Lucretia Mott (1793-1880) was born into a Quaker family on Nantucket Island. In these circumstances of her birth she was unusually fortunate, for the Whalers' wives of Nantucket had a tradition of independence and self-sufficiency, and the Quakers accorded women an equal place with men in their Society. Lucretia Mott's native abilities were encouraged; she attended a Friends' boarding school, where she later taught for a while. At the age of twenty-eight she was honored by being appointed a Minister in the Society of Friends. In this capacity she had the opportunity—rare for a woman—to gain a good deal of experience in public speaking.
When the first Female Anti-Slavery Society was formed in Philadelphia, Mott was a charter member. She spoke widely on behalf of abolitionism and before long was a well-known figure nationally. Her oratorical skills also served the woman's movement from its inception at Seneca Falls until her death.
Typical of contemporary comment about her is Frederick Douglass? "I shall never forget the first time I ever saw or heard Lucretia Mott. . . . In a few moments after she began to speak, I saw before me no more a woman, but a glorified presence bearing a message of light and love. Whenever and wherever I have listened to her, my 'heart has always been made better and my spirit raised by her words; and in speaking thus for myself I am sure I am expressing the experience of thousands."
Lucretia Mott had a positive dread of writing, other than informal letters, and most of her recorded speeches fail to convey the effect that her personality evidently imparted to them.
Through her long, active life, Mott seemed to have been uniformly described by those who worked with her as saintly in character, serene in contencance, and gentle in manner. Yet she definitely was not a milk-and~water reformer. The views she embraced were radical (regarding slavery, she we a Garrisonian, for example) and she stated them forthrightly. In a letter to an 1850 Woman's Rights Convention in Ohio, she declared that women must "not ask as favor, but demand as right, that every civil and ecclesiastical obstacle be removed out of the way."
The following extemporaneous speech was delivered by Mott at a Woman's Rights Convention in Philadelphia in 1854 in answer to the contention made by a minister in the audience that men ought to have authority over women. In fact, clergymen were among the most vociferous antagonists that the women faced. Every scrap of Biblical evidence—especially St. Paul— that they could marshal in favor of male superiority was advanced in convention debates by them. Lucretia Mott, because of her experience as a minister and her familiarity with Scripture, was able to refute the clergymen on their own ground.taken from Feminism: The Essential Historical
Writings, edited by Miriam Schneir
It is not Christianity, but priestcraft that has subjected woman as we find her. The Church and State have been united, and it is well for us to see it so. We have had to bear the denunciations of these reverend (irreverend) clergymen, as in New York, of late. But if we look to their authority to see how they expound the text, quite likely we shall find a new reading. Why, when John Chambers returned to Philadelphia from the World's Temperance Convention at New York, he gave notice that he would give an address, and state the rights of woman as defined by the Bible. Great allowance has been made by some of the speakers in this Convention, on account of his ignorance, and certainly this was charitable. But I heard this discourse. I heard him bring up what is called the Apostolic prohibition, and the old Eastern idea of the subjection of wives; but he kept out of view some of the best ideas in the Scriptures.
Blame is often attached to the position in which woman is found. I blame her not so much as I pity her. So circumscribed have been her limits that she does not realize the misery of her condition. Such dupes are men to custom that even servitude, the worst of ills, comes to be thought a good, till down from sire to son it is kept and guarded as a sacred thing. Woman's existence is maintained by sufferance. The veneration of man has been misdirected, the pulpit has been prostituted, the Bible has been ill-used. It has been turned over and over as in every reform. The temperance people have had to feel its supposed denunciations. Then the anti-slavery, and now this reform has met, and still continues to meet, passage after passage of the Bible, never intended to be so used. Instead of taking the truths of the Bible in corroboration of the right, the practice has been, to turn over its pages to find example and authority for the wrong, for the existing abuses of society. For the usage of drinking wine, the example of the sensualist Solomon, is always appealed to. In reference to our reform, even admitting that Paul did mean preach, when he used that term, he did not say that the recommendation of that time was to be applicable to the churches of all after-time. We have been so long pinning our faith on other people's sleeves that we ought to begin examining these things daily ourselves, to see whether they are so; and we should find on comparing text with text, that a very different construction might be put upon them. Some of our early Quakers not seeing how far they were to be carried, became Greek and Hebrew scholars, and they found that the text would bear other translations as well as other constructions. All Bible commentators agree that the Church of Corinth, when the apostle wrote, was in a state of great confusion. They fell into discussion and controversy; and in order to quiet this state of things and bring the Church to greater propriety, the command was given out that women should keep silence, and it was not permitted them to speak, except by asking questions at home. In the same epistle to the same Church, Paul gave express directions how women shall prophesy, which he defines to be preaching, "speaking to men," for "exhortation and comfort." He recognized them in prophesying and praying. The word translated servant, is applied to a man in one part of the Scripture, and in another it is translated minister. Now that same word you will find might be applied to Phebe, a deaconess. That text was quoted in the sermon of John Chambers, and he interlarded it with a good many of his ideas, that women should not be goers abroad, and read among other things "that their wives were to be teachers." But properly translated would be "deaconesses."
It is not so Apostolic to make the wife subject to the husband as many have supposed. It has been done by law and public opinion since that time. There has been a great deal said about sending missionaries over to the East to convert women who are immolating themselves on the funeral pile of their husbands. I know this may be a very good work, but I would ask you to look at it. How many women are there now immolated upon the shrine of superstition and priestcraft, in our very midst, in the assumption that man only has a right to the pulpit, and that if a woman enters it she disobeys God; making woman believe in the misdirection of her vocation, and that it is of divine authority that she should be thus bound. Believe it not, my sisters. In this same epistle the word "prophesying" should be "preaching"--"preaching godliness," etc. On the occasion of the first miracle which it is said Christ wrought, a woman went before Him and said, "Whatsoever he biddeth you do, that do." The woman of Samaria said, "Come and see the man who told me all the things that ever I did."
These things are worthy of note. I do not want to dwell too much upon Scripture authority. We too often bind ourselves by authorities rather than by the truth. We are infidel to truth in seeking examples to overthrow it. The very first act of note that is mentioned when the disciples and apostles went forth after Jesus was removed from them, was the bringing up of an ancient prophecy to prove that they were right in the position they assumed on that occasion, when men and women were gathered together on the holy day of Pentecost, when every man heard and saw those wonderful works which are recorded. Then Peter stood forth--some one has said that Peter made a great mistake in quoting the prophet Joel--but he stated that "the time is come, this day is fulfilled the prophecy, when it is said, I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy," etc.--the language of the Bible is beautiful in its repetition--"upon my servants and my handmaidens I will pour out my spirit and they shall prophesy." Now can anything be clearer than that?