In the early and mid-1800s, numerous reform movements sprang up and spread throughout Great Britain and the United States. More often than not these committees, associations, and clubs were symbiotic in nature. Individuals often belonged to and labored for more than one at a time, as work in one association often motivated individuals to expand into other groups. Sources in this document project show how one woman, Lucretia Mott, participated primarily in the abolitionist movement and the women's movement while maintaining a leadership role among Quakers.
- To detail the connections among early reform movements in the United States and the role religion played in those relationships.
- To understand the role that women played in reform movements and the obstacles they faced.
- To determine the overall shift taking place in the United States toward a more "democratic" society.
- To highlight the relationship between women's private and public lives.
Keep a journal of your thoughts and reactions to the documents as you read them.
Each document is included for a reason—note the significance of each one.
Having a photograph taken was expensive in the nineteenth century and it required subjects to be still for long exposures. Given that, what does the photo of Mott tell us about her and how she wished to be perceived by others?
Consider the following questions as you read the documents:
- How did her background influence her?
- What risks did Mott and other women reformers take?
- How did Mott's religious beliefs influence her?
- What role did geography and class play in the reform movements of that time?
- How did the conflicts among Quakers and abolitionists affect Mott?
- Who would have disagreed with her? Why?
- Why would women be attracted to the abolitionist movement?
- How did Mott's work change her? Was it empowering for her? Why or why not?
- In what ways did women's roles impede their participation in reform? How did women's roles encourage such participation?
- What core beliefs, values, and rhetoric linked Mott's religious and personal life, and shaped her roles in reform movements?
- Would it have been better for Mott to focus on just one issue?
- What is most significant about these sources? What do they reveal that secondary sources (or other primary sources) would not?
- Discuss the similarities and differences between abolitionist and women's rights rhetoric.
For Document 1:
- How angry/frustrated is she? Why?
- Imagine that you are one of the men at this convention who believes women have no place there. Write a letter to the editor detailing what happened and your reaction to it. Why were women snubbed?
For Document 3:
- What is at the heart of the debate in this document?
- What does this situation tell us about American culture at that time?
- In the 7th paragraph Mott quotes Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Explain what Stanton meant. What were the ramifications for the women's movement?
For Document 4:
- Detail and trace the conflict among Quakers as depicted in this letter.
For Document 7:
- In paragraph 2 Mott mentions "the disabilities under which she [woman] labored?" What does she mean?
- Mott uses particularly powerful rhetoric in this letter. Explain.
Short Paper Assignments
- If she were alive today which issues would Mott be passionate about? Would she be satisfied with the current status of women and African Americans? Explain.
- What is the value of primary sources in the study of women's and social history? What are the problems associated with using these sources?
- In documents 8 and 10 Mott mentions the Fugitive Slave Act enacted in 1850. Why was this law a turning point in the abolitionist movement? How is she using it here?
- If you were to organize a women's rights convention today, what topics would you want discussed? What challenges/problems remain? How would a convention today differ from those Mott attended?
- What role does literature play in Mott's life?
Group Projects, Role Play, Class Discussion
- Divide the class into six groups representing the two sides of the women's movement, abolitionism, and tensions in the Quaker religion. Debate the issues which concerned Mott and others at this time.
- Debate the pros and cons of organizing a national women's rights society—something which Mott was against.
- Create your own newspaper of that time. Include editorials, articles, and images that illustrate the tensions of that period.
- Create fliers, posters, and advertisements for an abolitionist meeting, an anti-abolitionist meeting, a women's' rights meeting, etc. How would you use the rhetoric of that era to motivate people to come to your meeting?
Term Paper Assignments
- Discuss the evolution of Mott's tactics, strategies, and roles in the abolitionist and women's rights movements.
- Compare and contrast the role faith played in the lives and work of Mott and Susan B. Anthony.