Sue Young Histories

Lucretia Coffin Mott 1793 - 1880

November 18, 2007

mottLucretia Coffin Mott 1793 - 1880

It was not simply a coincidence that a large number of leading suffragettes in America during the 19th century were advocates of homeopathic medicine. Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Julia Ward Howe, Louisa May Alcott, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Lucretia Mott, and Clemence Sophia Lozier were but some of the nineteenth century feminists who considered both women’s rights and homeopathic medicine to be important ways to create a healthier society (Standing before us: Unitarian Universalist women and social reform, 1776-1936. Dorothy May Emerson, June Edwards, Helene Knox, Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, 2000. Multiple pages)..

Feminist, abolitionist, minister, advocate for peace and social justice. In 1818, Mott became a minister in the Society of Friends, giving her first public address on behalf of woman’s rights, anti-slavery reform, Native American rights, religious freedom, and personal and social tolerance. Mott’s reformist zeal was deeply rooted in her Quaker religion.

Mott and her husband James were campaigning on the Indian Affairs Committee and were often quite close to Seneca Falls and eager to support the developments there, encouraged as Mott describes by events occurring abroad in France and Europe as people fought for a larger liberty.

Lucretia and her husband were practicing eclectic physicians, and during the 1830’s whenHarriet Keziah Hunt’s sister Sarah Hunt became desperately ill, and no orthodox doctor could cure her, the two sisters began studying with an (English?) couple called Mott who did finally manage to cure her. Harriet recalls the prejudice they suffered ‘employing a quack’ but reports how tired she was of suffering under ‘regulars’, orthodox doctors and ‘how useless it would be to die because of medical etiquette’.

Ms. and Mr. Mott soon diagnosed ‘consumption’ (a tubercular illness) in Sarah and set about her cure. Harriet and Sarah began to practice medicine under the supervision of the Motts, rejecting the harsh and dangerous orthodox treatments and prejudiced medical doctrine which argued that women were deficient and inferior, in favour of eclectic medicine, based on good food, hygiene and a sizeable dose of common sense.

This spirit of emancipation led Mott to visit some settlements of escaped slaves, stating that ’this spirit of freedom is arousing the World‘.

Gerrit Smith and ardent homeopathic supporter Frances Seward, wife of William Henry Seward, and many other reformers were swept into Mott’s circle of reformers.

In 1840 Mott was part of a group that sailed for London to speak at the Anti Slavery Convention:

In 1840, two members of the Society of Friends, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, travelled to London as delegates to the World Anti-Slavery Convention. Both women were furious when they, like the British women at the convention, were refused permission to speak at the meeting.

Stanton later recalled: “We resolved to hold a convention as soon as we returned home, and form a society to advocate the rights of women.“

When the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention, which met in London in 1840, excluded female delegates, it was the Quaker teacher Sarah Pugh, a representative from the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, who wrote the protest and Lucretia Mott who led the public attack on the policy.

Pugh would go on to hold the office of President in the Society for most of its duration (1833-1870), and along with Mary Grew was one of the most active members. A close friend, along with Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott, of Ernestine Rose, Pugh was also a grand-aunt and a role model for the social reformer, Florence Kelley.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton writes:

In this tempest-tossed condition of mind I received an invitation to spend the day with Lucretia Mott, at Richard Hunt’s, in Waterloo. There I met several members of different families of Friends, earnest, thoughtful women.

I poured out, that day, the torrent of my long-accumulating discontent, with such vehemence and indignation that I stirred myself, as well as the rest of the party, to do and dare anything. My discontent, according to Emerson, must have been healthy, for it moved us all to prompt action, and we decided, then and there, to call a ”Woman’s Rights Convention.”

We wrote the call that evening and published it in the Seneca County Courier the next day, the 14th of July, 1848, giving only five days’ notice, as the convention was to be held on the 19th and 20th. The call was inserted without signatures, “in fact it was a mere announcement of a meeting,“ but the chief movers and managers were Lucretia Mott, Mary Ann McClintock, Jane Hunt, Martha C. Wright, and myself.” Chapter IX.” (by Elizabeth Cady Stanton From: Eighty Years And More: Reminiscences 1815-1897).

