Lucretia Mott
 

 


The “Woman Question”

Lucretia Mott would also change society in the realm of women’s rights.  Women of the nineteenth century faced bondage just as blacks did, though the bondage of women was more social and emotional in form than that of blacks.  During this time, English and Americans faced the “Woman Question,” which was the question of what a woman’s role should be in marriage, education, motherhood, home matters, sexual matters, financial matters, and social matters.[24]  Of course, most men of the time were satisfied with the rights (or lack of rights) that women had always had.  White men saw women, like black slaves, as property that should obey men in every sphere of society.  Men believed that the “true women” was one with only rudimentary education, who was morally sound, mindful of household chores, and of course, obedient.[25]  And just as Mott had fought to free slaves, she now fought to free women.  As a Quaker, Mott had not experienced the oppression of women until she became a public figure working with the public; she had always been encouraged to act on levels equal to those of men.  Whether this made Mott more angry than did the institution of slavery or more passionate in her work for women’s rights than for abolitionism is not clear.

What is clear however is that Lucretia Mott’s work for women’s rights stemmed from her work as an abolitionist, as was the case for many women’s rights activists.  Women abolitionists had always had to take great care with their actions within the abolitionist movement.  Women could not just say or do whatever came into mind.  For example, when Mott spoke at the founding of the American Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia, she spoke in a manner so as not of offend any of the men present, and was therefore warmly accepted and encouraged to speak whenever she felt led to do so.[26]  This implies that her and other women’s acceptance into the society was not without conditions.  This treatment from their male counterparts undoubtedly grew tiresome from the start.  Later, because women were not allowed to vote in this same society[27], they chose to organize the Female Anti-slavery Society of Philadelphia.[28]  Another stipulation in women’s participation in abolitionist societies is thus revealed; she can take part in most activities, but she may not vote.  As members of the executive committee of the American Anti-Slavery Society, Mott and other women had two tasks--to persuade Americans that slavery was wrong, and to persuade them that it was okay for women to be activists.[29]

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[24] Matthews, Struggle, 3-4.

[25] Carlson, Transformation, 6.

[26] Papachristou, Together, 4.

[27] Young, “Women’s Place,” 315-16.

[28] Harriet Sigerman, An Unfinished Battle:  American Women 1848-1865, The Young Oxford History of Women in the United States, ed. Nancy F. Cott, no. 5 (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1994), 42.

[29] Goldberg, New Ground, 126.