Lucretia Mott

I Am Not My Gender: Early Women’s Suffrage Pioneer Lucretia Mott

Chapter Introduction

“The female will always come up less than when measured by a male yardstick.”

I grew up in a family that was gender divided. My lovely mother, despite speaking many languages and playing many instruments, was a bit flaky: She left when I was eight, and then was killed in a random violent crime. As a result, I was raised by my father for the bulk of my conscious years. He was an introverted, brilliant, competent, and analytical man. The impression I gained from his tutelage was that the linear, logical world of men was the preferred way to be, while the lateral, interconnected way of the feminine was less desirable.

His was an explicit instruction: work in an office or a factory or lab was more worthy of respect than work in the home or in one’s community. Furthermore, a hard, numbers-based career was better than a soft, artistic career. I was advised to gain credentials and personal habits that would allow me to thrive in a man’s world. At the same time, in school, girls like me were discouraged from math and the sciences, dismissed for leadership roles, and rewarded instead for being cute or sexual. It wasn’t until I entered the Army ROTC at 18 that I understood my true potential, irrespective of my gender, and by then, I had learned to act more like a man.  This has been a semi-successful strategy for navigating life: I have skills that are rewarded in the dominant culture, I am paid well for that, and my kids never went hungry while I was raising them. However, women coming into parity by acting like men misses something. I have felt both an inner longing for a more feminine way of structuring my life and work, and a sense of excitement at what that might mean for all of culture.

In fact, I see elements of this emerging, and it’s quite exciting. I predict that in the coming decades, we will see new models of economies and enterprises that encompass a more feminine, intergenerational, interconnected model of thriving. A more lateralist model, rather than a dominance hierarchy. This new kind of organizing principles will no longer be considered “soft” or “less than” the male system: they will be equally valued. And then, a different kind of invitation may arise, for people to create value in the world in a way that honors the cyclic nature of human life. This will lead to civil societies designed to work for everyone: the old, the young, the sick, and the poor…not just with healthy people with strong economic resources. And this world will have been made possible, in a very real sense, by will Lucretia Mott.

My gender rights come not only from my open-minded father, but from almost 200 years of activism, of which Lucretia was the first great activist in the US and England. The mere fact that I can work, earn money and buy property, that I can travel the world alone, rent a car, get a loan, have sex with whoever I choose, and control my reproductive capacity: all of this comes from the women who stepped out for justice during the last five generations. I don’t take these advances for granted.

THE FIRST WAVE: Lucretia Mott, 1793 – 1880


The movement for women’s suffrage, both in England and America, dates from the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention. “Imagine then the commotion in the conservative anti-slavery circles in England, when it was known that half a dozen of those terrible women who had spoken to promiscuous assemblies, voted on men and measures, prayed and petitioned against slavery, women who had been mobbed, ridiculed by the press, and denounced by the pulpit who had been the cause of setting all American Abolitionists by the ears, and split their ranks asunder, were on their way to England.” – Regarding the arrival of American female abolitionists to England for the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention.


Lucretia Mott was a powerhouse of social activism, abolitionism, and women’s rights. She was raised a Quaker and developed anti-slavery opinions very early. Quaker resistance to slavery often included boycotting goods that had been touched by slave labor, which Lucretia’s family did. Later in life she was a co-founder of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833 and served as its president. She began to speak out for the rights of women after she was denied a seat at the anti-slavery convention of 1840 in London. Lucretia befriended and allied with Elizabeth Cady Stanton; the two would work together to put on the Seneca Falls convention of 1848. She was married to firm abolitionist James Mott, and together the two of them represented a serious force of social change.

Key Allies

James Mott (Sanctuary & Strategy & Resources)
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (Alliances & Sanctuary & Amplification)
William Lloyd Garrison (Alliances, Sanctuary, Resources, Amplification)

James Mott
Role: Sanctuary & Strategy & Resources

“James and Lucretia Mott were equally devoted to the abolition of slavery, yet James frequently deferred to his wife’s powerful oratory and firm leadership within the movement.”

