Gwynedd Friends Meeting Historical Notes

An abstract of the Life of Lucretia Mott

with links to some of her speeches and writings


Margaret Bacon: "Sensible grandmother, radical reformer, gentle nonresistant, militant advocate of woman's rights, Lucretia Mott was a leading figure in nineteenth century America. Her passionate identification with the underdog, along with her Yankee talent for finding practical solutions to complex problems, made her a creative force in social reform. Many of her ideas were at least a century ahead of their time. The Victorians made a living legend of Lucretia Mott, emphasizing her sweetness and calm and de-emphasizing her assertive qualities. It is true that she was a warm and loving woman of great poise, but she was also a very human person with a quick temper, a sharp tongue, and a stubborn streak. At times she took herself too seriously, but a wry sense of the ludicrous kept her from becoming pompous. She had a healthy love for life, which made her seem too earthy to her more refined daughters."

Lloyd Hare: "Lucretia Mott was the real founder and soul of the woman's rights movement in America and England. She was the outstanding feminine worker in the struggle to rid our country of slavery. She advocated labor unions in a day when they were almost unknown and generally considered illegal. She proscribed war and worked diligently for liberal religion."

The Abstract

3 January 1793: Lucretia Coffin is born, the second child of Thomas Coffin and Anna Folger of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, both Quakers. Her older sister Sarah is handicapped, and she acts as the oldest child in this family. Thomas was master of the whaling vessel "Trial". In 1797 he builds a good house on the corner of Fair and School streets. There never were slaves on Nantucket and the Quakers were on record as against it since 1716. Her mother nick-names Lucretia "Long-Tongue" as she liked to give as good as she got.

July 1804: The Coffins move to Boston, where Thomas was an international trader with warehouses and wharves. He bought a new brick house on Round Lane for $5600. At first the children attended private school, but Thomas felt this was undemocratic and moved them to the public schools. At age 13 Lucretia was sent to Nine Partners Boarding School, a Friend's academy in southeastern New York. She excelled at this school and as a reward was designated an assistant teacher to Deborah Rogers without salary other than room and board and free tuition for sister Eliza (she had completed the course work in 1808). There she met James Mott Jr., a paid teacher at Nine Partners, son of Adam and Anne Mott. He was about 20. He was as reserved and quiet as Lucretia was vivacious and talkative. He was the tallest boy at the school and Lucretia fairly short.

1809: Thomas Coffin sells his business in Boston and enters the cut nail manufacturing business with a relative at French Creek near Philadelphia. On 23, 2nd mo., 1809 they were received on certificate (Thomas, Anne his wife, Sarah, Lucretia, Mary, Thomas Mayhew, and Martha) and attended Southern meeting in Philadelphia (they lived on S. 2nd St.). James Mott also moved from New York to Philadelphia, perhaps to be near Lucretia, and was given a position in Thomas Coffin's firm as a commission merchant, 42 Dock. James and Lucretia were given parental consent to marry in the early spring of 1811. They were married at Pine Street Meeting House in Philadelphia on 10 April 1811. In August, 1811 they move to a house at 48 Union Street. Her first child Anna is born 3 August 1812, and her son Thomas on 23 July 1814.

1814-1824 Family Matters

Following the war of 1812, the Coffins and Motts shared in the economic depression that followed the war and lived in a state of financial instability for several years. This caused Thomas to move temporarily to Ohio after his cut-nail business was sold to pay debts and caused James Mott and Lucretia to go to New York where they helped Richard Mott at his cotton mill at Mamaroneck. This was not profitable so James and Lucretia moved to New York city where he worked as a bank clerk. Finally they moved back to Philadelphia. There in March 1817, Lucretia, now the mother of two small children, Anna and Thomas, procured a job as a school teacher at the Select School for girls, run by the Philadelphia Southern district Quakers. The other teacher was her cousin, Rebecca Bunker. The birth of her third child, Maria, in 1818 brought her teaching there to a close. More children were Thomas Coffin Mott (1823), Elizabeth (1825) and Martha ("Pattie", 1828). Lucretia's father died in 1815 of typhus. In 1817 Lucretia's son Thomas died. Two of her sisters, Sarah (of a fall) and Mary (Temple) died in 1824 (in childbirth with Lucretia at her side). Mary's daughter Anna was adopted into the Mott household. Her sister Martha eloped with Captain Peter Pelham to Florida in November,1824. Peter died in 1825 after Martha had returned to Philadelphia to have their child. Martha and her child Marianne moved in with the Motts at their home on Samson Street.

