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Years ago I attended, at some inconvenience, a large public meeting,
because I heard that Lucretia Mott was to speak. After several
addresses, a slight lady, with white cap and drab Quaker dress, came
forward. Though well in years, her eyes were bright; her smile was
winsome, and I thought her face one of the loveliest I had ever looked
upon. The voice was singularly sweet and clear, and the manner had
such naturalness and grace as a queen might envy. I have f
the words, forgotten even the subject, but the benign presence and
gracious smile I shall never forget.
Born among the quiet scenes of Nantucket, Jan. 3, 1793, Lucretia grew
to girlhood with habits of economy, neatness, and helpfulness in
the home. Her father, Thomas Coffin, was a sea-captain of staunch
principle; her mother, a woman of great energy, wit, and good sense.
The children's pleasures were such as a plain country home afforded.
When Mrs. Coffin went to visit her neighbors, she would say to her
daughters, "Now after you have finished knitting twenty bouts, you
may go down cellar and pick out as many as you want of the smallest
potatoes,--the very smallest,--and roast them in the ashes." Then
the six little folks gathered about the big fireplace and enjoyed a
When Lucretia was twelve years old, the family moved to Boston. At
first all the children attended a private school; but Captain Coffin,
fearing this would make them proud, removed them to a public school,
where they could "mingle with all classes without distinction." Years
after Lucretia said, "I am glad, because it gave me a feeling of
sympathy for the patient and struggling poor, which, but for this
experience, I might never have known."
A year later, she was sent to a Friends' boarding-school at Nine
Partners, N.Y. Both boys and girls attended this school, but were not
permitted to speak to each other unless they were near relatives; if
so, they could talk a little on certain days over a certain corner
of the fence, between the playgrounds! Such grave precautions did not
entirely prevent the acquaintance of the young people; for when a lad
was shut up in a closet, on bread and water, Lucretia and her sister
supplied him with bread and butter under the door. This boy was a
cousin of the teacher, James Mott, who was fond of the quick-witted
school-girl, so that it is probable that no harm came to her from
breaking the rules.
At fifteen, Lucretia was appointed an assistant teacher, and she and
Mr. Mott, with a desire to know more of literature, and quite possibly
more of each other, began to study French together. He was tall, with
light hair and blue eyes, and shy in manner; she, petite, with dark
hair and eyes, quick in thought and action, and fond of mirth.
When she was eighteen and James twenty-one, the young teachers were
married, and both went to her father's home in Philadelphia to reside,
he assisting in Mr. Coffin's business.
The war of 1812 brought financial failure to many, and young Mott soon
found himself with a wife and infant daughter to support, and no work.
Hoping that he could obtain a situation with an uncle in New York
State, he took his family thither, but came back disappointed. Finally
he found work in a plow store at a salary of six hundred dollars a
Captain Coffin meantime had died, leaving his family poor. James could
do so little for them all with his limited salary, that he determined
to open a small store; but the experiment proved a failure. His health
began to be affected by this ill success, when Lucretia, with her
brave heart, said, "My cousin and I will open a school; thee must not
get discouraged, James."
The school was opened with four pupils, each paying seven dollars a
quarter. The young wife put so much good cheer and earnestness into
her work, that soon there were forty pupils in the school. Mr. Mott's
prospects now brightened, for he was earning one thousand dollars a
year. The young couple were happy in their hard work, for they loved
each other, and love lightens all care and labor.
But soon a sorrow worse than poverty came. Their only son, Thomas, a
most affectionate child, died, saying with his latest breath, "I love
thee, mother." It was a crushing blow; but it proved a blessing in the
end, leading her thoughts heavenward.
A few months afterwards her voice was heard for the first time in
public, in prayer, in one of the Friends' meetings. The words were
simple, earnest, eloquent. The good Quakers marvelled, and encouraged
the "gift." They did not ask whether man or woman brought the message,
so it came from heaven.
