Friend of Justice

Kem Knapp Sawyer reading Lucretia MottI

March being "Women's History Month," I was asked to read from "Lucretia Mott: Friend of Justice" at McKinley Elementary School. My audience? A kindergarten class. I was nervous. I thought the kids might be too young. "Declaration of Sentiments," "abolitionists," "Quakerism"—there was no way I could explain all that.

But I did tell them that Lucretia was a woman who was willing to take risks. She stood up for what she believed in, no matter how unpopular the cause. From an early age she was taught to be independent. Her father, a sea captain, was often away for months at a time. Surviving the winter on Nantucket was not easy and it fell to Lucretia to cook and take care of her brother and sisters while her mother minded the store and traveled to the mainland to buy provisions.

When Lucretia was born in 1793, women could not vote. Married women could not own property. A college education was not available. Equal pay was not an option.

Lucretia was one of the first to speak out for women's rights, to end slavery, to promote peace—in the home and throughout the land. Lucretia became a preacher and once traveled 2,400 miles by stagecoach to attend 71 Quaker meetings. (I was tempted to quote Lucretia's words, "Quakerism as I understand it does not mean quietism," but I refrained.)

Lucretia was eager to change the world—she made her voice heard. "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal." They seemed to get it.

Not that Lucretia was all business. There were her (endearing) quirks. She refused to carry an umbrella; she often ate only peas for dinner; she insisted on traveling alone; she never used stationery but wrote letters on scraps of paper or backs of envelopes. She refused to buy anything new; instead she mended everything. More than once she was seen catching a stray feather to put it back into a pillow.