- Lucretia Mott's Heresy: Abolition and Women's Rights in Nineteenth-Century America
Lucretia Mott, Women's rights, Abolition, Antislavery, Quakers
Lucretia Mott has presented formidable challenges to historians and biographers, Carol Faulkner suggests. The characterization of Mott as a domestic saint has discouraged scholarly examination of her life and career, while Mott's devotion to the family circle can appear to minimize her radicalism. Furthermore, although Mott gave hundreds of sermons and speeches, few were recorded. The paucity of published primary sources, and letters that confine themselves to family news, make it difficult to understand Mott's inner thoughts and motivations. It is hard to bring the domestic saint to life.
Undaunted, Faulkner sets out to rescue the woman she considers the most important female abolitionist in the United States. Arguing that recent scholarship has once again excluded abolitionist women by "privileging the radicalism and egalitarianism of political abolitionists and revolutionaries" (4), Faulkner focuses on Mott's public activism. Mott, she argues, played a central role on both the local and national levels as an advocate for immediate emancipation and racial equality. Adopting [End Page 287] immediate emancipation and the free produce movement years before William Lloyd Garrison, Faulkner rightly considers Mott as part of "the interracial vanguard" (4) of abolitionism. Although Mott's involvement in the women's rights movement was always subsidiary to her commitment to abolitionism, Faulkner also examines her involvement in feminism as well as other causes like nonresistance.
Faulkner shows that underneath the saintly image lay a woman of surprising strength and iron will who held fast to what she believed was right. Both an ideologue and purist, she was unable or unwilling to compromise any of the founding principles of the American Anti-Slavery Society. This stance narrowed her vision and led her to reject actions that she felt did not directly contribute to emancipation or equal rights. Her argument that aiding fugitives and the Underground Railroad did not constitute proper antislavery work resulted in an exodus of members from the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. Her dislike of compromise also explained her disinterest in politics and her failure to understand the ways in which politics might contribute to realizing the causes she espoused.
Faulkner organizes her book chronologically. In the first chapters on Mott's girlhood and early married life, Faulkner explores some of the origins for her mature views. Her mother's business skills, Mott's own superior education, and the realization of the pay inequities between male and female teachers reinforced the young girl's rejection of female inferiority. From Quakerism, she learned that the leadings of the inner light outweighed the voices of earthly authorities, a view that guided her throughout her life and supported many of her radical stances. Faulkner makes clear how Mott, like other Quaker women, was affected by and contributed to the divisions within the Society even as she rose to prominence as an outspoken female minister. Although she was often critical of her coreligionists and of religious authority in general, she never abandoned her religious community as so many other abolitionists chose to do.
The chapters on abolitionism cover some familiar ground with descriptions of the formation of the American Anti-slavery Society and the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, and the organization of the conventions of antislavery women in the 1830s. Faulkner sees Mott as one of the major players in these events; she, like other female abolitionists, faced hostility and criticism for her activism. Her attendance at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840 contributed to her [End Page 288] growing notoriety, not only because she was one of the American female delegates excluded from participation in the proceedings but also because English Quakers rejected the validity of her Hicksite connection. Less well known are Mott's continuing attacks on the ties between religion and slavery and her growing prominence in the national antislavery movement. In 1841 she addressed the state legislatures in the Middle Atlantic...