And now, at twenty-five, having resigned her position as teacher, she
began close study of the Bible and theological books. She had four
children to care for, did all her sewing, even cutting and making her
own dresses; but she learned what every one can learn,--to economize
time. Her house was kept scrupulously clean. She says: "I omitted much
unnecessary stitching and ornamental work in the sewing for my family,
so that I might have more time for the improvement of my mind.
For novels and light reading I never had much taste; the ladies'
department in the periodicals of the day had no attraction for me. "She
would lay a copy of William Penn's ponderous volumes open at the foot
of her bed, and drawing her chair close to it, with her baby on her
lap, would study the book diligently. A woman of less energy and less
will-power than young Mrs. Mott would have given up all hope of being
a scholar. She read the best books in philosophy and science. John
Stuart Mill and Dean Stanley, though widely different, were among her
favorite authors.
James Mott was now prospering in the cotton business, so that they
could spare time to go in their carriage and speak at the Quaker
meetings in the surrounding country. Lucretia would be so absorbed
in thought as not to notice the beauties of the landscape, which her
husband always greatly enjoyed. Pointing out a fine view to her, she
replied, "Yes, it is beautiful, now that thou points it out, but
I should not have noticed it. I have always taken more interest in
_human_ nature." From a child she was deeply interested for the slave.
She had read in her school-books Clarkson's description of the slave
ships, and these left an impression never to be effaced. When, Dec. 4,
1833, a convention met in Philadelphia for the purpose of forming the
American Anti-Slavery Society, Lucretia Mott was one of the four
women who braved the social obloquy, as friends of the despised
abolitionists. She spoke, and was listened to with attention.
Immediately the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society was formed,
and Mrs. Mott became its president and its inspiration. So unheard of
a thing was an association of women, and so unaccustomed were they to
the methods of organization, that they were obliged to call a colored
man to the chair to assist them.
The years of martyrdom which followed, we at this day can scarcely
realize. Anti-slavery lecturers were tarred and feathered. Mobs in New
York and Philadelphia swarmed the streets, burning houses and breaking
church windows. In the latter city they surrounded the hall of the
Abolitionists, where the women were holding a large convention, and
Mrs. Mott was addressing them. All day long they cursed and threw
stones, and as soon as the women left the building, they burned it
to ashes. Then, wrought up to fury, the mob started for the house of
James and Lucretia Mott. Knowing that they were coming, the calm woman
sent her little children away, and then in the parlor, with a few
friends, peacefully awaited a probable death.
In the turbulent throng was a young man who, while he was no friend
of the colored man, could not see Lucretia Mott harmed. With skilful
ruse, as they neared the house, he rushed up another street, shouting
at the top of his voice, "On to Motts!" and the wild crowd blindly
followed, wreaking their vengeance in another quarter.
A year later, in Delaware, where Mrs. Mott was speaking, one of her
party, a defenceless old man, was dragged from the house, and tarred
and feathered. She followed, begging the men to desist, and saying
that she was the real offender, but no violent hands were laid upon
At another time, when the annual meeting of the Anti-Slavery Society
in New York was broken up by the mob, some of the speakers were
roughly handled. Perceiving that several ladies were timid, Mrs. Mott
said to the gentleman who was accompanying her, "Won't thee look after
some of the others?"
"But who will take care of you?" he said.
With great tact and a sweet smile, she answered, "This man," laying
her hand on the arm of one of the roughest of the mob; "he will see me
safe through."
The astonished man had, like others, a tender heart beneath the
roughness, and with respectful manner took her to a place of safety.
The next day, going into a restaurant, she saw the leader of the mob,
and immediately sat down by him, and began to converse. Her kindness
and her sweet voice left a deep impression. As he went out of the
room, he asked at the door, "Who is that lady?"
"Why, that is Lucretia Mott!"
For a second he was dumbfounded; but he added, "Well, she's a good,
sensible woman."
In 1839 a World's Convention was called at London to debate the
slavery question. Among the delegates chosen were James and Lucretia
Mott, Wendell Phillips and his wife, and others. Mrs. Mott was
jubilant at the thought of the world's interest in this great
question, and glad for an opportunity to cross the ocean and enjoy a
little rest, and the pleasure of meeting friends who had worked in the
same cause.
