TRUTH FOR AUTHORITY, NOT AUTHORITY FOR TRUTH
In 1848, Lucretia Mott was passing through Auburn, New York where she paid a visit to her sister Martha C. Wright. She also took the opportunity to renew the acquaintance of a young woman she had met eight years previously.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a young bride on her honeymoon when she met Lucretia Mott. Both women were attending an anti-slavery convention in London. Mott was a delegate, while Stanton accompanied her husband, Theodore Stanton, and cousin, Gerritt Smith, both of whom were delegates. Their meeting left each with a favorable impression of the other.
A Quaker, Mott had already been the object of controversy due to her liberal religious theology and abolitionist activities. There were splits within the ranks of several religious sects during the 19th Century along fundamentalist and liberal lines. The Quaker split resulted in two factions. Mott joined with the liberal Hicksites and was considered a heretic by the Orthodox Quaker faction.
Mott's success in thwarting several attempts to excommunicate her from the Quaker sect was probably due to her unflinching adherence to her life's motto 'Truth for Authority, Not Authority for Truth,' and a careful and thorough study of Quaker procedure which generally exceed the scope of those who sought to undermine her.
Women in the abolitionist movement were excepted to accept the work, but were barred from positions within the organization. In protest, they split off, formed their own organization, and held their own meetings. Mott attended the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women held at Pennsylvania Hall in Philadelphia in 1838.
While Mary S. Parker of Boston presided over a calm and rational group of women bent on conducting their business, a very different scene took place outside the hall. A mob of men threw rocks through the hall's windows, yelled, hooted, and threatened to break into the proceedings. After adjourning their meeting, the women left through hostile streets. In protest against the women, the mob, thought to be comprised of Southern medical students and their northern sympathizers, burned down Pennsylvania Hall just two days after its dedication "to Liberty and the Rights of Man." Angelina Grimké Weld and Lucretia Mott convinced the women to continue their conference, which met the following day in Sarah Pugh's schoolhouse.
Undoubtedly, Mott's ability to counter any argument rationally and articulately, her leadership among abolitionists and ability to stay poised, even in the face of violence, and an outstanding character lead to her appointment as delegate to the International Anti-Slavery convention in London.
The Orthodox Quakers had warned the English Quakers of the anti-slavery convention in 1840 against the heretic Mott, and it was probably because of this that all six of the women delegates selected by their groups in America were disbarred from participation from the English conference. In protest, the American abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison refused to take his seat and joined the women in the back of the hall where they had been consigned to sit as onlookers, not delegates. For Mott, this trip to England brought a bizarre mixture of public vilification, discreet adoration, polite tolerance, and eagerly sought after introductions. It would be the range of reactions she would encounter for much of her life.
The extraordinary life-long partnership in the suffrage cause between Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony seems to have nearly obiliterated the relationships these two had with other suffragists. Perhaps the most important one of these relationships is that between Stanton and Mott. In reading the recollections of their meeting, one can feel the electricity between kindred spirits. The charge would launch a movement that would change the course of history.
For Stanton, Mott opened up an entirely new way of experiencing religion and seeing the world. It would put Stanton on a track that would make her the center of her own religious controversy at the end of her life. It also introduced the Stantons to the major reformers of the day. Even as early in their marriage as this honeymoon trip, Mott noted the superiority of Elizabeth Cady Stanton's abilities to those of her husband's. It would not be the last time that a comparison of the Stantons gave the favorable balance to Elizabeth.
Lucretia Mott was the first woman whom Stanton heard speak in public regarding women's rights. Her words fell on sympathetic ears. Stanton had spent her youth in her father's law office where the consequences of the law's treatment of women had left a powerful impression. Stanton recalled her meeting with Mott in her memoirs.
"In June, 1840, I met Mrs. Mott for the first time, in London. Crossing the Atlantic in company with James G. Birney, then the Liberty Party candidate for President, soon after the bitter schism in the Anti-Slavery ranks, he described to me as we walked the deck, day after day, the women who had fanned the flames of dissension, and had completely demoralized the Anti-Slavery ranks. As my first view of Mrs. Mott was through his prejudices, no prepossessions in her favor biased my judgment. When first the other ladies from Boston and Philadelphia, who were delegates to the World Convention, I felt somewhat embarrassed, as I was the only lady present who represented the 'Birney faction,' though I really know nothing of the merits of the division, having been outside the world of reforms. Still, as my husband, and my cousin Gerrit Smith, were on that side, I supposed they would all have a feeling of hostility toward me. However, Mrs. Mott, in her sweet, gentle way, received me with great cordiality and courtesy, and I was seated by her side at dinner.
