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Causes and Consequences

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It is not enough to be generous, and give alms; the enlarged soul, the true philanthropist, is compelled by Christian principle to look beyond bestowing the scanty pittance to the mere beggar of the day, to the duty of considering the causes and sources of poverty.

We must consider how much we have done towards causing it.

~ A Sermon Delivered by LUCRETIA MOTT, at Bristol, PA, 6th Month 6th, 1860

Lucretia Coffin Mott (January 3, 1793 – November 11, 1880) was an American Quaker, abolitionist, women’s rights activist, and a social reformer.

Lucretia Coffin was born in Nantucket, Massachusetts, the second child of six by Anna Folger and Thomas Coffin. At the age of thirteen, she was sent to the Nine Partners Quaker Boarding School in what is now Millbrook, Dutchess County, New York, which was run by the Society of Friends. There she became a teacher after graduation. Her interest in women’s rights began when she discovered that male teachers at the school were paid three times as much as the female staff.

On April 10, 1811, Lucretia Coffin married James Mott at Pine Street Meeting in Philadelphia. They had six children. Their second child, Thomas Coffin, died at age two. Their children all became active in the anti-slavery and other reform movements.

Like many Quakers, Mott considered slavery an evil to be opposed. Inspired in part by minister Elias Hicks, she and other Quakers refused to use cotton cloth, cane sugar, and other slavery-produced goods. In 1821 Mott became a Quaker minister. With her husband’s support, she traveled extensively as a minister, and her sermons emphasized the Quaker inward light, or the presence of the Divine within every individual. Her sermons also included her free produce and anti-slavery sentiments. In 1833, her husband helped found the American Anti-Slavery Society. By then an experienced minister and abolitionist, Lucretia Mott was the only woman to speak at the organizational meeting in Philadelphia. She tested the language of the society’s Constitution and bolstered support when many delegates were precarious. Days after the conclusion of the convention, at the urging of other delegates, Mott and other white and black women founded the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. Integrated from its founding, the organization opposed both slavery and racism, and developed close ties to Philadelphia’s Black community. Mott herself often preached at Black parishes.

Amidst social persecution by abolition opponents and pain from dyspepsia, Mott continued her work for the abolitionist cause. She managed their household budget to extend hospitality to guests, including fugitive slaves, and donate to charities. Mott was praised for her ability to maintain her household while contributing to the cause. In the words of one editor, "She is proof that it is possible for a woman to widen her sphere without deserting it." Mott and other female abolitionists also organized fairs to raise awareness and revenue, providing much of the funding for the anti-slavery movement.

In June 1840 Mott attended the General Anti-Slavery Convention, better known as the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention, in London, England. In spite of Mott’s status as one of six women delegates, before the conference began, the men voted to exclude the American women from participating, and the female delegates were required to sit in a segregated area. Anti-Slavery leaders didn’t want the womens rights issue to become associated with the cause of ending slavery worldwide and dilute the focus on abolition. In addition, the social mores of the time generally prohibited women’s participating in public political life. Several of the American men attending the convention, including William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips, protested the women’s exclusion. Garrison, Nathaniel P. Rogers, William Adams, and African American activist Charles Lenox Remond sat with the women in the segregated area.

Activists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her husband Henry B. Stanton attended the convention while on their honeymoon. Stanton admired Mott, and the two women became friends and allies. Mott and Stanton became well acquainted at the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention. Stanton later recalled that they first discussed the possibility of a women’s rights convention in London.

In 1848 Mott and Stanton organized a women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York. Stanton noted the Seneca Falls Convention was the first public women’s rights meeting in the United States. Stanton’s resolution that it was "the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves the sacred right to the elective franchise" was passed despite Mott’s opposition. Mott viewed politics as corrupted by slavery and moral compromises, but she soon concluded that women’s "right to the elective franchise however, is the same, and should be yielded to her, whether she exercises that right or not." Mott signed the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments. Over the next few decades, women’s suffrage became the focus of the women’s rights movement. While Stanton is usually credited as the leader of that effort, it was Mott’s mentoring of Stanton and their work together that inspired the event. Mott’s sister, Martha Coffin Wright, also helped organize the convention and signed the declaration.

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