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Lucretia Coffin Mott (3 January 1793 – 11 November 1880) was an Americanmarker Quaker, abolitionist, social reformer, and proponent of women's rights. She is credited as the first American "feminist" in the early 1800s but was, more accurately, the initiator of women's political advocacy.


Early life and education

James and Lucretia Mott
Lucretia Coffin was born into a Quaker family in Nantucket, Massachusettsmarker. She was the second child of seven by Thomas Coffin and Anna Folger. At the age of thirteen, she was sent to the Nine Partners Quaker Boarding Schoolmarker in Millbrookmarker, Dutchess County, New Yorkmarker, which was run by the Society of Friends. There she became a teacher after graduation. Her interest in women's rights began when she discovered that male teachers at the school were paid three times as much as the female staff.

When compared to other religious and social groups in the United States since its founding, the Quakers were unusual in their equal treatment of women. Depending on the location, they were sometimes discriminated against for their different social attitudes. This discrimination also included sexism. Their advocacy and martyrdom for being conscientious objectors to war, and later their anti-slavery efforts, won them admiration from many Americans.

Marriage and family

On April 10, 1811, Lucretia Coffin married James Mott, another teacher at the Nine Partners Quaker School. They had six children. Their first child died at age five. They had numerous descendants, including some who migrated to Tennesseemarker.

Early anti-slavery efforts

Like many Quakers, Mott considered slavery an evil to be opposed. They refused to use cotton cloth, cane sugar, and other slavery-produced goods. In 1821 Mott became a Quaker minister. She began to speak publicly for the abolition cause, often traveling from her home in Philadelphia. Her sermons combined anti-slavery themes with broad calls for moral reform. Her husband supported her activism, and they often sheltered runaway slaves in their home. In 1833, they co-founded the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society.

By the 1830s, Mott was gaining considerable recognition as an abolitionist. It was about this time that she and her husband befriended William Lloyd Garrison. A lifelong friendship stemmed from their initial meeting. Mott and her husband became deeply involved in the national abolitionist circle. In December 1833, Garrison called a meeting to expand the New England Anti-Slavery Society. James Mott was a delegate at the Convention, but it was Lucretia Mott who made a lasting impression on attendees.

She tested the language of the Constitution and bolstered support when many delegates were precarious. Days after the conclusion of the Convention, at the urging of other delegates, Mott founded the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. The extensive participation of blacks tightly bound the actions of the Society to the Philadelphia black community. This female society was the first in which the voices of free blacks were heard. Mott herself often preached at black parishes.

Amidst social persecution by abolition opponents and pain from dyspepsia, Mott continued her work for the abolitionist cause. She managed their household budget to extend hospitality to guests and still donate to charities. Mott was praised for her ability to maintain her household while contributing to the cause. In the words of one editor, “She is proof that it is possible for a woman to widen her sphere without deserting it.” (Valiant Friend, p. 68).

Women's political participation threatened social norms. Many members of the abolitionist movement opposed public activities by women, which were infrequent in those years. At the Congregational Church General Assembly, delegates agreed on a pastoral letter warning women that to lecture, directly defied St. Paul’s instruction for women to keep quiet in church. Other people opposed women's preaching to mixed crowds of men and women, which they called "promiscuous". Others were uncertain about what was proper, as the rising popularity of the Grimké sisters and other women speakers attracted support for abolition.

Mott was criticized for her leading role in the 1837 Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women, the same gathering that heard the powerful speaking of Angelina Grimké. Some opponents threw rotten produce at their doors. Others gathered as mobs and burned abolitionist books in protest. Mott’s attempted to include women in the movement by organizing fairs to raise awareness and revenue; many men regarded such activities as frivolous.

World Anti-Slavery Conference

Lucretia Mott (1842)

In June 1840 Mott spoke at the World Anti-Slavery Conference in London, Englandmarker. In spite of Mott's status as one of six women delegates, before the conference began, the men voted to exclude women from participating. In addition, women delegates and attendees were required to sit in a segregated area out of sight of the men. The social mores of the time generally prohibited women's participating in public political life. Several of the American men attending the convention, including William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips, protested the women's exclusion. They sat with the women in the segregated area.

Activists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her husband Henry B. Stanton attended the convention while on their honeymoon. Stanton became angry when she could not see Mott during her speech.

Mott was honored when given a throne-like chair from which she could properly view the proceedings. Delegates approached her in groups of two or three to become acquainted. One Irish reporter deemed her the "Lioness of the Convention" (Valiant Friend, p. 92). Mott was one of the few women included in the commemorative painting of the convention. Other women included in the painting were all British activists: Elizabeth Pease, Amelia Opie, Baroness Byron, Mary Anne Rawson, Mrs John Beaumont, Elizabeth Tredgold and Mary Clarkson, daughter of Thomas Clarkson.