"No sooner were the viands fairly dispensed, than several Baptist ministers began to rally the ladies on having set the abolitionists by the ears in America, and now proposing to do the same thing in England. I soon found that the pending battle was on woman's rights, and that, unwitting, I was by marriage on the wrong side. As I thought much on this question in regard to the laws, church action, and social usages, I found myself in full accord with the other ladies, combating most of the gentlemen at the table.Calmly and skillfully Mrs. Mott parried all their attacks, now by her quiet humor turning the laugh on them, and then by her earnestness and dignity silencing their ridicule and sneers. I shall never forget the look of recognition she gave me when she saw, by my remarks, that I comprehended the problem of woman's rights and wrongs. How beautiful she looked to me that day!
"Mrs. Mott was to me an entirely new revelation of womanhood. I sought every opportunity to be at her side, and continually plied her with questions, and I shall never cease to be grateful for the patience and seeming pleasure, with which she fed my hungering soul. She had told me of the doctrines and divisions among 'Friends;' of the inward light; of Mary Wollstonecraft, her social theories, and her demands of equality for women. I had been reading Combe's Constitution of Man, and Moral Philosophy, Channing's works, and Mary Wollstonecraft, though all tabooed by orthodox teachers; but I had never heard a woman talk what, as a Scotch Presbyterian, I had scarcely dared to think.
"On the following Sunday I went to hear Mrs. Mott preach in a Unitarian church. Though I had never heard a woman speak, yet I had long believed she had the right to do so, and had often expressed the idea in private circles; but when at last I saw a woman rise up in the pulpit and preach earnestly and impressively, as Mrs. Mott always did, it seemed to me like the realization of an oft-repeated, happy dream. The day we visited the Zoölogical Gardens, as we were admiring the gorgeous plumage of some beautiful birds, one of our gentlemen opponents remarked, 'You see, Mrs. Mott, our Heavenly Father believes in bright colors. How much it would take from our pleasure, if all the birds were dressed in drab.' 'Yes,' said she, 'but immortal beings do not depend upon their feathers for their attraction. With the infinite variety of the human face and form, of thought, feeling, and affection, we do not need gorgeous apparel to distinguish us. Moreover, if it is fitting that woman should dress in every color of the rainbow, why not man also? Clergymen, with their black clothes and white cravats, are quite as monotonous as Quakers'.
"I found in this new friend a woman emancipated from all faith in man-made creeds, from all fear of his denunciations. Nothing was too sacred for her to question, as to its rightfulness in principle and practice. 'Truth for authority, not authority for truth,' was not only the motto of her life, but is was the fixed mental habit in which she most rigidly held herself.When I confessed to her my great enjoyment in works of fiction, dramatic performances, and dancing, and feared that from underneath that Quaker bonnet would come some platitudes on the demoralizing influence of such frivolities, she smiled, and said, 'I regard dancing a very harmless amusement;' and added, 'the Evangelical Alliance, that so readily passed a resolution declaring dancing a sin for a church member, tabled a resolution declaring slavery a sin for a bishop.'
The occasion of the reunion of these two women was an invitation to Elizabeth Cady Stanton to spend the afternoon with Lucretia Mott at the home of Richard Hunt. This was an especially welcomed reunion to Stanton. She had recently moved from a several years' residence in Boston to Seneca Falls, New York. In Boston she had benefited from a steady diet of intellectual stimulation amidst the major reformers of the day. In Seneca Falls, she was contending with a frequently absent husband, supervising a household of incompetent servants, and a growing family that would eventually include seven children. All the while she candidly admitted that the daily delights of housekeeping had long lost their charm.
Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mary Ann McClintock, Jane Hunt and Martha D. Wright did more than sip tea that afternoon. Stanton found herself giving vent to her pent-up frustrations regarding the limitations of "women's sphere." By evening the group sent a call to the local newspaper, the Seneca County Courier, for a historical and unprecedented conference to discuss the status of women which was to meet in five days. The announcement was published in the July 14, 1848 issue.
REBELS' FIRST CALL TO ACTION
"WOMAN'S RIGHTS CONVENTION. - A Convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women, will be held in the Wesleyan Chapel, at Seneca Falls, N. Y., on Wednesday and Thursday, the 19th and 20th of July, current, commencing at 10 o'clock A. M. During the first day, the meeting will be exclusively for women, who are earnestly invited to attend. The public generally are invited to be present on the second day, when Lucretia Mott, of Philadelphia, and other ladies and gentlemen, will address the Convention."