Tomorrow (Jan. 3) is the birthday of Lucretia Mott, one of the better-known heroes of the woman’s suffrage movement. Write Sister Janet Buell profiled Lucretia in the Massachusetts volume of the America’s Notable Women Series, Women of the Bay State. She was in many ways similar to many of the other women suffragists, and yet, of course, unique. Two hundred and twenty years after her birth, she continues to inspire those who seeing wrong, try to correct it. We can best honor her, and the many others who worked with her, by identifying the injustices in our own world, and working to eliminate them.
Born to Quaker parents in Philadelphia at the end of the eighteenth century, Lucretia Coffin grew up on the island of Nantucket. At 13 she was sent to boarding school off-island, to a Quaker school in the Hudson valley region of New York. The school had been coeducational from its founding in 1797, and it was there that Lucretia met her future husband, James Mott. Her family moved to Philadelphia while she was at Nine Partners, and when Lucretia and James married, they settled in that city as well. Lucretia was very active in the thriving Quaker community there, especially in the rapidly-developing abolitionist movement. Even while her children were small she held leadership positions in Philadelphia, as they became independent she traveled across the northeast, organizing and speaking at anti-slavery events.
Many of the women who worked to outlaw slavery in the mid-nineteenth century developed a parallel interest in woman’s rights. Their experience in leadership among the abolitionists gave them the confidence to turn their considerable expertise and passion to the cause of their sisters. Lucretia met Elizabeth Cady Stanton at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840, when the women attendees were forced to sit behind a screen! Eight years later, of course, the seminal Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls marked the beginning of the struggle for suffrage for women in the United States (although voting rights resolution was the only one of the original eleven that the convention did not pass unanimously). Elizabeth Cady Stanton drafted the Declaration of Sentiments and Lucretia Mott was the first to sign it. Until the Civil War, most of the women continued to divide their efforts between abolition and women’s rights. In 1866, Lucretia was elected to be the first president of the Equal Rights Association. For the remainder of her long and active life, she campaigned for the rights of women, not only to vote but be educated, to own and inherit property, to have custody of their children, and other basic rights so fundamental that we sometimes forget they were once denied to us.
Only one of the signers of the 1848 Declaration (Charlotte Woodward) lived long enough to vote in the federal election in 1920. The example of Lucretia Mott and her sisters reminds us that “justice for all” is worth the struggle, even if we personally will not reap the benefits.
Happy Birthday, Lucretia.