Encouraged by the recognition at the convention and active debates in England and Scotland, Mott also returned with new energy for the cause in the United States. She continued an active public lecture schedule, with destinations including the major Northern cities of New Yorkmarker and Bostonmarker, as well as travel over several weeks to slave-owning states, with speeches in Baltimore, Marylandmarker and other cities, in Virginiamarker. She arranged to meet with slave owners to discuss the morality of slavery. In the District of Columbiamarker, Mott timed her lecture to coincide with the return of Congress from Christmas recess; more than 40 Congressmen attended. She had a personal audience with President John Tyler who, impressed with her speech, said, "I would like to hand Mr. Calhoun [a senator and abolition opponent] over to you." (Valiant Friend, p. 105).

Seneca Falls Convention

Mott and Stanton became well acquainted at the International Anti-Slavery Convention. Stanton later recalled:
"We resolved to hold a convention as soon as we returned home, and form a society to advocate the rights of women."

However, it was not until 1848 that Mott and Stanton organized a women's rights convention at Seneca Falls, New Yorkmarker. Stanton noted the Seneca Falls Convention was the first public women's rights meeting in the United States. Stanton's resolution that it was "the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves the sacred right to the elective franchise" was passed against Mott's opposition. Over the next few decades, women's suffrage became the focus of the group's campaigning. Mott signed the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments. While Stanton is usually credited as the leader of that effort, it was Mott's mentoring of Stanton and their work together that organized the event. Mott's sister, Martha Coffin Wright, also helped organize the convention and signed the declaration.


Mott advocated equality in marriage, but opposed changing divorce laws.
Mott parted with the mainstream women's movement in one area, that of divorce. At that time it was very difficult to obtain divorce, and fathers were given custody of children. Stanton sought to make divorce easier to obtain and to safeguard women's access to and control of their children. The more conservative Mott opposed any significant legal change in divorce laws.

Mott's theology was influenced by Unitarians including Theodore Parker and William Ellery Channing as well as early Quakers including William Penn. She thought that "the kingdom of God is within man" (1749) and was part of the group of religious liberals who formed the Free Religious Association in 1807, with Rabbi Wise, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Her theological position was particularly influential among Quakers, as in the future many harked back to her positions, sometimes without even knowing it.

American Equal Rights Association

Elected as the first president of the American Equal Rights Association after the end of the Civil War, Mott strove a few years later to reconcile the two factions that split over the priorities between woman suffrage and black male suffrage. Ever the peacemaker, Mott tried to heal the breach between Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone over the immediate goal of the women's movement: suffrage for freedmen and all women, or suffrage for freedmen first?


In 1850 Mott wrote Discourse on Woman, a book about restrictions on women in the United States. She became more widely known after this. When slavery was outlawed in 1865, she began to advocate giving black Americans the right to vote. She remained a central figure in the women's movement as a peacemaker, a critical function for that period of the movement, until her death at age 87 in 1880.


In 1864 Mott and several other Hicksite Quakers incorporated Swarthmore Collegemarker located near Philadelphiamarker, Pennsylvaniamarker, which today remains one of the premier liberal-arts colleges in the United Statesmarker [422095].


In 1866 Mott joined with Stanton, Anthony, and Stone to establish the American Equal Rights Association. She was a leading voice in the Universal Peace Union, also founded in 1866. The following year, the organization became active in Kansas where Negro suffrage and woman suffrage were to be decided by popular vote.


Mott died on 11 November 1880 (pneumonia) at her home, Roadside, in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania and was buried in the Quaker Fairhill Burial Ground in North Philadelphia. She is commemorated in a sculpture by Adelaide Johnson at the United States Capitolmarker, unveiled in 1921. In 1983 she was posthumously inducted into the U.S. National Women's Hall of Fame.

Biographical Excerpts

  • Carl Schurz first met Mott in 1854. He described her in his autobiography published in 1906:

Lucretia Mott, a woman, as I was told, renowned for her high character, her culture, and the zeal and ability with which she advocated various progressive movements. To her I had the good fortune to be introduced by a German friend. I thought her the most beautiful old lady I had ever seen. Her features were of exquisite fineness. Not one of the wrinkles with which age had marked her face, would one have wished away. Her dark eyes beamed with intelligence and benignity. She received me with gentle grace, and in the course of our conversation, she expressed the hope that, as a citizen, I would never be indifferent to the slavery question as, to her great grief, many people at the time seemed to be.

Beginning with Mary Wollstonecraft in the late 18th century, the feminist movement owed its next big impetus (in the eighteen forties and fifties) to Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony, of New England. It was Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth C. Stanton who organised the first Equal Rights Convention which was held in New York in 1848; and it was Lucretia Mott who laid down the definite proposition which American women are still struggling to implement today: 'Men and Women shall have Equal Rights throughout the United States.'

See also


  1. The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840, Benjamin Robert Haydon, accessed 19 July 2008
  • Bacon, Margaret Hope. Valiant Friend: the Life of Lucretia Mott. Walker and Company, 1980.
  • Bacon, Margaret Hope. Mothers of Feminism: the Story of Quaker Women in America. Harper & Row, 1986.
  • Cromwell, Otelia. "Lucretia Mott". Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1958.
  • Greene, Dana (editor). Lucretia Mott: Her Complete Speeches and Sermons. The Edwin Mellen Press, 1980.

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