Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County
An activist for the abolition of slavery and for female suffrage, Lucretia Mott lived most of her life in Philadelphia.
Lucretia Mott was born on January 3, 1733, in Nantucket, Massachusetts, but she resided in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for the majority of her life. An abolitionist of slavery, organizer of the women's rights movement, and a liberal minister of the Quaker religion, Mott became a prominent social activist. Mott was a founder of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, and in 1837, she helped organize the First Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women in New York, New York. Mott established the first annual women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, and she served as president of the American Equal Rights Association. Lucretia Mott died in Chelton Hills, Pennsylvania, in 1890.
Born in Nantucket, Massachusetts, on January 3, 1793, Lucretia Coffin Mott became a leading figure in the abolition of slavery and the women's rights movement during the 1800s. Her position was attributed primarily to her passionate speeches and sermons. The daughter of Thomas Coffin Jr. and Ann Folger, Mott became strongly influenced by her family's dedication to the Society of Friends (Quakers), which emphasized the value of equality among all people. Mott's Quaker beliefs and observance of her mother and father sharing equal roles throughout her childhood in a time when women were granted minimal freedom and rights, helped develop her visions of equality. In 1804, Mott's family moved to Boston, Massachusetts, a city in which she learned to interact with all people, regardless of social or physical differences.
At the age of fourteen, Mott was sent to Nine Partners, a Quaker school in Dutchess County, New York, where she became a "Hicksite" Quaker and experienced her first encounters with gender inequality. After completing her coursework, Mott was chosen as an assistant teacher, sparking her motivation in the women's rights movement as she discovered there was a difference in pay between female and male teachers of equal status. At Nine Partners, Mott also met James Mott, who became her husband and partner in activism. While Mott attended boarding school, her parents moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and in 1810, Lucretia and James moved to live with the Coffin family. James became a business partner with Mott's father, and on April 10, 1811, Lucretia Coffin and James Mott were married. James and Lucretia Mott had six children, yet experienced the loss of their son, Thomas, in 1817. Mott's father passed away in 1815, forcing her to continue teaching, and James ventured into a career in business in order to gain financial stability.
Between 1818 and 1821, Mott developed a passion for and a calling to the Quaker ministry. During a time when women were discouraged to speak publicly, she became recognized as a powerful and gifted minister as she gave speeches on various social issues during Quaker meetings. Known for her radical religious beliefs, she became a founder of the Free Religious Association.
Mott's educational influences caused her to become increasingly concerned with the issues of slavery. She became an avid abolitionist and encouraged others during her sermons to join her and James as social activists. Eventually, Mott became popular and widely known, traveling throughout the Northeast to give speeches on antislavery and feminism. Despite her individual efforts to end slavery in the 1830s, anti-slavery organizations denied the participation or membership of women. As a result, in December 1833, Mott helped found the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. Social criticism and threats targeted Mott, yet this only intensified her social activism in the abolition of slavery. Mott was also a pacifist and leader in the early peace movement, believing nonviolence was the only solution to ending slavery.
In 1837, Mott helped organize the First Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women in New York City, New York, and was one of six women invited as delegates of Pennsylvania to attend the World's Anti-Slavery Convention in London, England, in 1840. Upon arrival, Mott and other women were denied participation in the conference, fueling Mott to further fight for women's equal rights. Following the conference, Mott and abolitionist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who also attended, planned to bring women's rights to the forefront of American society. After returning from the Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840, Mott also traveled to slave-owning regions in order to continue her efforts to abolish slavery. She assisted slaves through the Underground Railroad and housed many slaves in her own home. As a prominent figure in the anti-slavery movement, Mott was granted the opportunity to speak to Congress and President John Tyler regarding her beliefs of antislavery.
Eight years later, Mott and Stanton established the first annual women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in which she delivered the opening and closing addresses. This convention created the controversial document called the Declaration of Sentiments, which resembled the United States Declaration of Independence and stated, "We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men and women are created equal." In December 1849, Mott gave a speech entitled "Discourse of Women," discussing the issue of gender inequalities in Western Europe and America.
When the Civil War occurred, Mott was unsupportive and maintained her pacifistic beliefs, yet found herself overjoyed by the end result of the emancipation of slavery. Although the antislavery movement was victorious, Mott maintained her role as a feminist and activist in the women's rights movement. The Fourteenth Amendment granted only men the right to vote, which intensified Mott's efforts. She proclaimed the right to vote should be a right for all individuals, regardless of race and gender. In May 1866, she was chosen as the first president of the Equal Rights Association.
Mott suffered the loss of her husband James Mott in 1868. Although this tragedy drastically affected Mott, she continued her human rights activism and chaired the American Equal Rights Association annual meeting in 1867. Because of rising concern regarding the Fourteenth Amendment and its lack of including women in the right to vote, Mott, Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony formed a group named the National Woman Suffrage Association. Also during this time, Swarthmore College was opened, a coeducational Quaker institution that Mott and her husband were heavily involved in developing.
During Mott's later years, she remained an avid leader in the equal rights movement. Among her positions of activism, she was vice president of the Universal Peace Union and served as president of the Pennsylvania Peace Society from 1870 until her death. Mott remained an organizer of the women's rights movement throughout her life, attending the National Woman Suffrage Association convention in Philadelphia in 1876. In 1878, she was able to attend the thirtieth anniversary of the Seneca Falls convention, which is where she delivered her last public address.
In 1880, Lucretia Mott died in Chelton Hills, Philadelphia. In June 1997, the Stanton-Mott-Anthony Suffrage Monument was placed in the Capitol crypt in Washington, D.C., in recognition of these women suffragists.
Bacon, Margaret Hope, ed. Lucretia Mott Speaking: Excerpts from the Sermons & Speeches of a Famous Nineteenth Century Quaker Minister & Reformer. Pendle Hill Pamphlet #234. Wallingford, PA: Pendle Hill Publications, 1980.
Bacon, Margaret Hope. Mothers of Feminism: the Story of Quaker Women in America. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986
Bacon, Margaret Hope. Valiant Friend: the Life of Lucretia Mott. New York: Walker and Company, 1980
Lucretia Mott: Her Complete Speeches and Sermons. Ed. Dana Greene. New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1980.
Photo Credit: F. Gutekunst. "Lucretia Mott." Photograph. Licensed under Public Domain. Cropped to 4x3, Filled background. Source: Library of Congress. Source: Online Resource. Philadelphia, PA.