Denied a seat at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840, Mott and a similarly situated Elizabeth Cady Stanton, agreed to hold a woman’s rights convention.

However, it was not until 1848 that Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organised the Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls. Stanton’s resolution that it was ”the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves the sacred right to the elective franchise” was passed, and this became the focus of the group’s campaign over the next few years.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote to her friend Mott about women becoming their own physicians and Mott often spoke out in support of homeopaths at meetings and at their graduation ceremonies. Lucretia Mott also came out to support the foundation of the Penn Medical University.

Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B Anthony, Lucy Stone, Antionette Brown, Martha Coffin Brown (Wright) (Mott’s sister), Henry B Blackwell (Lucy Stone’s husband), Elizabeth Smith Miller (Elizabeth Cady Smith’s cousin), Amelia Bloomer and Ernestine L Rose formed the Ultras Circle and spoke at annual women’s rights conventions during 1848 and 1860. Lucretia also knew Ralph Waldo Emerson and his circle.

These early American Suffragists obviously had a hard fight on their hands:

There is documentation of an interesting incident involving the propriety of female store clerks. In 1849, women’s rights reformers Elizabeth McClintock and Anna Southwick applied for a position in the Philadelphia wholesale business of Edward M. Davis (Lucretia Mott’s son-in-law). Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote a letter in support of the women’s application.

Davis brought the matter before his male clerks and in the end the application was refused. Some of the employees drew caricatures of female clerks. Lucretia Mott sent the drawings to McClintock who responded in kind, enclosing drawings and a “drama.” Most of the drawings are unsigned, but it is presumed that those which portray women clerks in a more positive light were drawn by McClintock or Maria Mott Davis.

In addition to the drawing and skit, this file contains correspondence and items from E.M Davis Co.

The National Woman Suffrage Association NWSA began when homeopaths Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Caroline Brown Winslow, Susan Ann Edson, Clemence Lozier and homeopathic supporters Lucretia Mott, Susan B Anthony, Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, Carrie Chapman Catt, Frances Willard, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Anna Howard Shaw, Martha Coffin Pelham Wright, Mary Wright Sewell, Josephine S Griffing and others decided it was time to become politically active.

Mott was also a vigorous campaigner for Antislavery:

Remarks delivered at the 24th annual meeting of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, October 25-26, 1860 [Lucretia Mott was glad that the resolution does not sanction the measures resorted to by John Brown, as in contradistinction to those approved by this Society, and by the American organization of which it is a part. Mrs Mott read from the Declaration of Sentiments what she said were her views, and what were at the same time the authorized views of this Society.]

“Our principles lead us to reject and to intreat the oppressed to reject all carnal weapons, relying solely on those which are might through God to the pulling down of strongholds.”

We did not countenance force, and it did not become those—Friends and others—who go to the polls to elect a commander-in-chief of the army and navy, whose business it would be to use that army and navy, if needed, to keep the slaves of the South in their chains, and secure to the masters the undisturbed enjoyment of their system—it did not become such to find fault with us because we praise John Brown for his heroism.

For it is not John Brown the soldier that we praise; it is John Brown the moral hero; John Brown the noble confessor and martyr whom we honor, and whom we think it proper to honor in this day when men are carried away by the corrupt and pro-slavery clamor against him. Our weapons were drawn only from the armory of Truth; they were those of faith and hope and love. They were those of moral indignation strongly expressed against wrong.

Robert Purvis has said that I was “the most belligerent non-resistant he ever saw.” I accept the character he gives me; and I glory in it. I have no idea, because I am a non-resistant, of submitting tamely to injustice inflicted either on me or on the slave. I will oppose it with all the moral powers with which I am endowed. I am no advocate of passivity. Quakerism, as I understand it, does not mean quietism.

The early Friends were agitators; disturbers of the peace; and were more obnoxious in their day to charges, which are now so freely made, than we are. [Mrs Mott concluded by expressing her pleasure that the resolution committed the Society to nothing inconsistent with the high moral grounds it had ever occupied.

O’Connell had said that no revolution was worth the cost of a single drop of human blood. John Brown had well illustrated in his own case the superiority of moral power to physical power; of the sword of the spirit to the sword of the flesh.] “National Anti-Slavery Standard,” November 3, 1860.