When the party arrived, they were told, to their astonishment, that
no women were to be admitted to the Convention as delegates. They had
faced mobs and ostracism; they had given money and earnest labor,
but they were to be ignored. William Lloyd Garrison, hurt at such
injustice, refused to take part in the Convention, and sat in the
gallery with the women. Although Mrs. Mott did not speak in the
assembly, the _Dublin Herald_ said, "Nobody doubts that she was the
lioness of the Convention." She was entertained at public breakfasts,
and at these spoke with the greatest acceptance to both men and women.
The Duchess of Sutherland and Lady Byron showed her great attention.
Carlyle was "much pleased with the Quaker lady, whose quiet manner had
a soothing effect on him," wrote Mrs. Carlyle to a friend. At Glasgow
"she held a delighted audience for nearly two hours in breathless
attention," said the press.
After some months of devoted Christian work, along with sight-seeing,
Mr. and Mrs. Mott started homeward. He had spoken less frequently
than his wife, but always had been listened to with deep interest.
Her heart was moved toward a large number of Irish emigrants in the
steerage, and she desired to hold a religious meeting among them. When
asked about it, they said they would not hear a woman preacher, for
women priests were not allowed in their church. Then she asked that
they would come together and consider whether they would have a
meeting. This seemed fair, and they came. She explained to them
that she did not intend to hold a church service; that, as they were
leaving their old homes and seeking new ones in her country, she
wanted to talk with them in such a way as would help them in the land
of strangers. And then, if they would listen,--they were all the time
listening very eagerly,--she would give an outline of what she had
intended to say, if the meeting had been held. At the close, when all
had departed, it dawned upon some of the quicker-witted ones that they
"had got the preachment from the woman preacher, after all."
The steamer arrived at the close of a twenty-nine days' voyage, and,
after a brief rest, Mrs. Mott began again her public work. She spoke
before the legislatures of New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. She
called on President Tyler, and he talked with her cordially and freely
about the slave. In Kentucky, says one of the leading papers, "For an
hour and a half she enchained an ordinarily restless audience--many
were standing--to a degree never surpassed here by the most popular
orators. She said some things that were far from palatable, but said
them with an air of sincerity that commanded respect and attention."
Mrs. Mott was deeply interested in other questions besides
slavery,--suffrage for women, total abstinence, and national
differences settled by arbitration instead of war. Years before, when
she began to teach school, and found that while girls paid the same
tuition as boys, "when they became teachers, women received only half
as much as men for their services," she says: "The injustice of this
distinction was so apparent, that I early resolved to claim for myself
all that an impartial Creator had bestowed."
In 1848, Mrs. Mott, with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and some others,
called the first Woman's Suffrage Convention in this country, at
Seneca Falls, N.Y. There was much ridicule,--we had not learned, forty
years ago, to treat with courtesy those whose opinions are different
from our own,--but the sweet Quaker preacher went serenely forward, as
though all the world were on her side. When she conversed with those
who differed, she listened so courteously to objections, and stated
her own views so delicately and kindly, and often so wittily, that
none could help liking her, even though they did not agree with
her. She realized that few can be driven, while many can be won with
gentleness and tact.
In all these years of public speaking, her home was not only a refuge
for the oppressed, but a delightful social centre, where prominent
people gathered from both Europe and America. At the table black and
white were treated with equal courtesy. One young man, a frequent
visitor, finding himself seated at dinner next to a colored man,
resolved to keep away from the house in future; but as he was in
love with one of Mrs. Mott's pretty daughters, he found that his
"principles" gave way to his affections. He renewed his visits, became
a son-in-law, and, later, an ardent advocate of equality for the
colored people.