James Mott was born on Long Island in 1788 to a Quaker family in the town of Cow Neck. He was raised in the Quaker fashion. When he grew older he became a teacher at the Nine Partner’s School in Poughkeepsie, New York, where his grandfather was the superintendent. Lucretia Coffin attended the school, and stayed at the adjacent Quaker boarding house. She rose from student to teacher’s aid, and was struck by how “the charge for the education of girls was the same as that for boys, and that when they became teachers, women received but half as much as men for their services…The injustice of this was so apparent.” Lucretia met James at Nine Partners, and the two converted to Hicksite Quakerism before moving to Philadelphia with the whole of the Coffin family in 1809.

Lucretia’s father, Thomas, was a merchant seaman until 1802, when his vessel was seized by a Spanish man-of-war. In 1803 he left the ocean behind and invested his wealth in a new nail-cutting factory. James Mott boarded with the Coffin family in Philadelphia and went into business with Thomas Coffin. James and Lucretia were married in 1811, and Lucretia became Lucretia Coffin Mott. They quickly set to work on building a family, eventually having a total of six children. Thomas Coffin died in 1815, leaving the family in a rough spot financially. Anna Coffin, Lucretia’s mother, returned to shopkeeping as she had while Thomas was away at sea. Lucretia again taught school, and James sought employment with his uncle selling cotton and farming equipment. He also worked briefly as a bank clerk before settling on the wholesale business.

Lucretia was accredited as a minister in 1821 by her Quaker community: The Religious Society of Friends. In 1833, Lucretia and James attended the first meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia, and participated in the original Declaration of Sentiments and Purposes. Unlike the later Declaration of Sentiments of Seneca Falls – which concerned slavery — this one focused on omen’s rights. She spoke so emphatically that Samuel J May recalled her years later: “It is one of the proudest recollections of my life that I was a member of the Convention in Philadelphia, in December, 1833, that formed the American Anti-Slavery Society. And I well remember the auspicious sequel to it, the formation of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. Nor shall I ever forget the wise, the impressive, the animating words spoken in our Convention by dear Lucretia Mott and two or three other excellent women who came to that meeting by divine appointment. But with this last recollection will be forever associated the mortifying fact, that we men were then so blind, so obtuse, that we did not recognize those women as members of our Convention, and insist upon their subscribing their names to our ‘Declaration of Sentiments and Purposes.”

We may be personally defeated, but our principles never.”

When they read the declaration for the group, Lucretia immediately proposed two simple changes, and the group unanimously agreed. Then, as James Mott leaned to sign his name to the paper, a man named Thomas Shipley stopped him for a moment. He told James that he should think hard before putting his name to the page, because his outright alliance to the anti-slavery movement could bring persecution and a loss of business connections. “He said he should sign it himself, but he would advise James Mott and others to pause. The moment Mr. Shipley ceased speaking, Lucretia, in a brave inspiring tone said, ‘James, put down thy name,’ which he quickly did, joining in the general smile of satisfaction.” James had begun divesting from slave labor goods as early as 1821, and by 1830 dealt strictly in wool, rather than cotton, and touched no goods produced by slave labor.

James and Lucretia traveled to England in 1840 to attend the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention. There, Lucretia began in earnest her campaign for women’s rights. “When, as an enthusiastic Abolitionist, Mrs. Mott crossed the ocean to take part in the deliberations of the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention, the last drop in her cup of sorrow was the humiliation she was called to suffer on account of sex. The vote by which this injustice was perpetrated, was due to the overwhelming majority of the clergy, who, with Bible in hand, swept all before them. No man can fathom the depths of rebellion in woman’s soul when insult is heaped upon her sex, and this is intensified when done under the hypocritical assumption of divine authority.” Lucretia and her colleagues entered the convention, but were forced into silence by the English clergymen present. The experience hurt Lucretia, for in her Quaker community she always had a voice, and had been preaching in churches for years. Later, the English delegation attempted to distance themselves from their action of barring the female American delegates from the convention; they stated that Mott had been excluded because she was a Quaker.

James later wrote a book titled Three Months in Great Britain, published in 1841, detailing their time spent across the Atlantic. In the 88-page book he describes England’s manufactories that are operated by children starting at the age of 13, makes comments of English monarchical society. He also describes the events of the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention, in which the female delegates from America were barred from participation.