Anne Coffin (Lucretia's mother) opened a store in Philadelphia after her husband died which became successful. By 1824 she had given this up and was running a boarding house. At first, James Mott's business struggled and the Motts lived with Anne Coffin. By the early 1820s, James' wholesale business in foreign and domestic staples prospered, and by 1824 he was making a little over $1000 per year. This allowed them to move out of Anna Coffin's home into a home of their own on Samson Street, financially secure.

1814-1830 Lucretia's interests grow

Lucretia Mott was influenced in this time period by Sarah Zane, a well-known Philadelphia Quaker with ties in the Winchester, Virginia area and Lucretia made a trip to Harper's Ferry during this time with her (1818). Elias Hicks (sermons) is a visitor at their home and they accompany him on his visits to meetings. In January, 1821 Lucretia was recorded as a minister of the Society of Friends. In 1823 Lucretia voiced disapproval with the Quaker custom for disowning those marrying outside of the Friends. In 1826 Lucretia's daughter Anna entered Westtown boarding school. At this point, Lucretia realized that she was getting some free time again and spent a lot of time reading the Bible, serious religious works and Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women which she kept on the center table of her home for 40 years and could recite passages from memory. During the schism of 1827 the Motts united with the Hicksite faction (led actually by John Comly [sermon]) meeting temporarily at Carpenter's Hall. After the split James and Lucretia joined Cherry Street Meeting, a constituent member of Abington Monthly Meeting. Lucretia Mott wrote many letters, including one sent to London Meeting explaining the position of the Hicksites which was rejected. In 1830 Lucretia was Clerk of Philadelphia Women's Yearly Meeting (serves until 1835). She first entertains William Lloyd Garrison (of Boston) at her Samson Street home in 1830, a visit which enlists the Motts in the efforts to emancipate the slaves. William Lloyd Garrison described a sermon preached by her in the 1830s:

"She dwelt with emphasis and power upon the wide difference which exists between a ceremonial religion and practical godliness...She urged upon all the duty of actively laboring in the reforms of the age, especially that of anti-slavery - no matter what it might cost, no matter from what quarter it might be condemned, whether from the high seats of any ecclesiastical conclave. Her position on that occasion was one of great moral sublimity, showing that she was wholly dead to that fear of men which bringeth a snare." In the early 1830s Lucretia was a traveling Quaker minister in Pennsylvania and New York (Quaker ministers were not paid).

Garrison delivered a very poor speech in Philadelphia while visiting the Motts in 1830 and they advised him in future to not speak from notes, but from the heart, and this he did becoming an effective speaker. He founded the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator in 1831. He founded the New England Anti-Slavery Society in 1832.

She listened to those who opposed her views with a calm, benign attitude and defended her views with patience and strength. While gentle, she did not turn the other cheek.

1833-1860 Lucretia becomes the most widely known female abolitionist and advocate of woman's rights in America

1833: National Anti-Slavery Society meeting in Philadelphia.

1833-5: Lucretia was a founding member of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833 and the National Anti-Slavery Coalition of American Women in 1835. Among other early participants in these groups were Sarah Pugh, Mary Grew, Esther Moore, Sydney Ann Lewis and Lydia White. Also black women joined including Sarah Douglas, Hattie Purvis and the Forten sisters. Lucretia's daughters Anna Mott Hopper and Maria Mott Davis were also members. The efforts of the local society were for fund-raising for the national organization, production of pamphlets and sponsorship of Sarah Douglas's school for black children. Lucretia was on the board or President of this organization every year of its existence but one. She was one of the leaders in the Anti-Slavery Coalitions for American Women's assembly held in New York 9-12 May, 1837. Speakers included Sarah and Angelina Grimke of South Carolina, Abby Kelly, Maria Weston Chapman and Ann Warren Weston of Massachusetts and Lydia Maria Child and Lucretia Mott. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting protests the entrance of Arkansas as a slave state and sends Lucretia Mott and Joseph Parrish to deliver the message.

In 1836 Caln Quarter brought to the yearly meeting a request to boycott the produce of slave labor and it was supported by Lucretia Mott. She was an advocate of what she called Practical Christianity. In 1838 John Greenleaf Whittier visited the Motts. Lucretia Mott became well known as a Quaker minister.

