Lucretia Mott

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Lucretia Coffin Mott
Lucretia Mott
BornJanuary 3 1793(1793-01-03)
Flag of United States Nantucket, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedNovember 11 1880 (aged 87)
Flag of United States Abington, Pennsylvania, U.S.
OccupationAbolitionist, Suffragist

Lucretia Coffin Mott (January 3, 1793 – November 11, 1880) was an American Quaker minister, abolitionist, social reformer, and proponent of women's rights. She is sometimes credited with being the first American feminist but was, more accurately, the initiator of women's political advocacy in the early nineteenth century. During a time when women rarely spoke in public, she became an outspoken orator as an ordained minister for the Quaker Church.

Mott's Philadelphia home was a stop on the Underground Railroad prior to the Civil War and her views on abolition often met with strong resistance. However, in her lifetime, Mott was ultimately recognized for her leadership and pioneering advocacy and was once described as "the real founder and soul of the woman's rights movement in America and England."[1]

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.[2]


Early life

Lucretia Coffin was born into a Quaker family on the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts. She was the second of seven children born to Thomas Coffin and Anna Folger. She was a direct descendant of Tristram Coffin who emigrated from Devonshire, England, and became one of the original purchasers of the island. Her father was a ship's captain but moved the family to Boston and then Philadelphia, where he opened a business.

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. On April 10, 1811, Lucretia married James Mott, another teacher at the school who supported her progressive views throughout their lives together. The Mott's first child died at age five, which resulted in Mott's turn to a more religious and introspective life. Eventually she was to become a Quaker minister, a role in which she was able to utilize her strong gift for orating.[3]

Early anti-slavery efforts

The Motts moved to Philadelphia in 1821 where they both became active in the American Anti-Slavery Society founded by the noted abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison. In 1837, she founded the first anti-slavery movement for women.

In 1827, when the Quaker denomination divided over doctrinal differences, Mott and her husband became supporters of Elias Hicks, who founded the mystical Hicksite branch. The "Great Separation" of American Quakerism, as it was called, separated the liberal Hicksite branch from the evangelical and conservative mainstream church. The Hicksite branch espoused free interpretation of the Bible and reliance on inward, as opposed to historic Christian, guidance.

Like many Quakers including Hicks, Mott considered slavery an evil to be opposed. She refused to use cotton cloth, cane sugar, and other slavery-produced goods. With her ministerial skills, she began to speak publicly for abolition, often traveling from her home in Philadelphia. Her sermons combined anti-slavery themes with broad calls for moral reform, such as for temperance and women's rights.

During this time period, from 1821 to 1828, Mott was—in addition to her advocacy work—busy with domestic responsibilities. She gave birth to six children and in 1821, became a Quaker minister. It was nearly unprecedented for women to speak publicly in those times and Mott's lectures, particularly those with an anti-slavery theme, often drew sharp protest.

In 1840, Mott attended the International Anti-Slavery Convention in London, England, as one of six female delegates. Despite the organization's commitment to equality, women were not allowed to be officially seated at the convention, but instead were required to sit in a separate section. This led to the protest of American advocates including William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her activist husband, Henry B. Stanton, were also in attendance and a friendship was formed between the two women that was to become the vanguard for the women's movement back in the United States.

The birth of the Women's Rights movement

Eight years after the Anti-Slavery Convention, on July 19 and 20, 1848, Mott and Stanton organized the Women's Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, New York. The official launch of the women's rights movement in America began at this historic event with a presentation of the Declaration of Sentiments, modeled after the Declaration of Independence. Lucretia Mott, along with her sister, Martha Coffin Wright, were signatories of the document whose focus would become "the sacred right to the elective franchise."[4]

Elected as the first president of the American Equal Rights Association in 1866, Mott strove to reconcile the two factions that split over priorities between women's suffrage and African American male suffrage. For the remainder of her life, Mott tried to heal the breach between Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone.

Along with friend Belva Lockwood, one of the nation's first female attorneys, Mott became a leading voice for the Universal Peace Union, also founded in 1866. The following year, the organization became active in Kansas where Negro suffrage and women's suffrage were to be decided by popular vote.


After the Civil War, most abolitionist societies disbanded believing that their work was finished. However, Mott continued to work to bring education to the recently emancipated southern blacks.[5]

Mott differed with the mainstream women's movement in one area—that of divorce. In Mott's day, it was very difficult to obtain a divorce, and fathers were usually 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 by early Quaker leaders including William Penn. As Quakers, Mott's family believed in the spiritual equality of the sexes. She once recalled, "I grew up so thoroughly imbued with women's rights that it was the most important question of my life from a very early day."[6]

Mott was part of a group of religious liberals who formed the Free Religious Association in 1867, along with Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Thomas Wentworth Higginson.

In 1850, Mott wrote Discourse on Woman, a book which brought her greater recognition, and in which she tries to counter Richard Henry Dana's Address on Women, which purports that women are better suited for domestic duties than for professional pursuits. For decades, after she helped to win the cause of abolition for blacks, she remained a central figure in the women's movement as a peacemaker, a critical function for that period in women's rights history, until her death at age 87 in 1880.


  • "If our principles are right, why should we be cowards?"
  • "The world has never yet seen a truly great and virtuous nation, because in the degradation of women, the very fountains of life are poisoned at their source."
  • "I have no idea of submitting tamely to injustice inflicted either on me or on the slave. I will oppose it with all the moral powers with which I am endowed. I am no advocate of passivity."
  • "We too often bind ourselves by authorities rather than by the truth."[7]


  1., Lucretia Mott. Retrieved October 27, 2007.
  2., Founders and the Quaker Tradition. Retrieved October 27, 2007.
  3. American Council of Learned Societies, Dictionary of American Biography: Lucretia Mott (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons).
  4. Pamela Kester-Shelton, Feminist Writers: Lucretia (Coffin) Mott (Detroit: St. James Press, 1969). ISBN 1558622179
  5. Pamela Kester-Shelton, ed., Feminist Writers (Detroit: St. James Press, 1969).
  6. Ibid.
  7., Lucretia Mott. Retrieved October 27, 2007.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • American Council of Learned Societies. 1928. Dictionary of American Biography. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons.
  • Bacon, Margaret Hope. 1980. Valiant Friend: the Life of Lucretia Mott. New York: Walker and Company. ISBN 0802706452
  • Bacon, Margaret Hope. 1986. Mothers of Feminism: the Story of Quaker Women in America. San Francisco: Harper & Row. ISBN 0062500430
  • Commire, Anne, ed. 1994. Historic World Leaders. Detroit: Gale Research. ISBN 0810384086
  • Gale Research. 1998. Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale Research. ISBN 0787622214
  • Greene, Dana, ed. 1980. Lucretia Mott: Her Complete Speeches and Sermons. New York: The Edwin Mellen Press. ISBN 0889469687
  • Kester-Shelton, Pamela, ed. 1969. Feminist Writers. Detroit: St. James Press. ISBN 1558622179
  • Palmer, Beverly Wilson, ed. 2002. Selected Letters of Lucretia Coffin Mott. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0252026748

External links

All links retrieved November 4, 2022.


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