|Lucretia Mott in 1841 by Joseph Kyle hangs in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.|
In the summer of 1848 Lucretia Mott and her husband John spent considerable time in Upstate New York. In mid-June they attended the convention of the tiny abolitionist Liberty Party in Buffalo where Elizabeth Caddy Stanton’s Cousin Gerrit Smith was nominated for President and a platform plank in support of “universal suffrage in its broadest sense, females as well as males being entitled to voted” was adopted. Despite her personal distaste for electoral politics Mott was nominated to be Smith’s vice-presidential running mate and received five votes placing fourth. That made her the first woman every placed in nomination for national political office.
On the same busy trip the couple crossed the border into Canada to check on the status and wellbeing of escaped slaves who had made it there via the Underground Railroad. Then back in New York they visited the Seneca Nation Cattaraugus Reservation to investigate reports of white encroachment and abuse. She preached to prisoners at the Auburn State Penitentiary as well, a typical of her wide reform interests.
But perhaps most personally important was the opportunity to join about 200 Hicksite Quakers, from Seneca County including Mary Ann M’Clintock and her husband who formed an even more radical Quaker group, known as the Yearly Meeting of Congregational Friends, or Progressive Friends. The Progressive Friends intended to further elevate the influence of women in affairs of the faith. They introduced joint business meetings of men and women, giving women an equal voice. Mott was supportive and spoke at the meeting although she retained her personal affiliation with the larger Hicksite movement.
|Another Quaker activist Mary Ann M'Clintock, her husband, adult daughters, and close freind Jane Hunt were all key figures in the Seneca Falls Women's Convention and their critical contributions are often overlooked|
On July 11, shortly after that meeting, Mary Ann M’Clintock invited Mott, her younger sister Martha Coffin Wright who was several months pregnant, and old friend Elisabeth Cady Stanton for a meeting over tea at the home of another leader of the Progressive Friends, Jane Hunt in Waterloo, a short distance from Seneca Falls. Stanton vented her long-standing frustration with the status of women in society and the convention quickly turned to the old dream of a women’s convention. They quickly agreed to take advantage of Mott’s visit and fame to call a meeting, but they had to act quickly because of her upcoming busy schedule of speaking engagements.
Stanton, with the assistance of Mott who knew about publicity, drew up a notice to be placed in the Seneca County Courier: “WOMAN'S RIGHTS CONVENTION—A Convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman.” The meeting would be held on July 19 and 20 at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Seneca Falls with Mott as the featured speaker. The announcement said that only women would be admitted on the first day, but men would be allowed on the second when there would be a vote on a resolution.
The notice was quickly picked up by other newspapers across Up State New York, a hot bed of abolitionism and reform schemes. More importantly it was reprinted in Horace Greely’s influential liberal Whig paper the New-York Tribune which brought it to national attention and was heartily endorsed by Fredrick Douglass in his widely read abolitionist paper The North Star. Interest in the gathering grew quickly because of it complete novelty.
While Mott and her husband had to leave Seneca County to attend to other New York engagements, Stanton and M’Clintock and her two adult daughters met to draw up a list of demands which Stanton took home to whip-up into a resolution. Their points included the rights of women to own and maintain their own property in marriage and equality in the family, education, jobs, religion, and morals. On her own Stanton added language call for the extension of voting suffrage to women—sure to be the most controversial item opposed by many of even the most liberal men, including Stanton’s husband who arranged to be elsewhere during the convention for fear of damaging a hoped for political career. She framed her resolutions with a Declaration of Sentiment echoing the ringing language of the Declaration of Independence.
As the date drew near, Mott wrote to Stanton to say that her husband too would be unable to attend because of illness, but that she would be there in the company of her sister Martha and would give the keynote address.
At the appointed hour, an unexpectedly large crowd found itself locked out of the Hall simply because in the rush of all of the arrangements Stanton had forgotten to secure the key to the building from the sexton. No problem, a small boy was boosted through and open window to unlock the doors. About 40 men were in the crowd and expected to be admitted despite the terms of the announcement. Many were important abolitionists. They were seated but asked to refrain from speaking on the first day.
That morning the convention organized itself with 26 year old Mary Ann M’Clintock, Jr., one of the youngest women present, elected secretary of the proceedings. Both Mott and Stanton spoke briefly framing the mission of the convention, and Stanton gave a first reading to her draft of the Declaration and resolutions. There was general agreement among those in attendance on most of the resolutions but many were uneasy about the 11th point—women’s suffrage. After extended discussion during which the resolutions were amended and fine-tuned, the measure was tabled until the next day when the men could participate in the vote.
In the scorching 90̊ heat of the afternoon Stanton spoke again, and Mott delivered her major address. She also read a humorous article by her sister Martha about why, after an overworked mother completed the myriad daily tasks that were required of her but not of her husband, she was the one upon whom written advice was “so lavishly bestowed.”