Mob violence against abolitionist was common in Boston, New York and Philadelphia beginning about 1834. In 1838 funds were raised to build Pennsylvania Hall in Philadelphia to be the local abolitionist headquarters. This building was set on fire by a mob soon after its construction while a meeting was being held (Lucretia a speaker) and burned to the ground. The mob next was headed for the Motts where the out of town abolitionists were staying, but a friend put himself in front of the mob and crying "On to the Motts" led them past the house. The meetings were continued the next day in Sally Pugh's schoolhouse. The rioters particularly objected to two things that were fairly novel in these meetings: mixing of the races on terms of equality and the prominence of women in both speaking at and running the meeting. The abolitionist movement was in some ways the beginning of the women's rights movement in America.

In September 1839 she was a founding member of the Non-Resistant Society (abolitionists pledging not to return violence with violence, an idea of William Lloyd Garrison) and was one of four women on the board and the closing speaker at their first meeting. This society was one of the first political organizations to accept men and women on equal terms in America. In 1840, the American Anti-Slavery Society followed suit after long debate and admitted women (the vote was 180-140). This led this organization to split in two and the new society that excluded women was called the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. In 1841, Lydia Maria Child, Lucretia Mott and Maria W. Chapman were placed on the board of the American Anti-Slavery Society. In 1840, Lucretia Mott was chosen as one of 5 representatives of the AASS to the World Conference to be held in London 12 June to 17 June. She was not allowed to participate by the organizers (nor were delegates from the various American women's anti-slavery organizations, among who were Sarah Pugh and Abby Kimber). It was here that she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the wife of a delegate and the two became friends. William Lloyd Garrison chose to sit with the excluded women.

 1844 - Lucretia's mother dies in Lucretia's home of influenza. Lucretia suffers from chronic dyspepsia, the same influenza that killed her mother, and encephalitis and her weight goes down to 92 pounds. For the next 2 years she is less active in public life. The Motts live at 136 N. 9th street, 2 blocks beyond Market Street in Philadelphia. Daughter Maria Davis lived at 138. A steady stream of callers appeared at their home, including Sojourner Truth, Robert and Hattie Purvis, Sarah Douglas, Charles C. Burleigh, Cyrus Burleigh, Abby Kimber, Mary Grew, Miller McKim and Sarah Pugh as well as numerous relatives (her mother lived with them) and friends. Out of town visitors included William Lloyd Garrison (many time visitor), Samuel J. May, John Quincy Adams (1836) with Benjamin Lundy, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Dickens, Lord Morperth (whose sister gave a child the middle name Lucretia) and Sally Holley. It was also said that every blind beggar in Philadelphia could find their way to 136 N. 9th street unaided. Daniel Neall said "This is Mrs. Lucretia Mott. Mott is a great abolitionist, but she's a fine cook too." During the 1840s she was a founder of the Association for the Relief and Employment of Poor Women, which largely was a self-help group, making and selling garments, carpets and quilts. James Mott was able to retire from business, financially secure. Lucretia Mott was now regarded as one of the leading radical reformers in America.

Hicksite Friends like Lucretia Mott were attacked frequently by the Orthodox Friends over their beliefs and Lucretia often felt called upon to defend them. She was a Quaker minister and a frequent speaker at local and yearly meetings. This is the time of the Unitarian movement (which influenced Lucretia). Issues being debated included the authority of the Bible, the total depravity of man, the divinity of Christ and the vicarious atonement (these issues caused the Quaker split). Lucretia says, "I have never given my faith a name. The distinctions among Christian professors are found, on an analysis, to be but hair-breath, and it is puzzling to bear in mind the distinctive points in their creeds. We give a more orthodox hue to ours by retaining some expressions which do not convey our real sentiments. I do not wonder that Richard [Webb] asks what we mean by our professions. If he should hear some of our preachers, he would understand us better. The hearers are often told that they are not called to rest their hopes of selection on the "sacrifice" without the gates of Jerusalem." The divinity of Christ is held - not by miraculous power - so much as his spiritual creation. The son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness." Denounced as a heretic even by many Hicksite Friends, Lucretia Mott continued to hold offices in the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. The progress in human society, she felt, was due to the development of man's spiritual nature, to the "better understanding of God dwelling within man, the Holy Spirit being with us, and to man's regard for his fellow being.""My faith is firm in the blessed, the eternal doctrines preached by Jesus, and by every child of God from the creation of the world."

1840-1850: Lucretia is much in demand as a speaker. Her style was to be gentle and graceful and uncompromising. Thoreau called it "transcendentalism in its mildest form." Antislavery efforts were a main focus.

