WHO WAS MATILDA JOSLYN GAGE?

 “There is a word sweeter than Mother, Home or Heaven; that word is Liberty.”

  

Imagine there was a suffragist who exposed sex trafficking and the sexual abuse of women and children by priests over 100 years ago? Who offered her home to people escaping slavery when she was pregnant with her third child, and faced thousands of dollars in fines and six months in jail for doing it? What if she also saw Indigenous societies as far superior to her own, supported native treaty rights, recognized Native Nation sovereignty and was honorarily adopted into the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk Nation? 


Yes, there was such a woman and she was a suffragist. But much more. She never ASKED for the vote; she impeached the federal government for not protecting women in their right as citizens from the states who had made it illegal for women to vote. She risked arrest by attempting to vote and by illegally presenting a Declaration of Rights of Women (which she co-authored) at the nation’s centennial celebration. She wrote about women who had been denied their place in history, like Mrs. Greene, who invented the cotton gin. And she fought for the rights of all the marginalized, not just women. Gloria Steinem has named her “the woman who was AHEAD of the women who were AHEAD of their time.” There’s more…


This amazing social justice activist is also the reason we have Oz! 

“Unbelievable. If she did all this, why don’t I know about her?”, you rightly question. Hold onto your hat. This is painful. Susan B. Anthony is a big part of the reason. And a movement that became so conservative it couldn’t handle her attacks on Christian dogma that required women to be under the authority of men. 


So…welcome to a new universe. A suffrage story that doesn’t fit the neat “Seneca Falls 1848 to the woman suffrage amendment in 1920” narrative. But, Matilda Joslyn Gage would caution, don’t accept any of what you just read. THINK FOR YOURSELF. Examine the evidence in this website and beyond. And then decide if it’s true.


Welcome to the voyage to Gage-land!!!

SIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN MATILDA JOSLYN GAGE’S LIFE

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March 24, 1826

Born in Cicero, NY, to Hezekiah and Helen Leslie Joslyn.

 

January 1845

Marries Henry H. Gage.

 

Nov. 3, 1845

Daughter Helen Leslie Gage is born.

 

July 18, 1848

Son Thomas Clarkson Gage is born.

 

Dec. 7, 1849

Son Charles Henry Gage is born.

 

January 8, 1850

Son Charles Henry Gage dies.

 

1850’s

Writes short stories with a reform theme, poetry and travelogues for various newspapers. Begins her work as newspaper correspondent that continues through most of her life.

 

September, 1850

Fugitive Slave Law passes.

 

October 4, 1850

Signs petition stating that she will face a 6-month prison term and a $1,000 fine (about $23,000 in today’s money) for each freedom taker she harbors rather than obey the Fugitive Slave Law.

 

April 21, 1851

Daughter Julia Louise Gage is born.

 

September, 1852

Gives her first public address at the third national women’s rights convention in   Syracuse. She attends most of the yearly national conventions in the 1850’s.

 

1854

Gage family moves from the village of Manlius to Fayetteville.  Their house at 210 East Genesee Street is said to be the first in Onondaga County with a modern bathtub and bay window.

 

March 27, 1861

Daughter Maud Gage is born.

 

1862

Gives Flag Presentation Speech to 122nd regiment as they go off to the Civil War. Opposing President Lincoln, who says the war is being fought to preserve the union, Gage tells soldiers they are fighting for an end to slavery and freedom for all citizens.

 

1869

A founder of the National Woman Suffrage Association.  Helps found New York State Woman Suffrage Association; serves as president for nine years.

 

1869 – 1890

Holds various NWSA executive offices, generally Chair of   the Executive Committee, sharing the three major leadership positions with Anthony and Stanton

 

1870

Researches and publishes “Woman as Inventor.” In it, Gage credits invention of the cotton gin to a woman, Catherine Littlefield Greene.

 

1870’s

Writes series of articles speaking out against United States’ unjust treatment of American Indians and describing superior position of native women.

 

1871

Attempts to vote in Fayetteville; is denied.

 

1872

Susan B. Anthony goes on trial in Rochester for voting.  Gage is the one suffragist who stays beside Anthony through the proceedings, and speaks beforehand throughout the surrounding countryside.  Her speech is entitled, “The United States on Trial, not Susan B. Anthony.”

 

1874

Supreme Court decision Minor v. Happersett. The court rules, unanimously, that women do not have the right to vote protected in the United States of America.

 

1875-1876

President of the NWSA.

 

1876

Co-authors and presents Declaration of Rights of the Women at the Centennial in Philadelphia.

 

1876 – 1886

Gage, Stanton, and Anthony compile and edit three-volume History of Woman Suffrage.

 

1877

Petitions Congress to grant her “relief from her political liabilities”.

 

1878

Speaker at Freethought convention in Watkin’s Glen, NY; an arrest under the Comstock Laws occurs there for the sale of a birth control manual.

