Lucretia Mott was a 19th-century feminist activist, abolitionist, social reformer and pacifist who helped launch the women’s rights movement. Raised on the Quaker tenet that all people are equals, Mott spent her entire life fighting for social and political reform on behalf of women, blacks and other marginalized groups. As an ardent abolitionist, she helped found the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833. She also co-wrote the Declaration of Sentiments in 1848 for the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, which ignited the fight for women’s suffrage. Mott also helped found co-educational Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania in 1864.
Lucretia Mott’s Quaker Upbringing
Born on January 3, 1793, in Nantucket, Massachusetts, Mott was raised in a family of Quakers, the second of five children.
Abiding by the Quaker tenet that men and women were equal in the eyes of God, Mott grew up with parents who lived out their faith: Her father Thomas Coffin worked in the whaling industry and raised his children to live with a strong sense of purpose, and her mother, Anna Folger, ran a small store, setting the tone for Mott’s industry.
While at Quaker boarding school in New York, Mott excelled both in her education and personal life. As a teenager, she became an assistant teacher and met her future husband, James Mott. However, she was shocked when she soon realized the wage disparity between male and female teachers.
Lucretia’s family eventually moved to Philadelphia in 1809, with James accompanying them. The young couple married two years later and had six children.
Despite being barely five feet tall and 100 pounds, Mott was an indomitable figure. After continuously encountering the evils of slavery while traveling to religious meetings across state lines, she became an outspoken leader of moral and social reform.
With James encouraging her many causes, she evolved into a fiery, charismatic orator and became a preacher in her 20s. Both she and James became passionate abolitionists.
The abolitionist movement in the 1830s was not a popular cause — even in the northern states. In fact, it was commonplace to hear stories of mob violence against abolitionists. Yet this did not deter Mott: In 1833, she founded the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society.
Five years later, she hosted the second Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women in Philadelphia, which brought 175 black and white female abolitionists together from 10 states.
Incensed by the convention and the interaction of black and white women, 17,000 protestors threatened the abolitionists’ lives outside Pennsylvania Hall. The women escaped, but the protesters burned the building and even tried to burn Mott’s house. They were ultimately thwarted by one of Mott’s friends who, pretending to be part of the angry mob, directed them away from her house.
Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Mott’s fight against slavery continued, but in 1840, her activism would adopt an additional cause that would change the course of history forever.
That year she and James were selected as Pennsylvania delegates to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. When they arrived, many of the male abolitionists refused to let female delegates into the convention, deeming it was not their place to participate.
Mott – along with fellow abolitionist Elizabeth Cady Stanton who had also come as a delegate – had had enough. The two vowed to work together to establish a meeting for women’s rights once they returned to the States.
Women’s Rights Convention
In 1848 Stanton and Mott launched a Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York. To make a bold statement, Mott helped pen the Declaration of Sentiments, a purposefully crafted reworking of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.”
At the Seneca Falls Convention, Mott, Stanton and other fellow feminist leaders demanded that women be seen as equals in all areas of life – not only in relation to marriage and family, but also from an educational, economic and religious standpoint.
The convention was deemed highly controversial, yet progressive thinkers like Frederick Douglass famously attended.
For Mott, abolitionism and women’s rights went hand in hand, and she continued to fight fearlessly for both issues. After the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1850, Mott became part of the Underground Railroad, aiding a runaway slave to safe passage and freedom.
As a pacifist, Mott abhorred the Civil War but was elated when slavery was overturned as a result of the North’s victory. However, she and Stanton objected to the 14th Amendment and 15th Amendment giving black men the right to vote – but not women. She continued to fight for both groups and became a member of the National Woman Suffrage Association.
Swarthmore College Co-Founder
Among her many accomplishments, Mott, along with her husband and other Quaker leaders, founded Swarthmore College in Philadelphia in 1864, as a co-educational institute of higher learning.
Over the years, Swarthmore College has consistently ranked as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the nation.
Lucretia Mott’s Legacy
Mott died on November 11, 1880, at her home in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, after suffering from pneumonia. She was 87 years old.
Although she didn’t live to see the day women won the right to vote under the 19th Amendment, Mott is credited with igniting the women’s rights movement and serving as mentor to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who continued Mott’s work after she died.
Mott stands as one of the most radical feminist reformers of her day, tirelessly pushing for equal voting, education and economic rights for all who were disadvantaged and disenfranchised.
American author Susan Jacoby wrote: “When Mott died in 1880, she was widely judged by her contemporaries … as the greatest American woman of the nineteenth century.”
Lucretia Mott. Library of Congress.
Lucretia Coffin Mott. American National Biography.
“Lucretia Mott: Woman of Courage.” Scholastic.
Lucretia Mott. National Women’s History Museum.
“A History of the Seneca Falls 1848 Women’s Rights Convention.” ThoughtCo.