October 1842, After a sermon at the Unitarian Church in Washington (over 40 congressmen present), she makes an uninvited call on President Tyler and is received briefly, to little effect.

1843 - Some Hicksite Quaker elders, such as George White, begin a movement to disown her, as her activism is disturbing their peace. They do not succeed.

1847 - Antislavery speech in Ohio of which Frederick Douglass (in the audience) said, "Her silvery voice is distinctly heard, ...her truthful words came down upon the audience like drops of summer rain."

1848 In her first major speech at the American Anti-Slavery Society in New York she calls for immediate abolition of slavery. Here is a rousing speech from Frederick Douglass from the same meeting.

1848 - The Seneca Falls meeting (19-20 July, 1848) for Women's Rights is organized by Lucretia Mott, Martha Wright and Elizabeth Cady Stanton with help from Mary Ann McClintock and Jane Hunt. The Declaration of Sentiments they wrote is based on the Declaration of Independence. James Mott chaired this convention. Lucretia Mott gave the opening address and E.C. Stanton read the Declaration. All of the resolutions in the declaration except the one demanding the vote passed unanimously. Resolutions included efforts to secure better education, demolish the barriers to women in industry, the clergy and the professions of law and medicine, nullify laws restricting women's property rights, and support of woman's suffrage. Frederick Douglass was particularly strong in his support of the right to vote at this convention. Lucretia Mott also gave the closing remarks. She had been one of those reluctant to propose the right to vote and was also reluctant to have a woman as head of the organization, probably for practical reasons as she certainly believed women should vote. Since Lucretia was the best known of the early women's rights advocates she now became the whipping-girl of editorialists who opposed the same.

1849 - In response to a speech by Henry Dana (who used the Bible, Milton and Shakespeare to argue the inferiority of women) Lucretia gives a rebutting speech entitled "Discourse on Women" which was later published as a pamphlet and enjoyed wide circulation for years. Her brother Thomas dies in 1849 during a cholera epidemic. Also from 1849 - a sermon Likeness of Christ on the web.

1850 - James and Lucretia Mott are involved with William J. Mullen in the founding of the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania, the first medical school in the world to provide medical education exclusively for women.

1850-1860. Debate in antislavery circles now centered on maintaining the Union of north and south versus the evils of slavery. Lucretia Mott attempted to prevent the fragmenting of the movement by this tension. This was also the time of the Underground Railroad in which the Motts participated as a side venture separate from their participation in the national antislavery movements. Their home at 338 Arch Street was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

1852 - Lucretia Mott is elected President of the Woman's Rights Convention in Syracuse. Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone are prominent at this convention.

1853 - Lucretia presides over theWoman's rights convention at Broadway Tabernacle in New York which is broken up by a Tammany mob. She chooses as the person to escort herself out of the building, Captain Isaiah Rynders, the leader of the mob. The next day at the restaurant she sees Rynders and thanks him for his courtesy and Rynders asks a companion as she leaves who that was. That's Lucretia Mott. "Lucretia Mott?" He was surprised. "Well, she seemed like a good, sensible woman."

1855 - Letter to Elizabeth Cady Stanton (On The Lucretia Coffin Mott Papers Project Web Site)

1857 - The Motts move to Roadside in Cheltenham township, Montgomery county on the York road, moving from 338 Arch Street in Philadelphia. A primary reason for moving was Lucretia's poor health. She was frequently in Philadelphia to attend the Fair Circles, weekday Quaker Meetings, gatherings of the Temperance Society, the Equal Rights Association and the Peace Society. She spent a lot of time reading.

September 1858 - Yardleyville, Bucks county. She gave one of her most significant sermons, speaking at length on man's inheritance of the divine gift of the Holy Spirit. For her text she selected a sentence from the New Testament "The Kingdom of God is within us," adding in her own words, "a testimony of one of the modern writers: 'Christianity will not have performed its office on earth until its professors have learned to respect the rights and privileges of conscience, by a toleration without limit, a faith without contention.'" In the development of this text, she made a strong plea to man to accept the divine spiritual gift, the power transcending creeds and dogmas; to walk uprightly; to act righteously, to be just, to be faithful. "I would not set a high opinion on the Catholic Church, the Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist, Quaker or any other. They all have their elements of goodness, and they all have their elements of bondage; and if we yield obedience to them, we become subject to them, and brought under bondage. If we acknowledge this truth, and bow to it, we shall dare show our dissent." No compromise should be made with any form of injustice: the wrongs suffered by women and slaves or the evil of war. Her final note bespoke her faith in humanity. "The people flock more to hear moral discourses than to hear the preaching from the pulpit. This would not be the case were the preaching of the pulpit like the preaching of Jesus. There is a quick understanding in the fear of the Lord among the people, and I will trust the people. I have confidence in their intuitive sense of right, of the good. It is this great heart of the people we are to preach into, to proclaim liberty and truth, justice and right into; and let it be done." She also dwelt on the perversion of the Scriptures that assumed total depravity. She felt this led to the degradation of man's natural instinct to see the right course of action.

