Lucretia Mott is my favorite Quaker shero. She’s known by most as an ardent abolitionist, a staunch women’s rights advocate, a pacifist, a strong supporter of the working poor, and a free thinker. My admiration is more for her ability to do all these things and still do her own ironing! She was born on January 3, 1793, on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. Also born on that date, almost 200 years later, is my daughter, Asha , an evolving Quaker shero.
As a child, Lucretia Mott was known as a bit bossy with her siblings. Still, she was fond of each of them, took good care of them when asked, and felt responsible for teaching them lessons about the people and the world around them. Before the age of ten, she was minding her mother’s store while her mother traveled to the mainland on business and her father was away at sea. Lucretia had a strong sense of justice and integrity which sometimes got her in trouble with her elders when she complained about the way they treated other people. One of her favorite pastimes was gathering her siblings and playmates for “meeting for worship” where she often gave messages heard the First Day before, complete with accurate tone and gesture.. This was a preview of the vocal ministry for which she was known in her adult life.
On one occasion while at the Quaker Nine Partners Boarding School, she convinced her sister to accompany her to the boys’ side of the school, forbidden territory, to secretly carry food to one of the younger boys who had been punished, put in seclusion, and left without his supper. Lucretia was sure that the infraction had been minor and unintended and that the punishment did not fit the misdeed. She had planned well. The two girls slipped over to the boys’ dormitory, whispered assurances to the young boy, left their gift, and returned to the girls’ side of campus unseen.
Asha also had a strong sense of justice at a young age. In junior high she raised questions to the principal about a double standard of discipline for the white students and those of color She perceived that he endeavored to keep students divided by race and ethnicity to keep control. In both high school and college, both Quaker institutions, she questioned administrations about the way athletes, mostly minority students, were treated though she trembled at the consequences and worried about her scholarships.
Asha started to attend meeting for worship when she was only six days old . At the age of four or five, she sat quietly in silent worship holding her constant companion of the moment, Knickerbocker. One Sunday she tugged on my sleeve and asked me to share a message. I whispered back, “You can share it.”
“No, Mommy,” she pleaded, “You do it. Tell the people that even though Knickerbocker is really an ugly dolly, I love him very much.” I stood and introduced Knickerbocker to the meeting and gave the message from my daughter. That was the first of several “people” messages. Several members spoke to her with appreciation for her message. Her “people” messages were followed by a series of Sundays when either she or her friend Talita called for the singing of “God Is Love”. The adults of meeting tenderly complied. After five or six weeks, the girls no longer made that request. When asked why she stopped calling for the song, she replied simply, “They know now.”
These stories can be used in classrooms when talking about meeting for worship, civil disobedience, justice, respect for the “God within”, courage, or integrity. Children can be asked to share how they feel when they think a rule is unfair or what they might do to change the rule.
Since Meeting for Worship is an important weekly practice in most Quaker schools, helping children and young people learn to speak from the silence and feel welcomed to do so is important.
More next week about Lucretia Mott…