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Lucretia Mott's Heresy: Abolition and Women's Rights in Nineteenth-Century America (review)

From: Quaker History
Volume 101, Number 1, Spring 2012
pp. 37-38 | 10.1353/qkh.2012.0002

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The radical activist Lucretia Mott (1793-1880) was "a follower of heresy," a prophetic voice, unshakeable in her resolve to bring to reality a society predicated on the equality of all persons. She challenged American "orthodoxies" in matters of religion, politics, and moral practice by championing a myriad of interrelated reforms including abolition, a commitment to the free produce movement, women's rights, Indian rights, prison reform, temperance, opposition to capital punishment, and peace advocacy. Carol Faulkner's biography of Mott is enthralling in its rendering of the power and scope of Mott's reforming vision.

Mott, a renowned orator and self-proclaimed non-conformist and follower of Jesus, criticized the "close relationship between American religion and slavery" (109). Proffering moral suasion as the most potent source of personal and social transformation, she fought for the heart of religion, calling for Christianity to come out of "churches and seminaries into daily life in order to transform the morals of the country" (112).

Faulkner argues that among white abolitionists, "Mott was perhaps the earliest and most consistent proponent of immediate abolition and racial equality" (217). Sparked by the British Quaker Elizabeth Heyrick's "Immediate, Not Gradual Emancipation" (published in Philadelphia in 1824), Mott's conversion to immediate abolition predated even William Lloyd Garrison's. Mott was, Faulkner argues, "in the interracial vanguard in the anti-slavery movement" (4); her "racial egalitarianism made her unusual even among fellow abolitionists" (218).

Consideration of Mott, an original voice in the transatlantic women's rights movement, suggests that the history of early feminism is more complex and racially egalitarian than generally acknowledged (216). Histories of the women's movement too frequently document only the tensions between feminists and abolitionists, while overlooking the views of thinkers like Mott for whom advocacy for women's rights was inseparably linked to other social issues. For Mott, "feminism must include racial equality" (4) and women's rights were "a logical extension of interconnected humanitarian concerns" (5).

A multitude of fascinating subplots are skillfully woven throughout Lucretia Mott's Heresy including the narration of Mott's complicated relationship to the Society of Friends from her first public ministry in 1818 at 12th Street Monthly meeting through her last public appearance at the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1880. Among other themes, Faulkner chronicles the thirty-six year history of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society from its founding by Mott and others in 1833 as an organization focused on ending slavery and racial prejudice, to its post-Civil War identity as an organization advocating universal male suffrage and the integration of the Philadelphia railway lines. Faulkner delineates Lucretia Mott's significant role in local and national reform conventions from the late 1830s through the1870s. And she offers an intimate portrayal of the family connections and friendships that shaped and sustained Mott over the years. Faulkner's last chapter chronicles Mott's involvement with the Universal Peace Union and her role in founding the Pennsylvania Peace Society in 1866. Mott emerges as a visionary leader in American peace history. An eloquent orator and indefatigable activist, Mott worked with an astonishing number of organizations and individuals throughout her long life.

Narrative encounter with a reformer as radical, influential, and multifaceted as Lucretia Mott may inspire some readers to reflect on their own activism. As this history of American radical social reform becomes part of public discourse, we expand our possibilities as individuals and as communities, to understand, and even to imagine and live out alternatives to our dominant cultural milieu.

Carol Faulkner's meticulously researched and elegantly written book is a pleasure to read. It will be appreciated by subject area specialists, social activists, and by general readers, and is an excellent choice for undergraduate and graduate courses in history, peace and conflict studies, gender studies, and religion.

Copyright © 2012 Friends Historical Association
Project MUSE® - View Citation
Ellen M. Ross. "Lucretia Mott's Heresy: Abolition and Women's Rights in Nineteenth-Century America (review)." Quaker History 101.1 (2012): 37-38. Project MUSE. Web. 8 Jan. 2014. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.
Ross, E. M.(2012). Lucretia Mott's Heresy: Abolition and Women's Rights in Nineteenth-Century America (review...

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