The unknown history of Seneca Falls: Lucretia Mott

A black and white portrait of suffragist Lucretia Mott
Getty Images

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which extended the right of suffrage to women, but practically speaking, millions of women of color were still barred from the polls.

To reflect on this anniversary, we’re exploring stories from the women’s suffrage movement that aren’t widely known, and that can shed light on the continued fight for gender equality today.

L ucretia Mott helped organize the Seneca Falls Convention and became one of the founding mothers of the women’s rights movement. She began planning the convention when she went with her sister Martha Wright to meet with fellow Quakers Jane Hunt and Mary Ann M’Clintock, as well as Elizabeth Cady Stanton. At 55, Mott was one of the older organizers and had significant experience in anti-slavery activism. Middle- and upper-class white women like her were not expected to work, but Mott essentially was a professional reformer. She was also a Quaker, a religious group that—unlike most churches at that time—encouraged women to speak and even become ministers.

By 1848, Mott had decades of public speaking and leadership experiences that made her a valuable reformer. In 1833, Mott founded the Female Anti-Slavery Society. Seven years later, she was a delegate to the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London, but the convention refused to allow her to participate because of her sex.

Many Americans thought women’s rights supporters were dangerous, so Mott was cautious. She and her fellow reformers did not even choose to have a woman run the Seneca Falls meeting. Instead, James Mott, Lucretia’s husband, chaired part of it. He supported women’s rights and was willing to endure ridicule to promote the cause.

Mott was among the first women to speak at the meeting. She declared that she “merely wished that woman might be entitled to equal rights, and acknowledged as the equal of man.”

Women’s rights reformers worked together, but they did not always agree. Mott supported justice, but she did not see the vote as a goal because it was especially controversial. Most Americans believed that fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons voted on behalf of women. So, they believed that women were politically represented. Mott feared that the demand for votes would “make the convention ridiculous.”

Once the meeting ended, Mott planned another that met two weeks later in Rochester, New York. Mott ran the second convention too and won over 100 more supporters to the Declaration of Sentiments.

Mott led social justice movements for her entire life. She chaired meetings of the American Equal Rights Association, helped to establish the National Woman Suffrage Association, and helped to found Swarthmore College, a Quaker school open to women.