Friday, March 8, 2019

Fighting for Equality - Lucretia Coffin Mott 1793-1880

One of 8 children born to Quaker parents on the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts, Lucretia Coffin Mott (1793-1880) dedicated her life to the goal of human equality. As a child Mott attended Nine Partners, a Quaker boarding school located in New York, where she learned of the horrors of slavery from her readings & from visiting lecturers such as Elias Hicks, a well-known Quaker abolitionist. She also saw that women & men were not treated equally, even among the Quakers, when she discovered that female teachers at Nine Partners earned less than males. At a young age Lucretia Coffin Mott became determined to put an end to such social injustices.
Lucretia Mott (1793 - 1880), by Joseph Kyle (1815 - 1863)

In 1833 Mott, along with Mary Ann M’Clintock & nearly 30 other female abolitionists, organized the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society.  In 1840 she was one of several American women chosen as delegates to the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London by the American Anti-Slavery Society & by other abolitionist groups. 

Arriving in England with her husband, she found the convention controlled by the rival American & Foreign Anti-Slavery Society -known to Garrisonians as the “New Organization” & its opposite number, the British & Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, both opposed to public activity by women.  Despite vigorous protests by Wendell Phillips & others, the American women delegates were refused recognition & assigned seats “behind the bar.”  Though Lucretia Mott was deprived of a voice in the proceedings, she was nevertheless described by a journalist as “the lioness of the Convention” (Liberator, Oct. 23, 1840, p. 170).  

It was there, that she 1st met Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was attending the convention with her husband Henry, a delegate from New York. Mott & Stanton were indignant at the fact that women were excluded from participating in the convention simply because of their gender, & that indignation would result in a discussion about holding a woman’s rights convention. Stanton later recalled this conversation in the History of Woman Suffrage:  As Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton wended their way arm in arm down Great Queen Street that night, reviewing the exciting scenes of the day, they agreed to hold a woman’s rights convention on their return to America, as the men to whom they had just listened had manifested their great need of some education on that question. Thus a missionary work for the emancipation of woman…was then and there inaugurated.

Eight years later, on July 19 & 20, 1848, Mott, Stanton, Mary Ann M’Clintock, Martha Coffin Wright, & Jane Hunt acted on this idea; when they organized the First Woman’s Rights Convention.

Two weeks after Seneca Falls,  a 2nd convention was held in the Unitarian Chapel at Rochester, N.Y.  From this time on, woman’s rights claimed as much of Lucretia Mott’s attention as any of the other reforms with which she associated herself.  In a closely reasoned Discourse of Woman (1850) she attributed the alleged inferiority of women to the repressions under which her sex had always labored -unequal educational opportunities, a lower standard of wages, restricted employment, & denial of political rights.  

Throughout her life Mott remained active in both the abolition & women’s rights movements. She continued to speak out against slavery; & in 1866, she became the first president of the American Equal Rights Association, an organization formed to achieve equality for both African Americans & women.

For nearly 20 years the Motts lived & reared their children in a red brick house at 136 North Ninth Street in Philadelphia.  In 1850, they moved to 338 Arch Street, a spacious house; where they entertained on a simple but generous scale during the Quaker Yearly Meeting & the annual sessions of the reform societies & where they sometimes harbored runaway slaves. Unlike some “strong-minded” female reformers, Mott was a conscientious housekeeper who never laid herself open to the charge, that she neglected her domestic duties.  In 1857 she & her husband, now retired from business, moved to Roadside, a plain, rambling country house on the Old York Road, north of Philadelphia, where Lucretia continued her efficient housewife concerns: sewing carpet rags, cooking Nantucket blackberry pudding, raising vegetables in her kitchen garden.

Always a strong believe in the Quaker peace testimony, she regularly attended meetings of the Pennsylvania Peace Society, of which she was vice-president.  She seldom missed a woman’s rights or suffrage convention & seldom failed to be called upon for an address.  At the 1st convention of the American Equal Rights Association in 1866, she was named president at the insistence of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  When in 1869, the movement split into rival factions, one led by Mrs. Stanton & Susan B Anthony, the other by Lucy Stone, Mary Livermore, & Julia Ward Howe, she sought earnestly but unsuccessfully to overcome the division.

During her last 12 years she was without the faithful support of her husband, for James Mott died on Jan. 26, 1868.  She herself lived to the age of 87,  active to the end, publicly & privately, in good causes.  

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