In January 1793, Lucretia was born to ship captain Thomas Coffin Jr. and his wife, a shopkeeper named Anna. The Coffin family were devout Quakers living in Massachusetts. Lucretia was first exposed to the concept of equality between men and women by the example of her mother’s successful shopkeeping while her father spent long periods away at sea. She attended a Quaker boarding school, Nine Partners, where she first learned of the horrors of slavery and the Quaker teachings against the practice. She became a teacher there and met her future husband, James Mott. The two married in 1811.
Tragedy struck Mott in 1817 when her toddler son, Thomas, died. Though always religious, Mott discovered that this difficult time developed her spirituality and led her to become an official member of the Quaker ministry.
Lucretia was disgusted by the horrors of slavery and used her gift for speech to fight the institution. In 1833, she helped create and became president of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. When the Civil War ended and many abolitionists considered their work complete, Mott understood that the real war was hardly over. She continued to fight for black suffrage and advocated for the rights of newly freed slaves.
Mott’s passion for antislavery developed into a fight for women’s rights. In 1837 in New York City, Mott organized and attended the first Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women. Mott and other female speakers faced harsh criticism. Fellow abolitionists took issue with audiences comprised of both men and women. Those who supported slavery were much worse; several times Mott was threatened by violent mobs. Mott, a pacifist, believed in fighting with words and never arms.
In 1840, Mott was denied an official seat at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London because of her gender. Instead of accepting this, she stood outside the conference and spoke in favor of equality for women. During this time, she met another pioneer in women’s rights, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The two women organized the famous 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, the catalyst for America’s women’s rights movement. During the convention, a Declaration of Sentiments was drafted that said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men and women are created equal.” Those words caused a fury of controversy and led to the creation of the American women’s rights movement.
Mott outlined her teachings on women’s equality in her 1849 book Discourse on Woman. “There is nothing of greater importance to the well-being of society at large,” the book begins, “than the true and proper position of woman.” Society cannot function without equality of races and equality of genders. She was for not just equal economic opportunity, but she also supported women’s equal political status, including suffrage.
Concerned that a lack of education for women, not any kind of biological flaw, was holding women back in society, Mott helped establish Swarthmore College in 1864. This Quaker institution was one of the first coeducational places of higher learning.
On November 11, 1880, Mott died near Philadelphia, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. Despite Mott’s work, American women did not receive the right to vote until 30 years after her death when the 19th Amendment was ratified.
Lucretia Mott fearlessly fought injustice wherever she witnessed it. She did not see any difference between advocating for slaves or for women or for anyone else whose equality wasn’t recognized. Beyond her official work, Mott was known for being an excellent hostess; she often entertained both black and white guests in her home.
Hero of Liberty image attribution: Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons