Lucretia Mott was one of the first Americans to call publicly for equal rights for women. Mott was born on January 3, 1793, and grew up in a Quaker family on the island of Nantucket, off Massachusetts . Her father, a sea captain, was often away at sea, leaving his wife to care for the family sewing shop located in their home. As a young girl, Mott tended to the customers when her mother traveled to Boston for supplies. At the age of thirteen, Mott was sent to a Quaker boarding school in New York , and she was soon at the head of her class. When she finished her schooling, she was appointed assistant teacher of her school.
A Quaker and an abolitionist
After four years teaching, Mott moved to be with her family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania . There she married James Mott in 1811. Her husband joined her father in the family business, and Mott took care of their six children. Her life centered around the Quaker church community, and at twenty-eight she was elected as a minister. Quakers, properly known as the Religious Society of Friends, believe that priests and places of organized worship are not necessary for a person to experience God. Each person's own “inner light” can guide him or her toward divine truth. Quakers do not believe in armed conflict or slavery , and they were among the first groups to practice equality between men and women.
The Quakers were also among the first large groups in the country to take up the cause of abolition (seeking the elimination of slavery). Mott fervently supported abolition, and by the 1830s her influence had spread beyond the meetinghouse. She boycotted (refused to buy) produce raised by slave labor, purchasing instead cotton , rice, sugar, and other southern merchandise under certified guarantee that slaves had no hand in their production.
Founds antislavery society for women
In 1833, Mott attended a male antislavery convention in Philadelphia. Assembled by abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison (1838–1909), the meeting ended with the men gathering to sign a “declaration of freedom.” Impressed by the convention, Mott founded the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society and became its first secretary. By 1837, she was a leading speaker at women's antislavery meetings and conventions.
It soon became clear to Mott that men did not intend to include women as leaders in the antislavery movement. When Mott led a group of women to the 1840 antislavery convention in London, the women were refused a place in the meeting. Upon Mott's return to America three months later, her antislavery cause was expanded to include a more radical issue: equal rights for women.
Seneca Falls Convention
On her trip to England, Mott became acquainted with Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902), who would soon become one of the leaders in the women's rights movement in America. In letters exchanged after the London convention, Mott and Stanton discussed organizing their cause. Finally, in the summer of 1848, Mott met with Stanton at Seneca Falls, New York. The two women and a couple of friends organized the Seneca Falls Women's Rights Convention , a meeting dedicated to promoting the equal rights of women. Mott agreed to be the principal speaker.
The organizers arrived at the Seneca Falls Unitarian church carrying their declaration of rights, resolutions, and volumes of the statutes of New York State. They patterned their central document after the Declaration of Independence , calling it the Declaration of Sentiments. Demanding that the rights in the Declaration of Independence apply to women as well as to men, they reworded their document to read “that all men and women are created equal.”
The declaration was followed by a list of resolutions, demanding that women be allowed to speak in public; be accorded equal treatment under the law; receive equal education, equal access to trades and professions, and equality in marriage; have the right to sue and be sued and to testify in court; and to have guardianship over children. It also demanded, at the insistence of Stanton, that women be granted the right to vote (suffrage), a highly controversial point at the time. Mott did not want to address women's suffrage rights on the grounds that the nation was not ready to accept it and would make a mockery of their cause.
The American public did recoil from the idea of women's rights. Groups formed with the sole purpose of preventing women from speaking in public at what the newspapers called “hen conventions.” Many arguments followed about what God had intended for women and what would become of civilization if women rose to equal status with men. When Mott spoke in public, called a convention, or discussed affairs of state, a large proportion of the American public regarded it as a violation of the laws of nature. But public interest in the women's movement rose with the social unrest preceding the American Civil War (1861–65).
Women's rights and abolition
In 1852, Mott was elected president of the Women's Rights Convention in Syracuse, New York, and a year later presided at its fifth annual meeting. She also became involved with the temperance (anti-alcohol) movement and expressed concern over the deplorable working conditions of laborers.
Although dedicated to education rights for females, the women's rights movement never replaced the abolitionist cause in Mott's heart. Her household in Philadelphia served as a “station” in the Underground Railroad , the chain of concerned people who helped slaves escape to freedom. Mott, Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906) toured New York calling for the immediate emancipation of slaves.
After the Civil War, Mott and Stanton formed the National Suffrage Association to ensure full rights for freedmen and women. Until her death at the age of eighty-seven, Mott was actively engaged in the movement.