In the years after the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention in 1848 Lucretia Mott, despite her advancing age was busier than ever. In fact with her five surviving children now grown she was freer than ever to fulfill all of the many speaking requests that came to her and to devote herself to the causes that moved her. Her principle activities were about equally divided between her long-standing commitment to abolitionism and women’s rights. But she continued to minister to Hicksite Quaker meetings preaching dozens of times each year to congregations on a wide variety of spiritual, ethical, and reform topics. She also lent her voice an support to other reform causes including temperance, education, peace, prison reform, and the rights of workers especially for relief from the 12-14 hour days and six day work weeks that deprived working people of any family, spiritual, or leisure life.
Mott’s work on women’s rights and labor issues came together in the Northern Association for the Relief and Employment of Poor Women which she founded in 1846 and served as president.
Unlike some other women’s rights pioneers, Mott did not consider herself a writer. Margaret Fuller thought of herself above all things as a literary person and expressed her feminism almost entirely by the efforts of her pen. Mott’s protégée Elizabeth Caddy Stanton was a wordsmith who was an active journalist and editor, churned out pamphlets virtually on demand, authored or co-authored important books including History of Women’s Suffrage, the Women’s Bible, and her memoirs, Eighty Years & More: Reminiscences 1815–1897.
By contrast, Mott was steeped in the tradition of extemporaneous speech as a Quaker minister. Many, if not the majority of her lectures and addresses were delivered in this way. As was the custom both the commercial and movement press often sent reporter/stenographers to transcribe her talks. But there are always questions of accuracy and sometimes of bias when determining the accuracy of the accounts. When she was making particularly important addresses or breaking new ground Mott would produce drafts but may have strayed from the texts in actually delivery. Speeches of both sorts were produced as tracts or pamphlets by the several organizations to which she belonged or led.
Just one example was her speech Discourse on Woman, a pamphlet about restrictions on women in the United States issued in 1850. In the aftermath of the widespread publicity surrounding the Seneca Falls Convention there was great interest in Mott’s views. This original lecture was delivered December, 17 1849, was in response to one by an unidentified lecturer criticizing the demand for equal rights for women. She made a very gentle appeal for women’s enfranchisement but placed primary emphasis on the injustices done to women in marriage. The style was straight forward and direct, devoid of the florid adornments typical of much 19th Century oratory. She was persuasive in the use of irrefutable examples of exploitation and abuse that led the listener or reader to inescapable agreement. This “friendly persuasion” approach softened many hearts. Even died-in-the-wool reactionaries sometimes later reported that they had been memorized into at least temporary agreement.
As national tensions rose over the issue of slavery Mott devoted more and more of her time to that core issue. She was hopeful, but increasingly alarmed. While she remained steadfast to her Quaker pacifism, she saw beloved allies like Theodore Parker fall under the thrall of John Brown’s insurrectionary zeal. Parker was a leader of the Secret Six, elite Boston abolitionists who bankrolled Brown’s bloody crusade in Kansas and raid on Harper’s Ferry and was the only one of the backers to publicly defend Brown after his capture and argue for the right of slaves to kill their masters. William Lloyd Garrison and other close associates were increasingly arguing for the sword.
On the other hand Mott’s old suspicion of politics and politicians kept her at arm’s length from the new Republican Party on which many of her other abolitionist associates were pinning their hopes. After the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 inevitably resulted in Southern Secession and Civil War she was sure that his declared war aim of preservation of the Union was worth fighting for—no nation founded on the basic inequity of slavery was.
After the Emancipation Proclamation when the likelihood that a Union victory would ultimately lead to total abolition in all of the States, Mott became more sympathetic. But unlike some other Quakers she never abandoned her strict pacifism. She even avoided the indirect support of the war through humanitarian relief for wounded combatants through the Sanitary Commission and other relief efforts to which many pacifists including Dorothy Dix, Clara Barton, and Walt Whitman dedicated themselves. Instead she organized relief efforts for slaves who escaped from Confederate lines or who eventually were liberated by advancing Yankee armies. She was also concerned with the growing numbers of widows and children who were doomed to poverty because of the continuing social restrictions on employment and business activity by women.
|The first graduating class of Swarthmore College in 1871. The school was founded by Mott and other Hicksite Quakers she was the one who insisted that it be co-educational.|
Even in the midst of the war, Mott had time for other interests, especially the education of women. Swarthmore College was founded in 1864 by a committee of who were members of the Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore Yearly Meetings of the Religious Society of Friends—the steadfastly pacifist Hicksite Quakers. Mott was a leader of the committee and along with Martha Ellicott Tyson insisted that the new school be co-educational when it opened its doors under the presidency of Edward Parish.
When the war finally ended Mott surveyed it dreadful carnage and became determined to redouble her commitment to promoting peace. With former members of the old American Peace Society whose Philadelphia chapter Mott had helped found back in 1836 she helped form the new Universal Peace Union in 1836. Her associates in the new organization included Adin Ballou the Universalist and Unitarian minister whose radical Christian non-resistance inspired Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King; Universalist nurse and future founder of the American Red Cross Clara Barton; Suffragist and writer Belva Ann Lockwood; French economist Frédéric Passy who would become the first recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize; and Alfred H. Love, the Peace Union’s long time president.
