Sullivan County Historical Society History Maker Award 1997
John Raleigh Mott (1865~1955)
Nobel Peace Prize in 1946
Ambassador to China
The typical Sullivan County resident has probably never heard of John R. Mott who was born in Livingston Manor in 1865, but in his day he had an international reputation, was asked by President Wilson to be our ambassador to China, received seven honorary degrees from colleges and universities, was given awards by eight countries and was presented with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946.
The National Enyclopedia of American Biography wrote: “(John Mott) is regarded as one of the most constructive religious geniuses since John Wesley. As a leading force in aggressive Christianity he has probably influenced more young men at home and abroad than any other evangelist of his time and as an executive he effected a unification and coordination of mission forces which resulted in saving large sums of money and elimination of overlapping and the minimizing of friction.
The Mott family came to Sullivan County in the 1780’s. Quinlan gives us the following information:
“In the fall of 1789, Thomas Grant of New London County, Connecticut, with the Messrs. Mott, Overton and two brothers named Worden, went to the Town of Rockland, where they had made arrangements to obtain a tract of land. . . . A Mr. Bascom located one mile west of Purvis post-office and Thomas Mott, three brothers named Worden and James Overton, one mile south of it.”
The Mott family, therefore, were among the early pioneers to settle in the county and the land on the north side of the Quickway past Exit 96 is still known as Mott’s Flats. The family achieved a position of respect in the county and John Stitt Mott was elected Supervisor of the Town of Rockland 1859-1860.
On May 25, 1865 his wife Elmira (Dodge) Mott gave birth to John Raleigh Mott in Livingston Manor. Two years later the family moved to Iowa, but they took with them the qualities which had developed over several generations in Sullivan County.
As a young man John Mott was drawn to politics and the law and transferred to Cornell to prepare for a successful career, but on January 14, 1886 he arrived late for a lecture given by a famous English cricket player, Kynaston Studd. The athlete/evangelist was concluding his talk with the appeal, “Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God.” Mott was so moved by those words that on the spot he committed his life to religious work. “On these few words (of Studd),” he later wrote, “hinged my life-investment decision. I went back to my room that night not to sleep, but to fight.” That energetic response was to characterize the rest of his life.
He actually never became a minister, but during his years at Cornell he undertook an intensive study of the Bible, worked among the prisoners in the county jail and graduated in 1888 having majored in philosophy and history. During these college years he also became very active in the YMCA. In fact, he used his abilities to raise the money to build a YMCA building on the Cornell campus and so impressed contemporaries that upon graduation he became student secretary of the International Committee of the YMCA.
For the next twenty-seven years Mott worked with the YMCA, but he said that his goal was to weave together all the Christian forces in the world. This was a time of great optimism and zeal and Mott summed up his enthusiasm in a book he wrote in 1900, “Evangelization of the World in this Generation.”
From 1888 to 1915 Mott worked to organize student activities in the YMCA throughout the world. He was so respected that he was also made chairman of a committee to coordinate representatives of the YMCA, the YWCA and the Interseminary Missionary Alliance. By 1893 he was organizing the Foreign Missions conference of North America and in 1895 he organized, with Karl Fries of Sweden, the World’s Student Christian Federation. By the time that Mott resigned from the Student Federation in 1925 it had a membership of over three hundred thousand young men and women in more than three thousand educational institutions in twenty-seven countries.
In 1910 Mott had become an acknowledged evangelical leader and was chosen presiding officer of the World Missionary Conference attended by twelve hundred delegates in Edinburgh, Scotland. When World War I began, he was active in leading the WMCA to undertake a vast program of welfare work, both spiritual and material, among all the allied armies and among the prisoners of war on both sides.
His far-ranging activities took him across the Atlantic one hundred times, the Pacific fourteen times and on several world tours. It is estimated that by 1945 his travels exceeded two million miles.
Perhaps the ocean voyages gave him time to write, because he wrote sixteen volumes on missionary and evangelistic matters. President Wilson was so impressed with him that he offered him the ambassadorship to China, which Mott declined. Eliohu Root, Secretary of State under Theodore Roosevelt, wrote of Mott:
“His powerful personality and . . . self-sacrificing devotion to the cause of peace have, I believe, never been equaled. He does not owe his influence to the official positions he holds; rather it is the positions which have acquired importance through the work he has accomplished.”
He received the Distinguished Service Medal for his work with the YMCA during WWI, seven honorary degrees from colleges and universities; the Imperial Order of Meiji from Japan, the Order of Polonia Restituta from Poland, the Order of the Savior from Greece, the Order of the Holy Sepulchre from Jerusalelm, the Second Order of the Crown from Siam and the Prince Carl Medal from Sweeden. He was also made a member of the French Legion of Honor and the Order of the Italian Crown. At a dinner held in his honor December 19, 1946 he as announced as the co-winner of the 1946 Nobel Peace Prize.
Henry N. Wieman of the University of Chicago wrote of him: There is something like the mountains and the sea in John R. Mott. He will always be the same, very simple and a bit sublime.
A nice description of a Livingston Manor son of the pioneers whose favorite recreations throughout his life were fishing and wilderness tramping.