There were times when this prophetic stance put her life in danger at the hands of pro-slavery mobs; there were other times when she was threatened with expulsion for “heresy” from the Religious Society of Friends for leaning a bit too close to the Unitarianism of the likes of the “saintly” William Ellery Channing. (see also Slavery and the Woman Question: Mott’s diary published 1952, Lucretia Mott Speaking: Excerpts from the Sermons & Speeches published 1980, Lucretia Mott, Her Complete Speeches and Sermons published 1980, Selected Letters of Lucretia Coffin Mott, Discourse on Woman: Delivered at the Assembly Buildings, December 17, 1849, A Sermon to the Medical Students 1948,)

Mott also helped found Swarthmore College, an early co-educational institution of higher learning. Her speeches have been collected and reprinted in Lucretia Mott: Her Complete Speeches and Sermons (1980).

In the April, 1879 issue of The National Citizen and Ballot Box article discussing the 1848 Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY, Gage wrote a detailed story about the activities of Lucretia Mott, Martha C. [Coffin] Wright, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mary Ann McClintock, and Richard Hunt.

In Preceding Causes (Buhle and Buhle, p. 66-67), Gage wrote, “In 1849, Lucretia Mott published a discourse on woman, delivered in the Assembly Building, Philadelphia, in answer to a Lyceum lecture in which Richard H. Dana, of Boston, was giving in many of the chief cities, ridiculing the idea of political equality for woman.”

Mott was president of The Northern Association of the City and County Of Philadelphia, for the Relief and Employment of Poor Women

Her cousin Phebe Ann (Coffin) Hanaford wrote Lucretia the Quakeress (1853), an antislavery tract inspired by her Nantucket cousin, the famous abolitionist and Quaker Lucretia (Coffin) Mott. Phebe Hanaford was married to Dr. Joseph Hanaford, a native of Newton, Massachusetts, and a homeopathic physician, medical writer, and teacher.

Another cousin Lydia Folger Fowler was the second woman to obtain a medical degree in America from the Central Medical College of New York in 1850 after Elizabeth Blackwell. Lydia graduated from the Central Medical College of New York in 1848 and the Eclectic Central Medical College in Rochester in 1850, which actually makes her the first woman in America to qualify as a physician, one year earlier than Elizabeth Blackwell. However, as her qualifications were from Eclectic Colleges, this apparently does not count!

Lucretia Coffin Mott, became her confidante and assisted Lydia in her quest to enter medical school. Lydia was a woman ahead of her time. Long before she received her degree in medicine she was known and respected as a lecturer and writer on anatomy, hygiene, and physiology.

She was full of energy and traveled extensively with her husband to address large audiences of women waiting to learn about hygiene and the care of children. Those were the days when bathing was not a regular part of daily living and most people were unaware of the benefits of soap and water in the prevention of disease and the promotion of good health and vitality.

A group of upstate New York medical men, characterized as “eclectics,” organized the Central Medical College of New York in Syracuse. This first chartered medical school to offer coeducation opened its doors to one hundred students on November 5, 1849. Lydia was one of the eight women enrolled. Among her fellow students were Myra King Merrick, cofounder of the Homeopathic Hospital and Medical College for Women, in Cleveland, Ohio, and Sarah Adamson Dolley, who was later elected to the Rochester Academy of Science.

Drexel University still offer an annual Lucretia Mott Award. Drexel University College of Medicine, a new name just a few years ago, is the consolidation of two venerable medical schools with rich and intertwined histories: Hahnemann Medical College and Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania.

Established in 1848 and 1850, respectively, they were two of the earliest medical colleges in the United States, and Woman’s was the very first medical school for women in the nation.

Ardent homeopathic supporter Florence Harding, wife of President Warren G Harding supported the National Woman’s Party in their commission and placing of a marble sculpture of suffrage leaders Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, which was unveiled in 1921 in the U.S. Capitol.

Mott’s personal papers are archived at Five College Archives and Manuscript Collections:

Lucretia Coffin Mott’s file contains clippings and printed material (1873-1930), and memorabilia

Other collections of Mott’s papers are held at the Post Family Archives in the Library of Rochester.


Any views or advice in this site should not be taken as a substitute for medical advice or treatment, especially if you know you have a specific health complaint