Now the guests at the hospitable home were a mother and seven
children, from England, who, meeting with disappointments, had become
reduced to poverty. Now it was an escaped slave, who had come from
Richmond, Va., in a dry-goods box, by Adams Express. This poor man,
whose wife and three children had been sold from him, determined to
seek his freedom, even if he died in the effort. Weighing nearly two
hundred pounds, he was encased in a box two feet long, twenty-three
inches wide, and three feet high, in a sitting posture. He was
provided with a few crackers, and a bladder filled with water. With a
small gimlet he bored holes in the box to let in fresh air, and fanned
himself with his hat, to keep the air in motion. The box was covered
with canvas, that no one might suspect its contents. His sufferings
were almost unbearable. As the box was tossed from one place to
another, he was badly bruised, and sometimes he rested for miles
on his head and shoulders, when it seemed as though his veins would
burst. Finally he reached the Mott home, and found shelter and
Their large house was always full. Mr. Mott had given up a prosperous
cotton business, because the cotton was the product of slave labor;
but he had been equally successful in the wool trade, so that the days
of privation had passed by long ago. Two of their six children,
with their families, lived at home, and the harmony was remarked by
everybody. Mrs. Mott rose early, and did much housework herself. She
wrote to a friend: "I prepared mince for forty pies, doing every part
myself, even to meat-chopping; picked over lots of apples, stewed a
quantity, chopped some more, and made apple pudding; all of which kept
me on my feet till almost two o'clock, having to come into the parlor
every now and then to receive guests." As a rule, those women are the
best housekeepers whose lives are varied by some outside interests.
In the broad hall of the house stood two armchairs, which the children
called "beggars' chairs," because they were in constant use for all
sorts of people, "waiting to see the missus." She never refused to see
anybody. When letters came from all over the country, asking for all
sorts of favors, bedding, silver spoons, a silk umbrella, or begging
her to invest some money in the manufacture of an article, warranted
"to take the kink out of the hair of the negro," she would always
check the merriment of her family by saying, "Don't laugh too much;
the poor souls meant well."
Mrs. Mott was now sixty-three years of age. For forty years she had
been seen and loved by thousands. Strangers would stop her on the
street and say, "God bless you, Lucretia Mott!" Once, when a slave was
being tried for running away, Mrs. Mott sat near him in the court,
her son-in-law, Mr. Edward Hopper, defending his case. The opposing
counsel asked that her chair might be moved, as her face would
influence the jury against him! Benjamin H. Brewster, afterwards
United States Attorney-General, also counsel for the Southern master,
said: "I have heard a great deal of your mother-in-law, Hopper; but I
never saw her before to-day. She is an angel." Years after, when Mr.
Brewster was asked how he dared to change his political opinions, he
replied, "Do you think there is anything I dare not do, after facing
Lucretia Mott in that court-room?"
It seemed best at this time, in 1856, as Mrs. Mott was much worn with
care, to sell the large house in town and move eight miles into the
country, to a quaint, roomy house which they called Roadside. Before
they went, however, at the last family gathering a long poem was read,
ending with:--
"Who constantly will ring the bell,
And ask if they will please to tell
Where Mrs. Mott has gone to dwell?
The beggars.
"And who persistently will say,
'We cannot, cannot go away;
Here in the entry let us stay?'
Colored beggars.
"Who never, never, nevermore
Will see the 'lions' at the door
That they've so often seen before?
The neighbors.
"And who will miss, for months at least,
That place of rest for man and beast,
from North, and South, and West, and East?
Much of the shrubbery was cut down at Roadside, that Mrs. Mott might
have the full sunlight. So cheery a nature must have sunshine. Here
life went on quietly and happy. Many papers and books were on her
table, and she read carefully and widely. She loved especially Milton
and Cowper. Arnold's _Light of Asia_ was a great favorite in later
years. The papers were sent to hospitals and infirmaries, that no good
reading might be lost. She liked to read aloud; and if others were
busy, she would copy extracts to read to them when they were at
leisure. Who can measure the power of an educated, intellectual mother
in a home?