 

1878-1881

Publishes The National Citizen and Ballot Box,  official newspaper of the NWSA.

 

1880

Writes “Who Planned the Tennessee Campaign of 1862?” documenting that the Civil War campaign which turned the tide for the Union was planned in detail by a woman, Anna Ella Carroll.

 

October, 1880

After the NY State Suffrage Association, under the presidential leadership, successfully a school suffrage bill through New York organizes the women of Fayetteville, who elect an all-woman slate of officers with Gage the first woman to cast a ballot.

 

April 21, 1881

Daughter Helen marries eighth cousin Charles H. Gage.

 

February 9, 1882

Daughter Julia marries James D. Carpenter.

 

November 9, 1882

Daughter Maud marries L. Frank Baum in the parlor of the Gage home.

 

Sep. 16, 1884

Husband Henry Gage dies after long illness.

 

June 1, 1885

Son Thomas marries Sophie TaylorJewell in Aberdeen, Dakota Territory.

 

October 1886

Joins the New York City Woman Suffrage Association’s protest at the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty and speaks. Suffragists call it the greatest hypocrisy of the 19th century that liberty is represented as a woman in a land where not a single woman has liberty.

 

March 1888

An organizer of the International Council of Women, chairs one session and speaks. Anthony invites Frances Willard, the charismatic president of the Woman Christian Temperance Union, to attend and speak. Gage calls Willard “the most dangerous   woman in America,” because of her commitment to destroy the wall of separation between church and state by placing the Christian God as the head of the government. Willard attends the ICW and she and Gage clash. 

 

1890

Leaves the NWSA after its dissolution in a merger with the more conservative American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) engineered by Anthony. This National American Woman   Suffrage Association adopts the state’s rights strategy of working for the   vote through state, not federal adoption. It allows states to segregate and work for Jim Crow laws and white women suffrage. Gage leaves the suffrage movement and establishes the Woman’s National Liberal Union, dedicated to challenging the religious mandate of women’s submission to men and halting the encroachment of religion in politics. 

 

1893

Gage’s vote in a school election becomes test case for constitutionality of the law allowing women to vote for School Commissioner, a state office.

 

1893

Gage receives an honorary adoption into the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk Nation and given the name, Ka-ron-ien-ha-wi, “She who holds the sky” along with a possibility of a political voice in the choosing of the clan leadership.

 

1893

Publishes her magnum opus, Woman, Church, and State.

 

1895

Contributes to Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s The Woman’s Bible, writing interpretations of three Biblical passages pertinent to women. TWB is a major criticism of standard biblical interpretation from a radical feminist int of view.

 

March 18, 1898

Dies in Chicago at the home of her daughter, Maud Gage Baum.


 


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT MATILDA JOSLYN GAGE

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS


  • How can I find out more about Matilda Joslyn Gage?
    • An excellent place to start is by reading Gage’s masterwork, Woman, Church and State, and our Reader’s Series of Gage’s writings and her impact, available in our Gift Shop.  To read how Matilda was influenced by Native American women, Check out SISTERS IN SPIRIT, BORN CRIMINAL and "THE POLITICAL LIFE AND TIMES OF MATILDA JOSLYN GAGE.  These book are also available on our online gift shop. 


  • Where did the freedom takers who found sanctuary in the Gage Home stay?
    • We’re not sure; possibly in the cellar or in an upstairs bedroom. We have created a hidden space in the Underground Railroad Room to demonstrate how many enslaved people who took their freedom hid in plain sight.  For example, in a concealed space behind a bookcase. The Gage Home has been designated an official Underground Railroad site by New York State and the National Network to Freedom.


  • Were the Gages wealthy?
    • When the Fayetteville house was built in the early 1850s, the Gages were considered “fairly well off.” Later in life, Matilda was plagued by financial hardships.


  • As adults, did the Gage children stay in the Fayetteville area?
    • No, all four children moved to Dakota Territory during the 1880s, where Gage visited often and purchased land in Aberdeen, South Dakota for rental property. Maud and L. Frank Baum lived in Chicago before finally settling in California. Gage descendants today live all over the country.


  • Who wrote Matilda Joslyn Gage out of history and how did they do it?
    • The increasingly conservative National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) wanted to distance itself from Gage and her radical beliefs about the church and racial equality. 


  • Susan B. Anthony was more famous, and she lived longer than the other two members of the suffrage triumvirate, Matilda Joslyn Gage and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Toward the end of Anthony’s life, she was perceived as the foremother of the suffrage movement. Anthony’s biography, Stanton’s autobiography, volumes 4, 5 and 6 of The History of Woman Suffrage (written by Anthony and her hand-picked biographer), and other secondary sources all combined to become the prevailing version of women’s history, quoted extensively by writers and historians during the years that followed.

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