Another Astonishing Woman

I had probably heard of Lucretia Coffin Mott (1793-1880) before I stumbled across her in my tree.  I know of her colleagues, and most certainly her protégés – but Lucretia’s was apparently not a name that stuck with me for any length of time.

(For those playing along at home, I’m related to Lucretia only by her marriage to James Mott – a 3rd Cousin, 6 times removed – on my father’s side.)

7010a704-6485-4bb9-bf7d-33763add45d5Lucretia Coffin was born on Nantucket in 1793, to Thomas and Anna (Folger) Coffin.  In those isolated parts of the Colonies to which they’d been driven (Rhode Island, Long Island, Nantucket, etc.) Quakers such as Elias Hicks and his family, the Mott families of Long Island (my connection to all these folks), and families like the Coffins, began taking steps to rid their settlements of any connection to slavery or the products of the practice.

Long Island Quakers began manumitting their slaves as early as March 1776. In 1794, a preacher named Elias Hicks was a founder of the Charity Society of Jericho and Westbury Meetings, established to give aid to local poor African Americans and provide their children with education. Among many issues Hicks advocated was a consumer boycott of slave-produced goods. If Joe Cotton Farmer can’t sell his goods, he won’t need his slaves! Elias meant business – to illustrate, his final request was that no cotton sheet or blanket be used to cover him in his casket.

That was the sort of company in which Lucretia Coffin spent her formative years: Thinkers and Doers who operated from a rock-solid moral center. She attended the Nine Partners School, a Quaker academy in Dutchess County, New York, and became a teacher there upon her graduation. Another Nine Partners teacher was James Mott, one of the afore-mentioned Long Island Motts so inextricably linked with the Hickses, politically and matrimonially.

Lucretia’s family eventually left Nine Partners for Philadelphia. James went with them, and the couple was married in 1811.

Mott, like many Quakers, advocated antislavery and boycotted all products of slave labor. She helped found the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833 and served as its president. She also became prominent in the national organization after it admitted women. This sort of activity in reform groups was a radical departure for women of her era.

Lucretia was denied a seat in 1840 at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, as were all women, so she did her speaking outside the hall. And there she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton. During the summer of 1848 she and Stanton organized the meeting at Seneca Falls, New York, where the American women’s rights movement was launched. Mott was elected president of the group in 1852.

After the Civil War, Mott, unlike many abolitionists who believed their work was done, threw herself into the cause of black suffrage and aid for freedpeople. She also helped establish Swarthmore College in 1864 -a co-ed Quaker institution. Two years later, she was elected head of the American Equal Rights Association.

Lucretia Coffin Mott died in the outskirts of Philadelphia, 11 November 1880. I will be toasting her on January 3rd – her 224th birthday.

Sculptor Adelaide Johnson created three marble busts for the Court of Honor of the Woman’s Building at the World’s Columbian Exhibition in 1893.  Copies of those busts were made and turned into a monument to the women and to the equal rights struggle – and the piece was unveiled at a ceremony held in the Capitol Rotunda on February 15, 1921, the 101st anniversary of the birth of Susan B. Anthony. The piece was on display in the Crypt until 1997, when it was relocated again to the Rotunda. (Left to right: Stanton, Anthony, Coffin.)


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