“The subject of the admission of women was brought up on the first day of the Convention by Wendell Phillips, whose wife had been delegated by the Massachusetts Society. An animated and somewhat excited discussion ensued, which continued several hours, when it was decided in the negative by a pretty large majority. Thus one of the first acts of a Convention, assembled for the purpose of promoting the cause of liberty and freedom universally, was a vote, the spirit and object of which was a determination that the chains should not be broken, with which oppressive custom has so long bound the mind of woman. The female delegation finding themselves thus excluded, requested they might have an opportunity to confer with their sisters in England, on the subject of few manifested a reluctance to granting this reasonable request, but others appeared favorable. After it had been several times mentioned, in order that they might procure a place and fix a time, some of those who had professed to be in favor of such a meeting, said they were afraid other subjects might be introduced, though they had been told, and were again assured, that the wish to have the meeting was with no other view than to promote the emancipation of the slave, by encouraging one another in such measures as would be likely to hasten this desirable result. But their sectarian fears so overcame their anti-slavery feeling, that they were unwilling to trust the women of England to meet half a dozen from America, to confer together on the subject of slavery.”

The trip to England galvanized Lucretia’s passion for women’s rights, and James would be her faithful ally. When she and Elizabeth Cady Stanton led the Seneca Falls convention in 1848, hers was the first name on the document. James was present, and again he signed his name below Lucretia’s.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton: 1815 – 1902
Role: Alliances, Sanctuary, Amplification
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was born November 12th, 1815, in upstate New York. She was homeschooled, and lived under the constant pressure of her father, Daniel Cady—who made it clear that he had been hoping for a boy, rather than a girl. Cady was a US congressman, and later became a justice on the Supreme Court. Elizabeth studied vigorously, graduating from the Johnstown Academy and then the Troy Female Seminary in 1832. Afterwards she studied law in her father’s offices, where she learned of the gross inequalities facing women in the law. She also kept company with her liberal cousin, Gerrit Smith, who got her passionate about the abolition movement and introduced her to her future husband.

In 1840, against the wishes of her parents, Elizabeth eloped with Henry Brewster Stanton. Henry was a lawyer and a well-known abolitionist who had been staying with Elizabeth’s cousin Gerrit. They took an immediate honeymoon to London for the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention, where Elizabeth met Lucretia at a dinner. Their conversation regarding female participation in the convention energized Elizabeth, and sparked the beginning of the two women’s joint efforts.

Elizabeth recalls: “When I first heard from the lips of Lucretia Mott that I had the same right to think for myself that Luther, Calvin, and John Knox had, and the same right to be guided by my own convictions, and would no doubt live a higher, happier life than if guided by theirs, I felt at once a newborn sense of dignity and freedom; it was like suddenly coming into the rays of the noon-day sun, after wandering with a rushlight in the caves of the earth.

Elizabeth and Lucretia became fast friends, and collaborated to organize the Seneca Falls convention of 1848. They published a statement in the Seneca County Courier five days prior to the convention, announcing their intentions. They meant to hold a woman-only meeting on the first day, and a public meeting on the second. But so many people came to the small chapel where they were congregating that they were forced to lock the doors. A male professor from Yale college was lifted through a window, and he unbarred the doors,  letting in the large congregation of both men and women outside. So the women-only convention became peppered with various men allied to the cause.
Elizabeth worked with Lucretia to revise the 1776 Declaration of Independence into what is today known as the Declaration of Sentiments. The convention spurred a flurry of negative press, and as a consequence the story of Seneca Falls traveled all across the country and world.

In Elizabeth, Lucretia had found the perfect amplifier. She was energetic about the cause, extremely driven, well spoken, and looked up to Lucretia as an ideal agent for women’s justice. “Amid all the differences, dissensions, and personal antagonisms, through the years we have labored together in the Women’s Rights movement, I can not recall one word or occasion in which Mrs. Mott’s influence has not been for harmony, goodwill, and the broadest charity. She endured too much persecution herself ever to join in persecuting others. In every reform she stood in the forefront of the battle. Wherever there was a trying emergency to be met, there you could rely on Lucretia Mott.”

