Philadelphia’s Lucretia Mott worthy of spot on $10 bill
William C. Kashatus
Sunday, March 20, 2016
When the Treasury Department announced plans to redesign the $10 bill in 2020, it sparked a spirited national debate over which woman should be the first to grace the country’s paper currency.
Since the only requirements are that the candidate must be a deceased woman who represents the bill’s theme of “democracy,” more than two dozen names have been proposed.
The favorites appear to be Harriet Tubman, one of the most famous abolitionists of the 19th century for her journeys on the Underground Railroad; Rosa Parks, the iconic civil rights activist who inspired the 1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott; and Susan B. Anthony, the women’s suffrage movement leader who was on the $1 coin until 1981.
Closer to home there is a more obvious choice: Philadelphia’s own Lucretia Coffin Mott (1793-1880). She represents all the achievements of the leading candidates and more.
Abolitionist: Mott was best known as one of the earliest and most outspoken abolitionists. Considering slavery to be “a sin” and “a moral evil,” Mott refused to use cotton cloth, cane sugar, and other slavery-produced goods, and opened her home as a station on the Underground Railroad.
Since women’s participation in the anti-slavery movement threatened societal norms, many male abolitionists opposed their involvement, especially public speaking. But Mott would not be denied what she believed was her “God-given right” to voice her views.
In 1833, she founded and actively led the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. Integrated from its founding, the organization opposed both slavery and racism, and developed close ties to Philadelphia’s black community.
Despite constant opposition from abolition opponents and a personal battle with dyspepsia, Mott maintained an active public lecture schedule in major Northern cities, as well as in many cities in slave-owning states. It almost cost Mott her life.
In 1838, when an anti-slavery mob destroyed Philadelphia’s newly built Pennsylvania Hall, where the national Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women was meeting, Mott barely escaped. The mob marched toward her home, where she waited in her parlor, willing to face her violent opponents, before the police dispersed the rabble.
Women’s rights advocate: In 1848, Mott joined with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a fellow abolitionist, to organize a women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, N.Y. It was the first public women’s rights meeting in the United States.
Delegates advocated a range of issues, including equality in marriage, women’s property rights, and female voting rights. Although Mott viewed politics as corrupted by slavery and moral compromises, she also believed that women’s “right to the elective franchise should be yielded to her, whether she exercises that right or not.”
While Stanton is usually credited as the leader of the women’s rights convention, it was Mott’s mentoring of her and their work together that inspired the early women’s right movement, as well as the later suffrage movement.
Minister: Mott was a Quaker minister who traveled across the country preaching. Her sermons not only emphasized the Society of Friends’ belief in the presence of the Divine within each individual, but included her free produce, anti-slavery, and women’s rights sentiments.
Although her theology was rooted in Quakerism, Mott was part of the group of religious liberals who formed the Free Religious Association in 1867, with Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise.
Mott, an outspoken advocate of higher education for Friends, was also one of several Quakers who incorporated Swarthmore College in 1864.
Homemaker: For all her reform and religious activities, Mott attached just as much, if not more, importance to her role as a homemaker.
In 1821, she married James Mott and the couple had six children. She took an active role in their education and managed a modest household budget to extend hospitality to guests, including fugitive slaves, and donated to charities. The fact that each one of her children became involved in several reform activities as adults confirms that she was a wonderful role model.
Praised for the ability to maintain her household while contributing to the cause, Mott was “proof that it is possible for a woman to widen her sphere without deserting it,” according to William White Harding, the editor of The Inquirer in the 1860s.
When Mott died in 1880, she was widely judged by her contemporaries as “the greatest American woman of the 19th century.”
Ultimately, it’s up to the Treasury Department to decide which woman should be the first to grace U.S. paper currency. But Lucretia Coffin Mott is every bit as worthy of the distinction as any of the other iconic females in our nation’s history.