Lucretia and James Mott were named delegates from Pennsylvania to the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London, England in June of 1840 and the world of the abolitionists was thrown into upheaval. How dare the Americans send delegates who were women!Surely the dignity of the whole convention would be lowered and ridicule brought upon it if they were admitted. So they weren’t. They were relegated to a segregated area at the back of the meeting hall.
But Lucretia was in good company. Amongst the other banned women was a young Elizabeth Cady Stanton who was there as part of her honeymoon. The two women vowed that the issue of female equality was something they would address. And address it they did – the friendship that began in London was to last decades and have a wide-reaching impact.
Great Britain abolished slavery in the West Indies in August of 1833, prompting those opposed to slavery in the United States to come together. James Mott was a founding member of the American Anti-Slavery Society and Lucretia, attended as a delegate of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. “The thought that men and women might work together in the same society had not yet crossed anyone’s mind.” (61)
The Female Society was composed of blacks and whites. (Abba Alcott, mother of Louisa May Alcott was one of them.) “The mere fact that black women were holding regular meetings with white women was enough to send a shock wave through Philadelphia’s body politic. From its moment of birth the little society of female abolitionists was suspect; soon their meetings would lead to violence. Rather than frightening the women, this public reaction strengthened their resolve. If their timid efforts to do good led to such public fear, they might just as well act as boldly and radically as they could.” (60) They even began to speak publicly – which was considered a “promiscuous act” when men were in attendance. Soon they found it difficult to find organizations which would allow them to use their buildings and it became necessary for the abolitionists to build their own. Pennsylvania Hall opened May 14, 1838 for the purpose of “discussing the evils of slavery”, but the abolitionists were considered dangerous radicals and trouble ensued. During the night of May 16th notices were posted all over the city calling for the public to “interfere, forcefully, if they must” with the convention. The mayor asked the black women to stop attending the meetings. The next day Lucretia delivered the message to the convention but asked that the women not be put off “by a little appearance of danger.” She then arranged for the women to leave the hall two by two, a white woman in the arm with a black one. The mob outside the hall, having swelled to 17,000, burst into it, ransacked it, then lit it on fire. It was to burn to the ground unchecked by the fire department, which poured water only on the neighbouring buildings. As if that weren’t enough, looking for further targets they began to head to the Motts house. A quick-thinking friend of their family ran out in front, shouted “On to the Motts” and led them in the wrong direction.
*Source of quotes – Valiant Friend, by Margaret Hope Bacon.