Mott also returned her attention to the women’s movement, which had taken a back seat during the war. In 1866 she joined a call issued by her close allies Stanton and Susan B. Anthony and supported by other prominent figures including Lucy Stone, Frederick Douglas, in establishing the new The American Equal Rights Association (AERA) which aimed at creating a fusion of former abolitionists and the women’s movement that would advocate for the rights for African Americans and women, including suffrage for both. One declared intention was working toward a Constitution Amendment that would simultaneously extend the vote to former slaves and women. Given her senior status in both movements Mott was unanimously elected the Association’s president with an executive committee that included Stanton, Anthony, and Lucy Stone.
|A joint portrait of Elzabeth Caddy Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in 1871 not long after the American Equal Rights Association disolved.|
But from the beginning there were tensions. One of the most prominent abolitionists Wendell Philips spoke against equating women’s suffrage with voting rights for Blacks fearing it would delay or torpedo voting rights for freed slaves which he considered essential to maintain the status of freemen when the former Confederate States eventually returned to civil government. He endorsed a voting rights amendment originated by Radical Republicans in Congress that three times pointedly used the word male to define who would be covered. Stanton vigorously opposed it stating, “if that word ‘male’ be inserted, it will take us a century at least to get it out.”
As recently elected President of the American Anti-Slavery Society he blocked a proposal to merge that organization with the AERA.
On the other hand there were voices that expressed open distrust of black males if they achieved the vote separately from women. Mott herself told the 1867 meeting of the Society, “woman had a right to be a little jealous of the addition of so large a number of men to the voting class, for the colored men would naturally throw all their strength upon the side of those opposed to woman’s enfranchisement.” And that view was seconded by some of the prominent women of color. Black Unitarian abolitionist Frances Watkins Harper told the founding convention, “You white women speak here of rights. I speak of wrongs. I, as a colored woman, have had in this country an education which has made me feel as if I were in the situation of Ishmael, my hand against every man, and every man's hand against me.” The next year Sojourner Truth said, “if colored men get their rights, and not colored women theirs, you see the colored men will be masters over the women, and it will be just as bad as it was before.”
Stanton was emphatic about opposing a Black male only amendment, “I would not trust him [a Black male]with all my rights; degraded, oppressed himself, he would be more despotic with the governing power than even our Saxon rulers are. I desire that we go into the kingdom together.”
Ultimately Stone, Frederick Douglass, and some of the other abolitionists would reluctantly support what became the Fifteenth Amendment as did the ever influential Henry Lloyd Beecher.
Despite these tensions, the new Society plunged into various state campaigns for an inclusive amendment. The principle efforts were in New York State and in Kansas where the issue was up for referendum votes. In both cases the efforts, including speaking engagements and meetings by leading figures, met fierce and unexpected opposition, especially from Republicans to whom many former abolitionists now felt loyalty.
In New York the campaign cost the support of Horace Greely and his powerful New York Tribune, long an ally of Mott, Stanton, and Anthony even though his own wife endorsed the campaign. When they refused his demand that they put the women’s vote on the back burner, Greely began attacking the women’s movement and its leaders in his paper.
|George Francis Trane, Stanton's disasterous ally|
In response Stanton and Anthony turned to highly controversial wealthy gadfly, George Francis Train, a renegade Democrat with Presidential ambitions—or delusions. Stanton believed it had become necessary uncouple the movement from the Republicans. But Train was something of an overt racist who advocated the inclusion of women to blunt the political power of Black men. He assumed that in the South White women would join their husbands to constrain Black admissions. This alliance would prove to be disastrous.
The Kansas campaign turned into an even greater debacle. Wendell Phillips blocked expected funding for the campaign by abolitionist Hovey Fund which starved the planned campaign from the beginning. Lucy Stone and her husband Henry Blackwell, despite their misgivings, arrived in Kansas in April 1887 to manage the campaign. After an internal struggle, Kansas Republicans decided to support suffrage for black men only, not merely refusing to support women’s suffrage but forming an Anti Female Suffrage Committee to organize opposition and harass to those who were campaigning for it. Organizers found themselves locked out of halls, viciously attacked in the press and from many pulpits, and often physically accosted. In despair Stone and Blackwell departed and the campaign was on the verge of collapse by the end of the summer.
In September Anthony and Stanton arrived to try to salvage the effort. But they brought Train with them and proximately featured him at meetings, which enraged the Republican’s even more and alienated many eastern abolitionists. To make matters worse, they used Stone’s name without her permission in and endorsement of Train. Stone said she considered Train to be “a lunatic, wild and ranting” and retaliated by charging Anthony with misuse of funds—a completely spurious charge later disproved and block payment of Anthony’s salary and expenses of her Kansas tour.
