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Looking for Lucretia’s House

by Jennifer McIntyre published 2019/03/15 15:06:00 GMT-5
Looking for Lucretia’s House

Lucretia Mott met Matilda Joslyn Gage in 1852, at the third national women’s rights convention in Syracuse, New York. Mott, age fifty-nine, the famous Quaker abolitionist and a leader in the new women’s movement, was presiding as president.

Gage, age twenty-six, from nearby Fayetteville, New York, was sitting with her six-year-old daughter in the audience. Nervous at attending her first convention, she was trying to work up courage to address the crowd of two thousand. After listening for a time, she took her daughter’s hand and made her way to the stage. Trembling in every limb, she worried that she was not following proper procedure (she wasn’t), but Lucretia Mott welcomed her warmly and invited her to speak.

Gage’s speech, celebrating the many accomplishments of women throughout history, was interrupted several times by applause. When she finished, Mott again took the podium. “The paper is so fine,” she said, “I fear the young lady was not heard distinctly by the audience, and I move that it be published.”

Mott, who lived in Philadelphia, became a mentor to Gage and to many other women in the movement. Traveling alone was considered improper for ladies, but they did it anyway. Restaurants did not admit women by themselves, and hotels refused to rent rooms to unescorted females. Matilda packed lunches and learned, like other women in the movement, to look for compatible boarding houses in the cities where they met. In 1854, when Gage made plans to speak at a convention in Philadelphia, she wrote to Mott, who lived there, asking help in finding a suitable boarding house. Mott wrote back and invited her to dinner, marking, for me, the time when a young protégée became a respected colleague.  

For my book, Born Criminal: Matilda Joslyn Gage, Radical Suffragist, I wanted to find a picture of Mott’s house. I had detailed descriptions (“In the broad entrance hall were two comfortable arm chairs—‘beggars’ chairs,’ the grandchildren called them—where someone was always waiting for Mrs. Mott”), but no visual images. I was pleased when Jennifer McIntyre, at the South Dakota Historical Society Press, acquired a wonderful picture of Mott sitting in front of her country home, Roadside, and we inserted it into the text (see image at top). But on the deadline day for making final changes to the book, I realized that we had the wrong house. The Motts moved to Roadside in 1857 to escape the stress of city life, especially the people knocking constantly at their door. Gage had gone to dinner at Mott’s townhouse in 1854.

A quick run through Google Images yielded many photographs of Roadside but none of the red brick house at 338 Arch Street. During my pursuit, I learned that the townhouse had been renumbered to 1124 while Mott lived there. I searched everywhere I could think of, under both addresses, but found no picture.

LookingforLucretia_ArchStreet1100block.jpgThe Library Company of Philadelphia had a large local history collection, so on a Saturday, knowing they were closed, I emailed a query to their reference services, and then I emailed my final corrections to Jennifer, just one day late. Early the next Monday, I got a lovely note from Erica Piola, Assistant Curator, Prints and Photographs, and Director of the Visual Culture Program. “Your query is a bit twisty-turny,” she said, “given that you are inquiring about a site at a pre-consolidation address.” She attached copies of the 1850 Bywater’s Philadelphia Business Directory conversion chart and an 1875 photo of the north side of Arch Street (Mott’s house was on the south side), showing similar townhouses.

So I didn’t find the picture I wanted, but it was fun to see what came just the same. If you have a picture of Mott’s townhouse, please let me know.

Oh, and if you want to know why Matilda Joslyn Gage was “born criminal,” you can find out in my book.

Angelica Shirley Carpenter

Angelica Shirley Carpenter is the author of Born Criminal: Matilda Joslyn Gage, Radical Suffragist, the first publication in the South Dakota Historical Society Press’s Suffrage Project. This story of the ups and downs of research is shared in celebration of Women’s History Month.

Image at top is of Lucretia Mott, and family, outside of their home, Roadside, eight miles north of Philadelphia in 1860. Matilda visited Mott’s previous home in the city, a townhouse at 338 Arch Street, in 1854. Used with permission from Old Road History.