As Lucretia slid slowly into retirement, Elizabeth continued to work at Women’s Suffrage for another 50 years. She worked closely with Susan B Anthony; together they were a great team. Susan was the strategist and Elizabeth the orator. Lucretia often offered advice on their publications; both Elizabeth and Susan wanted to attack the system with their words, and Lucretia convinced them to tone it down. She explained to them that the men of legal bodies would pay no mind to such animated addresses, but would be more inclined to accept something written in their language.

In 1854 Elizabeth addressed the New York State legislature; she and Susan founded the Women’s State Temperance Society, of which Elizabeth served as president. She championed the right to vote and the right to divorce, and had a direct influence on the passing of an equal guardianship law in 1860. She served as president for the National Women’s Suffrage Society from 1869 through 1890, touring the country and delivering speeches on women’s rights. Later in her life she co-authored the first three of six volumes of A History of Women’s Suffrage (1881) with Susan B Anthony. In 1895 she published The Women’s Bible, which sparked widespread controversy among religious leaders. Elizabeth Cady Stanton died on October 26th, 1902.

William Lloyd Garrison; 1805 – 1879
Role: Alliances, Sanctuary, Resources, Amplification

William Lloyd Garrison was a renowned abolitionist, newspaper editor, advocate of women’s rights, and long time friend of the Mott family. Born December 10th, 1805 in Newbury, Mass, he was raised primarily by his mother after his father – a merchant seaman – ran out on the family. He began his career in the newspapers at the age of 13, enrolled in an apprenticeship with the Newburyport Herald. He worked there until he was 20 years old, when he borrowed money from his employer to start his own newspaper. The publication quickly went under, and Garrison moved to Boston, where he began working with a man named Benjamin Lundy.
Lucretia and William met for the first time in June of 1830. William, then 24 years old, had just been released from prison in Baltimore, where he had served 41 days for libel. This occured when Garrison had been working at an abolitionist newspaper called Genius of Universal Emancipation, run by Lundy. Garrison had written an article in which he detailed the practice of a Massachusetts shipowner – one Francis Todd – transporting slaves for a Baltimore-based merchant named Austin Woolfolk. The businessmen— in an effort to heal their reputations, keep the truth concealed, and punish an investigative reporter—had a libel case brought against Garrison, whowas sentenced to six months in jail.

After his experience in Baltimore, Garrison sought out the Motts by recommendation of Benjamin Lundy. By then James Mott had begun his free wool trade, and was known to boycott the use or distribution of goods produced with slave labor . Garrison and the Motts immediately became friends, and Lucretia arranged a meeting for Williamto speak publicly. Though Garrison was a passionate writer he was a failure at public speaking, and took lessons from Lucretia, who spoke as a Quaker minister among her community. After William returned to Boston he began the publication of his abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, with the first issue dropping on January 1st, 1891. This was the same paper in which he published Angelina Grimke’s letter, sparking her spotlight in the abolition movement.
William helped the Motts found the New England Anti-Slavery Society in 1832, and the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833. On September 4th, 1834, Garrison married Helena Benson. Benson was the daughter of an abolitionist merchant, and the couple had seven children. William traveled with the Mott family to England for the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840. He made a strong impression on all attending delegates through a silent protest after the female delegates were barred from attendance. This was the moment where he became just as avid a suffragist as he was an abolitionist. He would continue to support the suffrage movement, and the Motts, for the rest of his life.

Through the 1850s, Garrison became increasingly radical with his writing and public addresses . At an 1854 abolitionist rally in Framingham, Mass, he created widespread controversy by publicly burning a copy of the US constitution. He continued to publish The Liberator and wrote frequently about events such as the Dred Scott Decision, John Brown’s military actions, and many other subjects related to civil rights. When the Civil War broke out, the Garrison firmly supported Lincoln and the Union through his newspaper. Garrison published the final edition of The Liberator in 1865, after the war came to an end. William had edited each and every one of the issues,, totaling 1,820 since 1831. Garrison continued to advocate on behalf of women’s suffrage, and remained close friends with the Motts until his death on May 24th, 1879.


CONTINUE Chapter 8: The Second Wave


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