1859 - John Brown's wife stays with the Motts at Roadside after the Harper's Ferry raid. John Brown wrote to his wife that he was glad she was with Lucretia Mott saying, "I remember the old lady well; but presume she has no recollection of me...I am glad to have you make the acquaintance of such old Pioneers in the Cause." Lucretia shows sympathy for Brown in speeches she makes leading Robert Purvis to call her "the most belligerant Non-Resistant he ever saw." In 1860, though, she makes clear that she does not follow the same violent path as Brown: speech here.

1860 Righteousness Exalteth a Nation, a sermon delivered by Lucretia Mott at Bristol, PA

10 April 1861 - Lucretia and James celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary the day before the fall of Ft. Sumter.

1861-1865 - Lucretia Mott upholds her pacifist Quaker beliefs during the Civil War. Many Quakers, involved in the anti-slavery movement and the underground railroad though, choose to fight including members of her family. During the war, she raised money and clothes for those freed from slavery. Her son in law, Capt. Edward Davis' near-by property is leased as a training ground for black soldiers called Camp William Penn.

After 1863, the abolitionists are seen as heroes, even by those who were part of the mobs trying to break up their meetings. Lucretia finds that the Hicksites, too, have come around and she is universally admired in Pennsylvania. Hare: "It is as much an honor today to have an ancestor who spoke on the same platform with Lucretia Mott as to possess a handkerchief owned by one's great-great-grandmother when she danced with Lafayette. It is proudly emblazoned in genealogical dictionaries that one's ancestor kept a station on the Underground Railway. There is as yet no Society of the Sons of Those Who Burnt Pennsylvania Hall."

The 13th amendment to the Constitution in 1865 officially frees the slaves.

The post-war years

1866 - With the abolition of slavery, Lucretia Mott asserts that the work of the Anti-Slavery societies is not done. She urges work on securing the ballot for the freedmen. She also supported the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. She attends the Equal Rights Convention in New York where Elizabeth Cady Stanton is elected its first President but declines so that Lucretia Mott can be President. After her term is done in 1870, the organization splits in two and Lucretia is unable get them to reunite (on one side is E.C. Stanton and S.B. Anthony and on the other is Lucy Stone, Mary Livermore and Julia Ward Howe).

26 April 1868, James Mott dies while visiting his daughter Martha in Brooklyn. In 1864 he was amongst the founders of Swarthmore College as a coeducational institution.

July 1876 Presides at the National Woman Suffrage Association in Philadelphia.

Between 1870 and 1880 she gives at least 40 more speeches. In 1878 she attended the 40th anniversary of the meeting in Seneca Falls. Her last public appearance was April 1880 at the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. After her husband's death she worships at Abington Friends Meeting. The peace movement was her prime concern these last 10 years.

11 November 1880. She dies at Roadside. She is buried at Fairhill Cemetery in north Philadelphia with a small stone which reads Lucretia Mott, 1793-1880.

This work was based on:

The Greatest American Woman by Lloyd C.M. Hare, The American Historical Society, Inc. 1937

Lucretia Mott, by Otella Cromwell, Harvard Univ. Press, 1958

Lucretia Mott, Gentle Warrior by Dorothy Sterling, Doubleday and Co., 1964

Valiant Friend, The Life of Lucretia Mott by Margaret Hope Bacon, Walker & Co., 1980

Lucretia Mott, A Guiding Light by Jennifer Fisher Bryant, Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996

On the web: Short autobiographical sketch

Note: The largest collection of Lucretia Mott's letters, diaries and other objects can be found at the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College (as well as an original oil painting of her). The Lucretia Mott Papers Project looks like it may become a good on-line source. Assorted Lucretia Mott links can be found at LucidCafe. The Lucretia Mott article on Women's History has several links. Here is a classroom exercise that may be of interest ("How did Lucretia Mott's Activism between 1840 and 1860 Combine her Commitments to Antislavery and Women's Rights?").

"We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them." - Frederick Douglass

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