and book halls where she was not speaking in Quaker Meeting Houses, publicize her appearances, make sure literature was available and sold, and maintain a network of supporters. These were the essential skills of any effective activist.
By the early 1830’s Mott was noted not only as a preacher, but as a noted and outspoken opponent of slavery. In 1833, James Mott helped found the American Anti-Slavery Society and Lucretia was the only woman to speak at the organizational meeting in Philadelphia. She tested the language of the society’s Constitution and bolstered support when many delegates were wavering. Days after the conclusion of the convention Mott and other white and Black women founded the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. Integrated from its founding, the organization opposed both slavery and racism, and developed close ties to Philadelphia’s Black community. Mott herself often preached at Black parishes.
Now one of America’s most noted abolitionists, Mott not only maintained a busy preaching and speaking schedule, but she endured threats and ostracism for her views and suffered from severe digestive trouble, then diagnosed as dyspepsia that plagued her the rest of her life. She also managed the family’s often slender resources with enough left over to make cash donation to favored causes and to provide shelter to visiting religious and anti-slavery associates and even runaway slaves.
|The anti-abolitionist mob cheered as Pennsylvania Hall burned after Lucrecia Mott helped lead Black and White delegages to a women's anti-slavery convention to safety.|
Mott played a leading roll in the three national Anti-Slavery Conventions of American Women in 1837, 1838, culminating in the violent confrontations in 1839 when an anti-abolitionist mob attacked and destroyed the new Pennsylvania Hall where the conference was getting under way. Mott led white and Black women with linked arms through to mob to safety. But the rampage continued as the rioters burned Black homes, institutions, and neighborhoods and began a march on the Mott home. Lucretia managed to get her children to safety and then calmly stood in her parlor to meet the mob. Luckily friends diverted the mob by ruse. Undeterred both Motts continued their anti-slavery work.
In 1840 Mott and her husband were elected by American societies to be delegates to the most important international Anti-Slavery meeting to date—the World Anti-Slavery Convention, in London, which was expected attract a dazzling Who’s Who of British, European, and American politicians, intellectuals, religious leaders, and activists. Lucretia was one of six accredited American women delegates.
On arriving in London before the meeting started the American women were told by organizers that they would not be seated or recognized. The British organizing committee was afraid their presence would associate women’s rights issues with the movement to end the slave trade and dilute the focus on abolition. They were also afraid of offending the sensibilities of social conservatives they hoped to win to the cause who objected to any public role for women.
Some of the male American delegates, notably William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips, vigorously protested the women’s exclusion and the uproar stirred controversy across Britain. Instead of disassociating the anti-slavery movement from women’s rights, the effect was to put the second class status of women to the forefront of public debate. The women were allowed to observe the proceedings from a segregated seating area but were forbidden to participate in any way. In protest Garrison, Nathaniel Peabody Rogers, William Adam, and Black abolitionist Charles Lenox Remond sat with the women in the segregated area.
Another of the excluded women was young Elizabeth Caddy Stanton who was in London on her honeymoon. Despite their differences in ages and religion—Stanton was already a Freethinker—the women became close during the conference and spent hours discussing the plight of women in the movement and in society. Stanton recalled that before they parted they agreed on the need to call women’s right’s conventions and establish societies modeled on the anti-slavery movement in the U.S. Although they took no immediate action, a firm friendship was established and Mott would become a supporter and mentor to Stanton for decades to come.
While in Britian, Mott met many abolitionist leaders and sympathetic women. She spoke in several venues and was pleased to find considerable public support in the Industrial Midlands and in Scotland. She was now an international figure.
On her return to the States Mott launched her most extensive speaking tour yet, now appearing before large audiences in lecture halls in major cities including Boston and New York City. She even arranged a foray into “enemy territory” scheduling appearances in slave-holding Baltimore and in Virginia taking care to especially invite slave owners to her meetings. She ended the tour in Washington, DC where there was still an active slave auction weekly. She timed her lecture to coincide with the return of Congress from Christmas recess and more than 40 curious Congressmen attended. She even had a personal audience with President John Tyler, a Virginia planter who would later serve in the Confederate Congress. Whatever his bemused reservations to her plea, he told her, “I would like to hand Mr. [John C.] Calhoun over to you.”
Meanwhile Stanton launched her public career as a speaker for temperance mixing her message with “an Homeopathic dose of woman’s rights, as I take good care to do in many private conversations.” She remained in contact with the busy Mott and in 1842 the two met in Boston to discuss a possible women’s rights convention and renewed the discussion in 1847 just before Stanton moved from the Hub of the Universe to remote Seneca Falls.
Mott and Paulina Wright Davis began holding public meetings on women’s issues in Philadelphia beginning in 1846. The following year a wide circle of abolitionists began to informally discuss a women’s convention. Several players were making public statements including Lucy Stone who gave her first public speech on the subject of women’s rights, The Province of Women, at her brother Bowman Stone’s church in Gardner, Massachusetts.