Lucretia Coffin Mott (January 3, 1793 – November 11, 1880) was an American 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.
Read A Sermon to the Medical Students, an 1849 moral reform sermon in Philadelphia by Lucretia Mott, with antislavery content. Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.
Lucretia Coffin was born into a prominent Quaker family in Nantucket, Massachusetts. At the age of thirteen she was sent to a boarding school run by the Society of Friends, where she eventually became a teacher. Her interest in women's rights began when she discovered that male teachers at the school were paid twice as much as the female staff. In 1811, Lucretia married James Mott, another teacher at the school. Their first child died at age 5. Ten years later, she became a Quaker minister.
Lucretia and her husband were both opposed to the slave trade and were active in the American Anti-Slavery Society. She moved to Philadelphia in 1821. She quickly became known for her persuasive speeches against slavery. Prior to her own involvement, many Quaker men had been involved in the abolitionist movement in the very early 1800s. Lucretia Mott was one of the first Quaker women to do advocacy work for abolition. She and her husband followed Elias Hicks in the "Great Separation" of American Quakerism in 1827 into the more liberal and mystical Hicksite branch, and the more evangelical and conservative Orthodox branch.
Mott's letters reflect her regular travels in the mid-nineteenth century throughout the East and Midwest as she addressed various reform organizations such as the Non-Resistance Society, the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women as well as the quarterly and yearly Quaker meetings. Her letters not only express the thoughts of a public figure but they also show the anxieties and joys of a nineteenth-century woman. Forceful and intelligent, her letters also reflect Mott's character and Quaker background.
Like many Hicksite Quakers including Hicks, Mott considered slavery an evil to be opposed. They refused to use cotton cloth, cane sugar, and other slavery-produced goods. With her skills in the ministry, she began to speak publicly for abolition, often traveling from her home in Philadelphia. Her sermons combined antislavery themes with broad calls for moral reform. Her husband supported her activism and they often sheltered runaway slaves in their home.
It should be noted that Quakers, when compared to other religious and social groups in America since its founding, were unusual in their equal treatment of women. They had a rich history and singular respect from the majority of American people of those times, mostly due to their advocacy and martyrdom for being conscientious objectors to war, and later their anti-slavery efforts.
Mott was successful in her abolitionist lobbying and punctuated her career with teaching the ropes of representative government's political advocacy to women coming up as women's and abolitionist advocates. In the 1830s she helped establish two anti-slavery groups.
Mott spoke at the International Anti-Slavery Convention in London, England in June 1840. In spite of her status as one of six women delegates, Mott was not formally seated at the meeting because she was a woman. This led to the protest of other Americans advocates attending the convention, including William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her activist husband Henry B. Stanton attended the convention while on their honeymoon.
Stanton became angry when she couldn't see Mott as she spoke, as women in the audience were required to sit in a roped-off section hidden from the view of the men in attendance.
Mott and Stanton became well acquainted at the convention, and 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 organised the Women's Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, New York
The Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 was the first American women's rights meeting. 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, and this became the focus of the group's campaign over the next few years. Mott was a signatory of the Declaration of Sentiments.
While Elizabeth Cady 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. Lucretia's sister, Martha Coffin Wright also helped organize the convention and signed the declaration.
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 signifcant 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 taught that "the kingdom of God is within man" (1849) and was part of the group of religious liberals who formed the Free Religious Association in 1867, with Rabbi Wise, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson.
Elected as the first president of the American Equal Rights Convention 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, LCM 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 in 1880.
In 1864 Mott and several other Hicksite Quakers incorporated Swarthmore College, which today remains one of the premier liberal-arts colleges in the United States.
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.
She was posthumously inducted into the U.S. National Women's Hall of Fame.