Mott, Lucretia (Coffin)

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MOTT, Lucretia (Coffin)

Born 3 January 1793, Nantucket Island, Massachusetts; died 11 November 1880, Roadside, Pennsylvania

Daughter of Thomas and Anna Folger Coffin; married James Mott, 1811; children: six

Born to a hearty, seafaring Quaker family, Lucretia Mott was sent to a Friends' school in New York, where she subsequently served as an assistant teacher. There she met her husband, with whom she had six children. Mott was designated a minister of the Society of Friends in 1821. During the Great Separation of the Society in 1827, she allied herself with the liberal Hicksite faction. During the next decade, she became a vocal abolitionist who helped found the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. Within the abolitionist movement, Mott backed the radical faction of William Lloyd Garrison, which urged immediate emancipation of the slaves.

The diary in which Mott recorded her experiences at the 1840 World's Anti-Slavery Convention in London, where, because of her sex, she was denied recognition as a delegate of the United States, has been edited by Frederick B. Tolles (Slavery and "The Woman Question," 1952). Mott describes the political wrangling among abolitionists and Quakers, her meeting with English female reformers, her conversations with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and her travels throughout the British Isles. Mott's friendship with Stanton, begun at the convention, resulted in a decision to call the first women's rights convention in 1848 at Seneca Falls, New York.

A preacher and reformer, Mott's literary corpus consists almost entirely of recorded sermons and discourses. Her appeal to reason and moral principle, powerful delivery, and personal presence gave her words great impact. Her preaching was shot through with the liberal religious belief that practical righteousness was more important than theological speculation. In A Sermon to the Medical Students (1849), Mott laid out her self-proclaimed heretical view that true religion is not mysterious, but is based on the universal and self-evident conviction that the kingdom of God is within. Humanity is not depraved, and does not need to be brought to righteousness by the atonement of Christ. The work of the present age is to reveal the nobility, and hence the divinity, of humanity through works of reform.

In response to a lecture by Richard Henry Dana, Mott delivered her logical and powerful Discourse on Woman (1849), in which she shows that the present position of woman is neither her natural nor original one. Her equality with man is established by God, but she is everywhere in subjection to man. Woman's natural ability is illustrated historically in the lives of great women, but society promotes her inferiority. Woman, like the slave, has no liberty. She is subject to laws she does not make, excluded from a pulpit that disciplines her, and bound by a marriage contract that degrades her. She asks for no favors, but for the right to be acknowledged as a moral, responsible being. Her high destiny, to be helpmeet to man, will be achieved only through the removal of all political, professional, economic, legal, and religious hindrances to her development.

As president of the Equal Rights Association in the 1860s, Mott continued to work for the extension of rights to women and freedmen. When the women's rights movement split in 1869, she joined neither the National nor the American Women's Suffrage Association. Five sermons and discourses delivered during this period reflect her interest not only in the plight of women and blacks but in the peace, temperance, and antisectarian movements as well.

In A Sermon at Yardleyville (1858), Mott affirms the divinity of human instincts and claims that the attempt to create greater equality among people is characteristic of the work of the real Christian. In A Sermon at Bristol (1860), she urges Christians to be nonconformists like Jesus, and women to reject sectarianism, which sets limits on the divinity within them. Mott maintains in Discourse at the Friends' Meeting, N.Y. (1866) that human progress is really moral progress and that skepticism and critical thinking are religious duties. In Discourse at the Second Unitarian Church (1867), Mott urges that religion be carried into all of life's transactions. She denounces sectarianism in her "Remarks" to the Free Religious Association (1867), and in her Sermon on the Religious Aspects of the Age (1869), she states that the work of reform in the present age is an indication of the growth of the Christian spirit and a new reverence for humanity.

"Truth for authority, rather than authority for truth" was Mott's central concern. In her preaching and speaking, Mott attempted to uncover truth. Through her personal involvement in a myriad of reform movements, she tried to live truth and help realize it in her own time. In her home, where Mott offered hospitality to hundreds of fellow reformers and society's most oppressed, she helped sustain truth and those who sought it.

Other Works:

Life and Letters of James and Lucretia Mott (edited by A. D. Hallowell, 1884). Lucretia Mott: Complete Sermons and Speeches (edited by D. Greene, 1980).

The letters of Lucretia Mott are in the Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College and the Sophia Smith Collection of the Smith College Library.


Bacon, M., Valiant Friend: The Life of Lucretia Mott (1980). Cromwell, O., Lucretia Mott (1958, 1971). Hallowell, A. D., James and Lucretia Mott, Life and Letters (1884). Hersh, B. G., The Slavery of Sex: Feminist Abolitionists in America (1978).

Reference works:

AW. DAB. HWS. NAW (1971). NCAB. Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).

Other references:

American Scholar (Spring 1951). Bulletin of the Historical Society of Montgomery County, Pa. (Apr. 1948).