Lucretia Mott, guys. Damn. I've always just kind of thought of her as one of those older suffragists who probably wrote some things for ladies and then Elizabeth Cady Stanton went charging forward with it.
WELL THAT'S WHAT ELIZABETH CADY STANTON WANTED YOU TO THINK.
One of the main reasons we don't hear much about Mott is that Stanton and Susan B. Anthony literally wrote the book on the history of women's suffrage. Also Mott had other fish to fry. Abolition fish.
Abolitionists had been organizing since 1775 and they were not only determined to stop slavery, but were becoming radicalized in their efforts as the battle for America's future seemed to grow more and more pressing.
Lucretia Mott was a Nantucket-born Quaker (did you know Nantucket used to be a Quaker island?) who then moved to Philadelphia with her husband James Mott and KICKED ALL THE PRO-SLAVERY PEOPLE'S ASSES.
Through, like. Earnest discussion, peaceful boycotts and politeness.
Mott has been seen as a quiet grandmother-type figure for over a century, largely due to her biographers. Lucretia Mott's Heresy, my main source, seeks to fix that. The Mott that Carol Faulkner describes was passionate, probably overly rigid about her beliefs, while at the same time having one of the most progressive theologies of her time, stating that:
"Jesus taught the heresy of that age, and it was his opposition to the cherished forms and creeds of the day that constituted his greatest offense."
She also stated that the Constitution and laws of the U.S. were "altogether tending to rivet the chains of the oppressed." Because she was a badass. When you think of Lucretia Mott, DO NOT THINK OF THIS:
Instead, this is much more accurate for how Mott lived her life and what it was completely centered around, which was human equality:
Mott ate, breathed, and slept abolition. She and her husband James were co-founders of the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS) in Philadelphia in 1833. Philadelphia had long been home to abolitionists: it was a Quaker state, and Ben Franklin had been president of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery (they weren't awesome at succinct names back then). Mott helped craft one of the lines in the AASS's founding document that struck the tone for the movement:
Why were people so keyed up about slavery in the 1830s? Let's quickly summarize decades of complexity as well as personal, local, and national differences and animosities: slaveholding states wanted to keep their enslaved people enslaved, new states kept wanting to join the Union, and the slaveholding states were afraid the federal government, empowered by newly-created free states, would use force to take away their liberty. Which is ironic because of the slavery thing, but also something we'd just fought a war over, so it makes sense this would be at the top of their minds.
Slaveholders were also freaked the hell out because of Nat Turner's rebellion, which had happened just two years earlier and involved the murder of around 60 people. In some areas, enslaved people outnumbered free people, and the slaveholders wanted to lock that situation down and not have some interfering government making everything worse.
Mott and other Pennsylvania women founded the interracial Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society the same year as the Pennsylvania Anti Slavery Society, which was dominated by men. And yes, it has an A+ acronym and that acronym is PFASS. What was so relatively shocking about PFASS was that this was a time when you did not speak in public if you were a woman. Where were you going to do that? On the street? There was no platform available to you.
|The 19th c. in America sucked for almost everyone but white dudes.|
Like every other time in America.
HOWEVER. Due to the comparative equality of the Quaker Church, which allowed women to preach extemporaneously in Meetings, Mott and other Quaker women had some experience with public speaking. This allowed her to make speeches at abolitionist meetings. Unless it was the World's Anti-Slavery Convention, which didn't allow women to speak and made both Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton sit in a marked off section and watch. Or if it was the World's Temperance Convention:
Antoinette Brown planned to offer her credentials as a delegate to the 'World's Temperance Convention' scheduled for September 1853. Despite the thirteen years that had passed since the World's Anti-Slavery Convention, that slight was fresh in the minds of female reformers. And, as expected, the white male delegates rejected Brown. They also rejected an African American delegate, James McCune Smith. Then Brown and other 'black and white, orthodox and heretic' reformers proceeded to hold their own convention, which they named the 'Whole World's Temperance Convention.'
Here, I made a graphic for Antoinette Brown and her friends' "fuck you" to the World's Temperance Convention:
Stanton marked her exclusion from the aforementioned Anti-Slavery Convention in England as the start of the women's rights movement. Her story was that she and Mott bristled with indignation at being shut out and planned right then to have a women's rights convention in America (eventually to become the Seneca Falls Convention). Mott makes absolutely no mention of this in her diary, nor does she seem that upset at being kept from speaking. She probably thought it was idiotic ("I long for the time when my sisters will rise and occupy the sphere to which they are called by their high nature and destiny"), but her #1 priority was always human equality and abolition.
"Looking back many years later, after the successful war against slavery, and the disappointing exclusion of women from voting rights guaranteed in the Fifteenth Amendment, Stanton's exaggeration of their conversation illustrated the importance of abolitionist rejection to the history of the women's rights movement. By contrast, Mott's neglect indicated her focus at that moment on the anti-slavery movement. Her support for women's rights flowed less from her outrage at exclusion than her notions of individual liberty and common humanity." [emphasis added]
Which brings us to the women's rights movement.
Look...so....it's a little awkward. This whole thing about why no one knows about Lucretia Mott and everyone knows at least Susan B. Anthony, if not also Elizabeth Cady Stanton. And it's not that there was even really a rivalry between them! Mott always loved Stanton & Anthony, but she did not always love what they were doing. The fact of the matter is that Stanton believed women's rights were more important than black men's rights and she said some pretty horrific things. Mott said about their newspaper, "The Revolution is not satisfactory & I have not the littlest notion of being a subscriber." She also resigned from their organization, the American Equal Rights Association, after listening to their rhetoric.
Side note on said rhetoric, Frederick Douglass, g.d. classy as ever, and an attendee and speaker at Seneca Falls, said in response to awfulness by white women feminists:
When women, because they are women, are hunted down through the cities of New York and New Orleans; when they are dragged from their houses and hung upon lamp-posts; when their children are torn from their arms, and their brains dashed out upon the pavement; when they are objects of insult and outrage at every turn; when they are in danger of having their homes burnt down over their heads; when their children are not allowed to enter schools; then they will have an urgency to obtain the ballot equal to our own.
Yes, this ignores black women (history is so surprised it cannot even), but everything is complicated and pat answers will never cover everything.
Stanton and Anthony saw the struggle for black rights as competing with women's rights, and so when they wrote their history of the women's rights movement in America, they did not include what Mott considered the beginning, which was at a women's anti-slavery convention in 1837, but rather started it all at Seneca Falls in 1848. And that's the story we've followed ever since.
Mott believed in women's rights because, as I believe she saw it, "duh," but it didn't captivate her interest. She saw the movement as consisting of a lot of conventions and no action, whereas black rights was her life. She saw slavery through to its end, fought against the Fugitive Slave Act (which helped turn many people who had been passive about it against slavery), raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the cause, only bought products not made by enslaved people (which was DAMN HARD, but as black abolitionist Frances Watkins Harper ridiculously beautifully said, it was "the harbinger of hope, the ensign of progress, and a means for proving the consistency of our principles and the earnestness of our zeal"), and accomplished a whole host of other items, all to help make the inherent equality of man a living reality.
Lucretia Mott was the shit. If you ran into her right now, she'd ask what you were doing to better the world. So let's all make sure we have an answer ready for her.