“I am no advocate of passivity.” —Lucretia Mott
Born this day in 1793: Lucretia Coffin Mott (1793–1880), pioneering social reformer and founder of the U.S. women’s movement
Mott was born Lucretia Coffin in Nantucket, Massachusetts, to a Quaker family. Her father was a whaler and her mother was a shopkeeper. Their example and Quaker teachings gave Mott a firm foundation in the concept of equality between the sexes. While teaching at a Quaker school in New York State, Mott discovered, however, that Quakers preached better than they practiced: as a woman teacher, her salary was half that of the men’s.
In 1811 she married fellow teacher James Mott. The couple moved to Philadelphia and had six children.
Mott became a social reformer of the first order and radical in the depths of her reform. She was an abolitionist and advocated for equality between the races, equality between the sexes, Native American rights, religious liberty, religious tolerance, and pacifism. A woman of strong, steadfast moral convictions, Mott was a moving and effective speaker. In 1821 she was ordained a Quaker minister. She also toured and lectured on the anti-slavery cause and, increasingly, on the cause of women. Her outspokenness and the fact that she lectured to audiences comprising both men and women (“promiscuous” audiences) often aroused anger. More than once she was threatened with mob violence.
Like many early feminists, the sexism she faced while participating—or trying to—in the abolition movement led her to believe in the equal urgency of women’s liberation. In 1840 she and the other women delegates were denied seats at the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London. It was there, screened behind a curtain in a remote balcony, that she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The two women then and there decided to launch a full-scale women’s movement in the United States. The movement was formally launched in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York. The Seneca Falls Convention presented the Declaration of Sentiments, modeled on the Declaration of Independence. Stanton, who drafted it, included suffrage for women, a radical notion even among feminists. Mott did not initially support inclusion of suffrage because, as a Quaker, she was boycotting the vote as a pressure tactic against slavery. She later relented and subsequently opposed the fourteenth amendment because it limited suffrage to males. She believed white or black, man or woman, everyone had the same inherent right to vote, and advocated suffrage for all.
Mott remained a prominent figure in the women’s movement, attending conventions, lecturing, and writing on such topics as legal, political, and social inequality, inequality in women’s education and employment, and women’s subordination, legal and otherwise, in marriage. She, along with her husband (who wholly supported and aided her efforts) continued also in her opposition to slavery and aided fugitives on the Underground Railroad. She remained a pacifist, even as civil war loomed, advocating instead boycotts of products made by slave labor. In 1866 she became the first president of the newly formed American Equal Rights Association, which advocated equal rights and suffrage for all Americans, regardless of “race, color, or sex.”
In 1923, at the 75th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, Alice Paul introduced the Equal Rights Amendment, which she named the Lucretia Mott Amendment in honor of this most visionary of founding feminists. Mott was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1983.
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