#2 Called to Obedience and Led to Action – Lucretia Mott

Welcome back. As I mentioned last week, Lucretia Mott is my favorite Quaker shero. The more I’ve learned about her, the more reasons I want to follow her “model.” With Black History Month in February and Women’s History Month in March, this is a good time to share some of her stories to fill up people’s teaching baskets or tuck up sleeves for pulling out a little magic at just the right time.

Lucretia Mott spent her first eleven years on Nantucket Island. From her time there, she took away her Quaker roots – obedience to the Inner Light expressed in action, and the Nantucket Way – life led with steadfastness, resilience, love of family, and a sense of humor. She and her mother developed a relationship that was deep and supportive. From Anna Coffin she learned to read early, to care for her younger siblings and others, to run a household, and to be responsible for the needs of herself and her family. With her mother’s help, she struggled to curb her tart tongue and control her temper.

From her father, Thomas Coffin, Lucretia gained a sense of just how big the world was. She spent time with him down on the wharf, encountering black, white, Portuguese, Native American, and Cape Verdean sailors and sea captains. She asked endless questions to satisfy her curiosity. When he returned from long voyages to trade for goods in South America or even China or to hunt for whales, she listened to his stories of faraway places and people. When he returned from a three year trip that included capture of his ship, trials to try to recover it, and then the long trek over the mountains to Brazil to get a ship home, Lucretia gained a legacy of courage.

Spending time in Quaker meeting for worship two times a week was difficult for an energetic Lucretia but taught her to search for what God wanted her to do and the need for obedience to answers she received. When Elizabeth Coggleshall, a Public Friend, spoke in meeting for worship one Sunday about living simply, Lucretia was so moved she knew she had to act to show this obedience. Despite her love for the blue bows that adorned her shoes, she hurried home, found scissors, cut off the bows, and convinced her younger sister Eliza to do the same.

Throughout her life, Lucretia expressed her obedience to the call to correct injustices and take care of the poor, oppressed, and marginalized through her spoken ministry in her Quaker community but also in her actions in that community and in the wider world. And, more often than not, she sought to involve her family and friends in whatever action she chose. In this, she was supported by her husband James and her large extended family. They traveled with her to meetings, helped welcome the many visitors who came for support, advice, or participation in her action, joined with her to set up committees, and cared for her when the pace or turmoil was too great. When Lucretia decided to boycott all goods produced by slave labor, she gave up her favorite ice cream and her children their sugar and molasses candy.

Lucretia Mott spoke against slavery in Quaker meetings, so often some of her fellow worshipers admonished her to be quiet. She led women, black and white, to join her in the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Association. This group, not only gathered to call for an end of slavery. They also raised money to help poor families, encouraged the opening of schools for black children, and looked for ways to find jobs to empower self-support. And, she opened the hospitality of her home to black and white alike. When told she would not be seated as a delegate to a World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, she went anyway, speaking out against the exclusion of the women delegates. She traveled throughout England and Ireland raising her concerns, answering her critics, and showing respect for diverse views.

It was during this time she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton and became her friend and mentor. Eight years later in 1848, the two joined by three other Quaker women initiated the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention in upstate New York, where a Declaration of Sentiments based on the Declaration of Independence was developed and approved. In it was a call of full citizenship for women including the right to vote and a statement of the ways in which women were kept from reaching their potential. This was an issue that was to consume her for the next 30+ years.

Lucretia Mott was a pacifist and believed strongly in non-resistance. Many times she and others in anti-slavery and women’s rights work debated non-resistance especially during the Civil War. When family and friends chose to fight, she was saddened but continued to love and support. President Lincoln opened the ranks of the military to blacks and built a training camp, ironically called Camp William Penn, across from Lucretia’s home outside of Philadelphia. She visited the young recruits who were fighting for a freedom they had never had, spoke to them about her hope that a time would come when wars were not needed, and brought fruits and vegetables from her gardens to enhance their bland food. She enlisted a young friend who had encountered the beauty of black spirituals during her teaching in freedmen’s schools to come and sing for and with the soldiers. When they departed, she sent them off with prayers for their safety.

While her energy declined in her last years, she knew she had been faithful in her duty to be obedient to her Inner Light and to live and speak her truth. She even grew to accept her anger and use it to lead her to action. She had lost many of those she loved, but she was still surrounded by family and friends. At the graveside service, there was a silence. “Who will speak?” Another answered, “No one. The preacher is dead.”

I visited the Seneca Falls Museum some years ago with my husband of 45+ years of service, sometimes together, sometimes individually. It was a very moving experience. The life-sized bronze sculptures of Lucretia and James Mott, standing side by side, with other participants at that 1848 memorable event were awe inspiring to me. It was very special to walk next to them, speak to them as though they could hear, and expect to have one of them ask, “What are you doing in this world?”

Next week, the post will be about Bayard Rustin, the black gay Quaker who mentored Martin Luther King, Jr. and was the prime organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Books to read:

Lucretia Mott: Friend of Justice by Kem Knapp Sawyer – good for younger children
Lucretia Mott by Dorothy Sterling – Gr. 3-6
Lucretia Mott by Gina DeAngelis – Gr 3-6
Lucretia Mott, a Guiding Light by Jennifer Bryant – Gr. 6-8
Valiant Friend – the Life of Lucretia Mott by Margaret Hope Bacon – Gr. 6 – 12

Questions for consideration:

  1. Who are your role models and why do you look to their lives to find guidance?
  2. When you think something is right or wrong, do you speak up? How do you get the courage to speak up? Do you worry about the consequences?
  3. What are some of the ways you can show others that they are respected and valued?
  4. How do you involve others if you have a special project to do away with injustices?
  5. How do you respond to this suggestion, “Love your enemies; practice on your friends and family.”