In the 19th century, Lucretia Mott made her mark on America as a pioneering abolitionist and suffragist – who demanded equal rights for all.
In Quaker religion, men and women are considered equal in the sight of God. Teenage Lucretia Mott was therefore quite surprised that the Quaker boarding school she attended paid more for male teachers than female.
This realization was the beginning of Mott’s lifelong fight for equity and justice for the rights of those most in need – women and slaves.
Lucretia Mott co-founded the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833 and later helped organize the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York. The convention was the first of its kind and lasted two full days.
And Mott – along with four other women, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton – unveiled the Declaration of Sentiments, a document the women inspired by the Declaration of Independence. The resolutions that followed shaped the future of the women’s rights movement.
The youth of Lucretia Mott
Lucretia Mott was born on January 3, 1793 in Nantucket, Massachusetts. His father, Thomas Coffin Jr., worked in the whaling industry and his mother, Anna Folger, ran a small store. Mott was a distant cousin of Benjamin Franklin.
Like many Quakers, Mott’s family boycotted the use of cotton fabrics, sugar cane, and other goods created through the exploitation of slaves, as they viewed slavery as evil.
At age 13, Mott began attending Nine Partners School, a Quaker boarding school in Dutchess County, New York. She excelled both academically and socially. Two years into her stay, she met James Mott, a fellow abolitionist, and they became engaged. After graduating, she accepted a job as an assistant teacher at the school.
However, something about his new job wasn’t quite right.
“The charge for the education of girls was the same as that of boys, and that when they became teachers women received only half the price of men for their services… The injustice of this was so obvious,” Mott recalled, according to the Library of Congress.
Mott’s family moved to Philadelphia in 1809, and she and James followed. They married in 1811 when she was 18. At 28, Mott was traveling and working exclusively as a Quaker minister, eventually giving birth to six children with her husband.
However, that’s far from the end of Lucretia Mott’s story.
The Anti-Slavery Society Convention of 1840
In 1833, Mott attended the founding meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society, at which her husband signed the declaration of the convention. However, many abolitionists still opposed the inclusion of women in public activities – especially public speaking, which was one of Mott’s sharpest talents.
Later that year, Mott and other women, white and black, founded the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, an organization that supported the rights of women and slaves.
In June 1840, Mott attended the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London as one of six female delegates. However, prior to the conference, the men held a vote to exclude the women from attending.
When Mott and the other delegates were ordered to sit in a separate area, William Lloyd Garrison, Nathaniel Peabody Rogers, William Adam, and Charles Lenox Remond sat down with the women to protest the vote.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton also attended the convention, and she and Mott quickly became friends and allies. It was in London, when the men barred Mott and Stanton from attending, that the two came up with the idea of hosting a women’s rights convention.
The Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls
Both Mott and Stanton were committed to abolishing slavery, and the experience they gained working for that freedom seemed to reinforce the need to push for women’s full rights as well. However, their idea did not materialize until eight years later, in 1848.
Along with three other women – Mott’s sister, Martha Coffin Wright, Mary Ann M’Clintock, and Jane C. Hunt – Mott and Stanton prepared the agenda. The main purpose of the Seneca Falls Convention was to pass resolutions described in the Declaration of Sentiments, authored by Stanton.
The resolutions demanded that women be considered equal to men and called on Americans to ignore all laws that placed women in a position inferior to men. They also called on women to have equal rights within the church and equal access to jobs.
The declaration’s most controversial resolution granted women the right to vote. When some men found out it was included, they threatened to boycott the convention. According to the Constitution Center, even Stanton’s own husband vehemently disagreed with the resolution. She refused to take it off.
Lucretia Mott’s husband was the president of the convention, because, ironically, a woman at its head would have been unacceptable at the time. On this first day of the convention, 300 people showed up, including 40 men. They were allowed to participate, but the organizers asked that they remain silent on the first day. This time was exclusively reserved for women to speak.
Thanks to Mott’s enchanting oratory skills, 10 of the 11 resolutions passed quickly on the second day. However, it was the right to vote that proved to be a sticking point for many.
It wasn’t until Frederick Douglass, a former slave, fierce abolitionist and only black participant, spoke out passionately in his favor that the tide began to turn. The resolution passed, but barely passed, and caused some to withdraw support for the convention entirely.
The Legacy of Lucrezia Mott
Mott has worked tirelessly throughout his life to be a voice for the oppressed. She harshly criticized people who tried to disguise unfair and artificial rules as divine truths, as described in one of her most famous quotes:
“It is time for Christians to be judged more on their likeness to Christ than on their notions of Christ. If this sentiment were generally accepted, we would not see such a tenacious adherence to what men regard as the opinions and doctrines of Christ, while at the same time in daily practice there is manifested something other than a resemblance with Christ”.
Mott herself attributed much of her activism to her faith, once stating, “I don’t want to show my faith by my words or by my Quaker cap. I want all of us to be able to show our faith by our works.
And Mott certainly showed his faith through his works. According to the National Park Service, in 1866 Mott became the first president of the American Equal Rights Association, formed to achieve equality for blacks and women. His house was an Underground Railroad station. And when her husband finally found success as a cotton merchant after years of struggling to support their growing family, Mott convinced him to sell wool instead, because the cotton industry was supported by slave labor.
Mott died in 1880 at her home in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania. She was 87 years old. Although she did not survive the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920 which gave women the right to vote, she was an indomitable force in equality movements throughout history.
Her steadfast religious views and small stature may have caused some to underestimate her, but her dedication and courage still resonate today. After all, Mott once said, “If our principles are right, why should we be cowards?
Then read the story of Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the end of slavery. Then, learn about suffragists who defended their rights with jujutsu.