Lucretia Mott
 

 


Early Influences

Lucretia Mott’s career was spurred onward by her childhood experiences and her religious devotion.  Mott was born in January of 1793 in Nantucket, Massachusetts.[1]  This was a whaling industry community in which men were gone for long periods of time; as a result, women were left in charge of community businesses and of the families.[2]  So here was a community in which women played a vital role, a situation not common during this time in history.  Mott further witnessed women as imperative parts of community because her family and community were of the Quaker faith.  Quakers were radical Puritans who believed that everyone was equal under God, even blacks and women, and that this equality included equal protection by the laws.[3]  As a result of this egalitarian belief, Quaker women were encouraged to share their faith in public alongside men, Quaker boys and girls were educated together, and Quaker women were instructed in the administration of church affairs.[4] With such influences and opportunities laid before her during her childhood, Mott was quick to take advantage of her equal status with men, acquire leadership ability, and develop a responsible nature.  At age twenty-one she became a lay minister, which was a non-paying position.[5]  She already had the servant’s spirit in her.  At age twenty-eight she was an ordained minister.[6]

As a minister, Mott further gained a reputation as a capable female servant.  In one of her sermons, “Likeness to Christ,” she expounds the necessity of action.  “It is time that Christians were judged more by their likeness to Christ than their notions of Christ.”[7]  Mott was advocating following Jesus Christ’s ministry works, which she herself was doing in her efforts to help blacks and women.  The simple fact that Quaker women were allowed to become ministers influenced her to fight for the rights of the majority of women who did not have those opportunities.  But what also made her fight for the rights of women was the fact that some Quakers were beginning to turn away from this equality for men and women and that women were losing some of their freedoms.[8]  The fact that even she was losing rights in her egalitarian community scared Mott, for in this Quaker family she had at least been sure of her equality.

The Quaker belief in egalitarianism made Quakers tolerant of everyone and opposed to such evils as slavery and capital punishment.[9]  Just as Mott demonstrated in her “Likeness to Christ” sermon, her Quaker friends were servants for Christ.  In their efforts to eradicate the evils of society, they worked to reform mental hospitals, prisons, and education for the poor and were a factor in the 1807 end to the slave trade.[10]  With the slave trade now eradicated, Quakers set out to have slavery abolished, at all costs.  In efforts to do so, many Quakers broke laws in order to help with the Underground Railroad, when they had never thought of breaking laws before.[11]  Just as her Quaker background set her in the path of the women’s rights movement, so did it set her in the path of abolitionism.

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[1] Henry Warner Bowden, Dictionary of American Religious Biography (Westport, Conn.:  Greenwood, 1977), 319.

[2] Eleanor Flexner, Century of Struggle:  The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States (Cambridge, Mass.:  Harvard University Press, 1975), 72.

[3] Michael Goldberg, Breaking New Ground:  American Women 1800-1848, The Young Oxford History of Women in the United States, ed. Nancy F. Cott, no. 4 (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1994), 62.

[4] Louise M. Young, “Women’s Place in American Politics:  The Historical Perspective.”  Journal of Politics 38 (August 1976), Database on-line, Available from JSTOR, 300.

[5] Goldberg, New Ground, 62-63.

[6] Flexner, Century, 72.

[7] Lucretia Mott, “Likeness to Christ,” In In Her Words:  Women’s Writings in the History of Christian Thought, ed. Amy Oden (Nashville:  Abingdon, 1994), 293.

[8] A. Cheree Carlson, “Defining Womanhood:  Lucretia Coffin Mott and The Transformation of Femininity,”  Western Journal of Communication 58 (Spring 1994), Database on-line, Available from Academic Search Elite, Article 9609190235, 3.

[9] Hugh Barbour, “Quakers,” in The Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade (New York:  Macmillian, 1987), 131.

[10] Ibid., 130-31.

[11] Ibid., 131.