Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Lucretia Mott

1793 - 1880

Lucretia was born on 3 January 1793 to Quakers Thomas Coffin and Anna Folger in Nantucket, Massachusetts. She was an abolitionist, travelling minister and campaigner for minority rights, including those of women. It is said that she was influenced in her views against slavery by hearing a powerful account of the voyage of a slave ship and then reading Thomas Clarkson’s appeals for the abolition of the slave trade.

Lucretia attended the Friends’ Boarding School at Nine Partners, New York from the age of 13. Two years later she was engaged as an assistant teacher and after two further years became a teacher. She was upset to discover that she was paid half the salary of her male counterparts. She and James Mott, a fellow teacher, were married in 1811. They had six children, five of whom survived to adulthood. Lucretia showed a gift for public ministry and was “acknowledged” (recorded as a minister) in 1818. She was deeply impressed by minister Elias Hicks and embraced his ideas that it was wrong to voluntarily participate in slavery and to partake of goods produced by unpaid labour.

James and Lucretia Mott moved to New York to help Richard Mott with his cotton business. After a time she and her husband became convinced that the cotton business was too closely allied with slavery and although it was profitable, they relinquished their connection with it. She said “I feel bound to - plead their cause [slaves] in season and out of season, to endeavour to put myself in their souls’ stead and to aid all in my power in every right effort for their immediate emancipation”. Their sympathy with Elias Hicks caused them to be estranged from the orthodox Quakers when the 'Hicksites' separated from other Friends of 1827. This was perceived as a tragedy by the Motts.

Lucretia Mott attended the first Convention of the American Anti-Slavery Society held in Philadelphia in 1833. In the same year the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, many of whose members were Friends, came into being. Lucretia Mott was a co-founder and the first chosen president. It was an interracial, interdenominational organisation that played an important role in the anti-slavery struggle. She was also a member of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. She met opposition, even within the Society of Friends, when she spoke of abolition, and attempts were made to strip Lucretia of her ministry and membership. In 1837 she helped organize the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women, and in May 1838 her home was almost attacked by a mob after the burning of Pennsylvania Hall, Philadelphia, where the convention had been meeting.

In 1840 she and her husband were sent as delegates to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. Lucretia was not seated because of her gender. This led her and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (a non-Quaker) and three other American Quaker women (Mary Ann McClintock, Jane Master Hunt and Martha Wright) to plan the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, at which one of the aims was “to discuss the social, civil, and religious rights of women.” The Convention issued a Declaration of Sentiments modelled on the Declaration of Independence which stated that “all men and women are created equal. …”. Lucretia devoted a lot of her attention to the women’s rights movement. She wrote articles and lectured widely. She was a fluent and inspiring speaker and coped well with hostile audiences.

After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850, she and her husband had opened their home to runaway slaves escaping via the Underground Railroad. In 1852 she was elected president of the convention at Syracuse, New York, and attended almost every annual meeting thereafter. The Free Religious Association was founded with her help. At the end of the Civil War she worked tirelessly for educational opportunities and the franchise for freedmen. In 1866 she was elected president of the American Equal Rights Association. She continued to be active in the causes of women’s rights, peace, and liberal religion until her death. Her last address was given to the Friends’ annual meeting in May 1880.

She is buried at Fair Hill Cemetery in north Philadelphia.

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