The breach between the former allies was now bitter and irreconcilable. Mott, who considered the association with Train to have been a bad mistake, tried her best to make peace between the evolving factions, but to no avail.
Stone was now openly willing to accept Black men getting the franchise first via the Fifteenth Amendment. Stanton and Anthony were bitterly opposed and launched their own newspaper The Revolution with funding from Train. Stanton was the editor and principle writer and she made virtual war on Stone and her allies and on the Republican establishment.
|Mott tried but failed to reconcile Lucy Stone with Stanton and Anthony.|
Pro-Republican activists including Stone and Douglass founded the New England Woman Suffrage Association in November 1868 with the declared intention that “"Negro suffrage, being a paramount question, would have to be settled before woman suffrage could receive the attention it deserved.” Julia Ward Howe was elected President of the new organization on that platform. Although Douglass and some others also remained active with the AERA, things rapidly reached the point of total rupture.
Discouraged at the acrimonious 1868 AERA convention, Mott sadly tendered her resignation as president and recommended that the society be dissolved. She declared the attempt to unify the former abolitionists and the women’s movement was a mistake.
The 1869 meeting effectively dissolved the AERA, which formally went out of business the next year without ever re-convening. Two days after the 1869 meeting, Anthony and Stanton led the formation of the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and soon after Stone, Julia Ward Howe and others formed the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). The two organizations became bitter rivals and the divisions lingered well into the 20th Century.
Mott had friendly relations in both camps, but despite the strain never lost her especially close relationship with Stanton.
For her part Mott maintained a busy speaking schedule and worked with a number of reform organizations and causes for years more despite her advancing age and health problems, although she increasingly left leadership roles to younger colleagues.
Even amid the struggles and travails of the AERA, Mott had time to reflect on the basic religious values that had motivated her career. Her views and faith had evolved over the years. In the beginning despite its radical social implications her fervent faith reflected a return to the fundamentals of the inner light Quakerism originally espoused by George Fox as interpreted by Elias Hicks. But since then she had been deeply influenced by the Transcendentalism of Ralph Waldo Emmerson and especially Theodore Parker, by the Universalism and Christian socialism of her ally in the Peace movement Adin Ballou, and even by her dear friend Elizabeth Caddy Stanton’s bold Freethought. She had one by one cast off most of the trappings of orthodox Christianity—Biblical inerrancy, miracles, the Trinity, virgin birth, hell, and perhaps even Heaven. She had come to a kind of universalism with a lower-case u that recognized many paths to wisdom and a direct experience with the Holy.
In 1867 Mott joined Rev. David Atwood Watson, a Transcendentalist Unitarian and the successor of Theodore Parker a the 28th Congregational Society in Boston and Rev. William J. Potter, a Quaker turned Unitarian to form the Free Religious Society (FRA) meant to be, in the word of Potter, a “spiritual anti-slavery society… to emancipate religion from the dogmatic traditions it had been previously bound to."
Although particularly strong among Unitarians rebelling against the growing trend to affirm Christian Orthodoxy in the so-called Broad Faith movement of the National Conference of Unitarians organized in 1865, the new society attracted liberal Hicksite Quakers, Universalists, liberal Jews, Freethinkers and agnostics, and scientific rationalists. Among those who quickly joined were Emmerson; Unitarian abolitionist and the personal mentor of Emily Dickinson, Thomas Wentworth Higginson; and Reform Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise.
The Society was always small, but had enormous impact on the evolution of liberal religion in the United States. It was skeptical of organized religious bodies which tended to become insular, exclusive, and hostile to other faiths, but it also was dubious about supernaturalism in general, affirming the supremacy of individual conscience and individual reason. It had faith in human agency and the possibility of progress and perfectibility. It was the harbinger of 20th Century Humanism.
Many historians mistake the FRA as a failed attempt to start a new liberal denomination. Although some of the ministers involved had their Churches declare affiliation or founded congregations as explicitly FRA, most remained at least loosely tied to the original denominations. Unitarians were the most numerous of these, but Mott and other Quakers maintained their affiliations with Yearly Meetings.
|Lucretia Mott in old age|
At age 85 delivered her last public address at the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention in Rochester, New York in 1878.
She died on November 11, 1880 at Cheltenham, Pennsylvania. At the time of her death she was widely considered the most influential American woman of the 19th Century.
Although Stanton, Antony, and Lucy Stone are better remembered today, Mott’s legacy has been recognized repeatedly. . In 1928 a statue of the triumvirate of Stanton, Anthony, and Mott was unveiled in the U.S. Capital Building and is now proximately on display in the Rotunda. Twenty years later in 1948 she was included with Stanton, and Carry Chapman Catt, a later, rather conservative, suffrage leader, on a postage stamp commemorating the centennial of the Seneca Falls Convention. Last year Mott’s early anti-slavery activity was dramatized on the PBS series The Abolitionists.
|Elizabth Caddy Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott honored in the Rotunda of the Capital Building|
Of course she is prominently honored at Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls.
Finally, the Treasury Department will unveil a new $10 bill in 2020 with Mott commemorated along with Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, and the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession.