Ahead of the Curve
I’ve often wondered what it must be like to be the person who, for example, first turned random scratches on the wall of a cave into an approximate image of one of the wild animals they hunted. Or the person who sharpened one point of a slender piece of bone and made a hole at the other end so that a piece of reed could be threaded through it.
What about creating the first coins out of pieces of metal and using them to acquire something from another person instead of a straightforward barter? Moving on through time, there is the development of weapons, of printing, of porcelain. And what about splitting the atom?
Each one of these developments will have been due to people forging ahead, breaking boundaries and generally being ahead of the curve. Each time society will have been changed in a fundamental way, and for we dames the struggle to secure equal rights for women is a particular source of interest.
So in the spirit of New Year optimism I was looking for a woman who was ahead of the curve in this respect, and I came across Lucretia Mott. She was born in Massachusetts on January 3rd 1793, so I am writing this on what would have been her 228th birthday. The more I learn about her, the more I feel that her life story could be written for today, in that so many of the causes and campaigns she espoused are still going on.
Mott was an abolitionist, a women’s rights activist and social reformer. She completed her school studies and became a teacher, whereupon she discovered that male teachers were paid more than their female counterparts. This sparked her interest in women’s rights. As a Quaker, Mott considered slavery to be evil; she and other Quakers refused to use cotton cloth, cane sugar, and other slavery-produced goods. She became a Quaker minister, and her husband founded the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833. Mott was the only woman to speak at the inaugural meeting.
In 1840 Mott attended the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention held in London. Along with the other women attending she was denied the right to speak and made to sit in an area designated for women only. Eight years later she co-wrote the Declaration of Sentiments made during the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. This was the first women’s rights convention to be organised by women, and the Declaration was signed by both women and men who attended the event.
At the end of the American Civil War, when slavery was outlawed in 1865, Mott advocated giving former slaves who had been bound to slavery laws within the boundaries of the United States, whether male or female, the right to vote. Her activities attracted criticism and threats of violence, which did not deter her efforts. She continued to travel and campaign for equal rights and universal suffrage, writing and publishing pamphlets on these themes.
Mott died in 1880, leaving a remarkable legacy, inspiring her contemporaries and those who followed her. It is the commitment and dedication of women like her that so impress me. Ahead of the curve? I should say so.