Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1800-1925: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview

LUCRETIA COFFIN MOTT

(1793-1880), religious reformer and advocate of the oppressed

LESTER C. OLSON AND TRUDY BAYER

"Let me urge such faithfulness to the light which you have, as shall prepare you to become able advocates for the oppressed."

-- Lucretia Coffin Mott

Lucretia Coffin Mott ranks among the most significant reformers influencing nineteenth-century U.S. culture. As a Quaker minister and public speaker, she advocated a broad range of reforms on issues such as peace, poor relief, penal servitude, temperance, public education, anti-slavery, women's equality, humane treatment of the mentally ill, economic issues of the working class, and rights of Native Americans. Although generally represented as a woman's rights advocate and abolitionist, religious reform was central in her public speaking. Other issues--even her deep and abiding concerns over anti-slavery and woman suffrage--were secondary to it. Above all, she was committed to equality for each and every person.

Coffin Mott spoke often about the need for peace and nonviolence (e.g., "The Subject of Peace," Voice of Peace, October 1869; "A Faithful Testimony Against Bearing Arms," Voice of Peace, November 1875; "A Warlike Spirit," Voice of Peace, July 1876, quoted in CSAS:343-348, 375-379, 379-383). This commitment shaped her analysis of appropriate methods of handling all other issues. For example, even though she was opposed to slavery, she deplored the use of violent or military means to end the peculiar institution ( "To Carry Out Convictions for Peace," May 6, 1877, Voice of Peace, June 1877, quoted in CSAS:385-386). Her comments on John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry reflected ambivalence resulting from agreement with Brown's goals but disagreement with his choice of means ( "I Am No Advocate of Passivity," National Anti-Slavery Standard, November 3, 1860, quoted in CSAS:261-262). Toward the end of her life, she averred: "Even the woman question, as far as voting goes, does not take hold of my every feeling as does war" ( Letter to Richard Webb, January 22, 1872, quoted in Bacon, 1980:212).

In addition to her lifelong commitment to the Society of Friends, Coffin Mott was a founder of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society ( 1833); a primary organizer of the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women ( 1837); an active member of the American Anti-Slavery Society and an officer in its branch, the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society ( 1839); a delegate to the 1840 World's Anti- Slavery Convention in London where she was denied her seat because of her sex ( Diary); founder of the Association for the Relief of Poor Women ( 1844); a primary organizer of the Seneca Falls WRC ( 1848); president of the WRC, Syracuse ( 1852); a founder of the Friends' College at Swarthmore ( 1864); first

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