That evening the hall was thrown open for a meeting for the general public. Mott spoke extemporaneously framing the cause of women’s rights in the light of other reform struggles including temperance and abolitionism to a packed audience. The editor of the National Reformer based in Auburn, New York described the address as “one of the most eloquent, logical, and philosophical discourses which we ever listened to.”
The next morning even more men were in attendance, including James Mott who had recovered enough to come to support his wife. He was elected to chair the morning session since it was considered unseemly for a woman to preside in mixed company.
The meeting was so crowded that late arriving Amelia Bloomer, one of the best know temperance advocates in the country, had to be seated in the upstairs gallery. New York State Assemblyman Ansel Bascom boasted about sponsoring a new law that allowed women to retain property in their own right in marriage. Frederick Douglas was among those who spoke in favor of the Declaration. The Declaration was adopted unanimously although some of the men withdrew from the meeting first to drown their sorrows in a conveniently located saloon next door.
Men and women were asked to sign the document in separate sections. Not everyone in attendance, including those who had not formally voted against it, signed. Among those who did not were Bascom and Bloomer. But of nearly 300 in the hall for the meeting, 68 women and 32 men were willing to go on record by signing their names.
That afternoon separate votes were taken on the 11 resolutions drawn up by Stanton. All but #9 which included the suffrage language “Resolved, that it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise” passed unanimously. But there was strong opposition to suffrage from a minority. Even the Motts told Stanton, “Lizzie, I fear thee will make us look ridiculous!” But Stanton mounted a vigorous defense of her position and Frederick Douglas spoke passionately in support—saying that he could not accept the right to vote himself as a Black man if woman could not also claim that right that the world would be a better place if women were involved in the political sphere. “In this denial of the right to participate in government, not merely the degradation of woman and the perpetuation of a great injustice happens, but the maiming and repudiation of one-half of the moral and intellectual power of the government of the world.” Douglas’s eloquence and towering reputation swayed many who had been wavering. The resolution passed by a large margin and Mott signaled her support by adding closing remarks to the session.
The Convention closed with an evening session chaired by Mary Anne M’Cllintock’s husband Thomas. Mott and the M’Clintock family played leading rolls in the event capstone. After another vigorous defense of the Declaration and Resolution by Stanton against the slurs of the Lords of Creation and an approval of the minutes, Thomas M’Clintock read from sections of Blackstone’s Law illustrating the second class status of women under the law, material that had been researched by Stanton’s lawyer husband.
Then Mott stood to offer a late resolution—“ Resolved, That the speedy success of our cause depends upon the zealous and untiring efforts of both men and women, for the overthrow of the monopoly of the pulpit, and for the securing to woman an equal participation with men in the various trades, professions and commerce.” In its way the resolution was every bit as shocking and revolutionary as Stanton’s suffrage one. It was a direct challenge to the huge power and influence of the Protestant Clergy which was deeply conservative and reactionary on social matters. The resolution passed but in the days and weeks after the Convention it drew more angry denunciations from the pulpit than women’s voting rights. Mott had gored a powerful ox but in the process may have protected Stanton from grater wrath directed toward her.
Mary Ann M'Clintock, Jr. spoke briefly, calling upon woman to arouse from her lethargy and be true to herself and her God. Douglass again rose to speak in support of the cause of woman.
Then Mott offered a final one hour off-the-cuff oration in which she demurred of the credit for the proceedings despite her fame. She lauded Stanton and M'Clintock as the “chief planners and architects” of the proceedings. After a publicity committee consisting of Stanton, the M’Clintock women and other as elected to spread the message of the proceedings.
The committee did its work well and the events at Seneca Falls were soon the talk of the nation. Attacks on the presumptuous women and their dangerous ideas that seemed to threaten the foundations of society, the family and the Church were commonplace. But it also inspired many women and drove them to action. Similar local meetings were called in Boston Philadelphia and elsewhere.
The first truly National Women’s Rights Convention as called at Worcester, Massachusetts on October 24, 1850 with over 1,000 delegates from 11 states. Mott, Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, and Abby Kelley, all signed the call to convene, as did such leading male reformers as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott, and William Lloyd Garrison.
|Brinkley Hall on Main Street in Worcester, Massachusetts hosted the first two National Women's Suffrage conventions in 1850 and '51.|
National Conventions were held almost annually up to the Civil War and Mott played a leading role as an organizer or speaker at all of them. She continued to work closely with Stanton and with Susan B. Anthony, a Quaker like herself, who became Stanton’s great collaborator.
Meanwhile in addition to her advocacy for women, Mott remained an important figure in the abolitionist movement and supported many reform causes.
Tomorrow—The Final Chapters.