The golden wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Mott was celebrated in 1861, and a
joyous season it was. James, the prosperous merchant, was proud of his
gifted wife, and aided her in every way possible; while Lucretia
loved and honored the true-hearted husband. Though Mrs. Mott was
now seventy, she did not cease her benevolent work. Her carriage was
always full of fruits, vegetables, and gifts for the poor. In buying
goods she traded usually with the small stores, where things were
dearer, but she knew that for many of the proprietors it was a
struggle to make ends meet. A woman so considerate of others would of
course be loved.
Once when riding on the street-cars in Philadelphia, when no black
person was allowed to ride inside, every fifth car being reserved for
their use, she saw a frail-looking and scantily-dressed colored woman,
standing on the platform in the rain. The day was bitter cold, and
Mrs. Mott begged the conductor to allow her to come inside. "The
company's orders must be obeyed," was the reply. Whereupon the slight
Quaker lady of seventy walked out and stood beside the colored woman.
It would never do to have the famous Mrs. Mott seen in the rain on his
car; so the conductor, in his turn, went out and begged her to come
"I cannot go in without this woman," said Mrs. Mott quietly.
Nonplussed for a moment, he looked at the kindly face, and said, "Oh,
well, bring her in then!" Soon the "company's orders" were changed in
the interests of humanity, and colored people as well as white enjoyed
their civil rights, as becomes a great nation.
With all this beauty of character, Lucretia Mott had her trials.
Somewhat early in life she and her husband had joined the so-called
Unitarian branch of Quakers, and for this they were persecuted. So
deep was the sectarian feeling, that once, when suffering from acute
neuralgia, a physician who knew her well, when called to attend her,
said, "Lucretia, I am so deeply afflicted by thy rebellious spirit,
that I do not feel that I can prescribe for thee," and he left her to
her sufferings. Such lack of toleration reads very strangely at this
In 1868, Mr. Mott and his wife, the one eighty, and the other
seventy-five, went to Brooklyn, N.Y., to visit their grandchildren.
He was taken ill of pneumonia, and expressed a wish to go home, but
added, "I suppose I shall die here, and then I shall be at home; it
is just as well." Mrs. Mott watched with him through the night, and at
last, becoming weary, laid her head upon his pillow and went to sleep.
In the morning, the daughter coming in, found the one resting from
weariness, the other resting forever.
At the request of several colored men, who respected their benefactor,
Mr. Mott was borne to his grave by their hands. Thus ended, for this
world, what one who knew them well called "the most perfect wedded
life to be found on earth."
Mrs. Mott said, "James and I loved each other more than ever since we
worked together for a great cause." She carried out the old couplet:--
"And be this thy pride, what but few have done,
To hold fast the love thou hast early won."
After his death, she wrote to a friend, "I do not mourn, but rather
remember my blessings, and the blessing of his long life with me."
For twelve years more she lived and did her various duties. She had
seen the slave freed, and was thankful. The other reforms for which
she labored were progressing. At eighty-five she still spoke in the
great meetings. Each Christmas she carried turkeys, pies, and a gift
for each man and woman at the "Aged Colored Home," in Philadelphia,
driving twenty miles, there and back. Each year she sent a box
of candy to each conductor and brakeman on the North Pennsylvania
Railroad, "Because," she said, "they never let me lift out my bundles,
but catch them up so quickly, and they all seem to know me."
Finally the time came for her to go to meet James. As the end drew
near, she seemed to think that she was conducting her own funeral, and
said, as though addressing an audience, "If you resolve to follow the
Lamb wherever you may be led, you will find all the ways pleasant and
the paths peace. Let me go! Do take me!"
There was a large and almost silent funeral at the house, and at the
cemetery several thousand persons were gathered. When friends were
standing by the open grave, a low voice said, ""Will no one say
anything?" and another responded, "Who can speak? the preacher is
Memorial services were held in various cities. For such a woman as
Lucretia Mott, with cultured mind, noble heart, and holy purpose,
there are no sex limitations. Her field is the world.
Those who desire to know, more of this gifted woman will find it in a
most interesting volume, _Lives of James and Lucretia Mott_, written
by their grandaughter, Anna Davis Hallowell, West Medford, Mass.