Raised by a progressive abolitionist family in a home on the Underground Railroad in New York State, Matilda Joslyn grew up to be a human rights champion: abolitionist, suffragist, author, and activist for Native Americans. She was especially inspired by the nearby Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) egalitarian form of governance, in which women had--and continue to have today--an equal voice with men. Matilda was given an honorary adoption into the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk Nation (1893), the same year she was arrested for voting in a local school board election.
Matilda married Henry Gage at age 18 and had five children, four of whom lived to adulthood. Maud, the youngest, wed L. Frank Baum in 1882. Matilda became a significant influence on Baum's world view and told her raconteur son-in-law "you must write your stories down!" Gage family descendants attribute Matilda's advice and encouragement vital to the world being enriched by The Wizard of Oz and its related series.
A leading philosopher of the woman’s suffrage movement, Gage was a skilled writer and organizer. Active from age 26 when she joined the movement with Susan B. Anthony at the third national woman’s rights convention in 1852, Gage not only helped organize the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), she also shared leadership positions with Anthony and Stanton, wrote for the Revolution, was an officer of the New York State Suffrage Association and served as president of both groups. Gage and Stanton co-wrote the "Women’s Declaration of Rights" which Gage and Anthony then presented at a women's demonstration that disrupted the Philadelphia Centennial Celebration (1876). Gage edited and published NWSA's newspaper, the National Citizen and Ballot Box (1878-1881), and co-authored the first three volumes of the History of Woman Suffrage with Stanton and Anthony.
Believing that Church teachings of woman's inferiority were the greatest obstacle to women's progress through the ages, Gage attempted to stop a NWSA merger with the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), which had joined forces with the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), an organization that sought woman suffrage in order to create a Christian nation. Unable to prevent the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) from forming, Gage went independent and founded the radical Woman's National Liberal Union (1890), published her master treatise, Woman, Church and State (1893) and was a prominent force in the "revising committee" of Stanton's Woman's Bible, which was censured by the NAWSA.
Gage's intellectual vigor made her one of woman's rights most able philosophers; however, fearing repercussions from her anti-church stand, the movement virtually wrote her out of its own history. Only in recent years has she begun receiving recognition for her lifelong visionary and progressive actions.
MATILDA JOSLYN GAGE
Obituary in The Weekly Recorder (Fayetteville, NY) March 24, 1898:
Mrs. Matilda J. Gage died in Chicago, on Friday, aged 72 years. Mrs. Gage was one of the earliest champions of woman's rights in America, having identified herself with that movement in 1852. For many years she was president of the New York State Woman's Suffrage Association. In 1878 she formed the Woman's National Liberal League, being elected president, which positions she had since held. Mrs. Gage was associated with Mrs. Stanton and Miss Anthony in the authorship of "The History of Woman's Suffrage," and was the editor of the National Citizen, published at Syracuse from 1878 to 1882. The most important work of her life, however, as she herself considered, was consummated in the publication three years ago of her book, "Woman, Church and State."
Mrs. Gage was the daughter of Dr. Hezekiah Joslyn of Cicero, in this county, where she was born March 24th 1826.
Her father was a man of profound thought and a thorough student of all new questions. His home was a station on the underground railroad, and the home of anti-slavery speakers and advanced thinkers on every subject, as well as the clergymen who often came to hold meetings in the place.
Matilda was always allowed to listen to the conversation of her father's guests, and it was a law with him that all her childish questions should be reasonably answered.
Listening to the discussions of her father and the clergymen upon religious subjects she was early converted and united with the church at eleven years of age.
In after years she had less regard for any formal religion, thought she retained a nominal membership in the church the greater portion of her life, her name having been retained on the roll of membership of the Fayetteville Baptist church the past thirty-five years. She never lost faith in the old fundamental truths of religion, and while not adopting in full the theories of any of the new schools of thought, she claimed to be an investigator on those fields, especially of psychology and theosophy.
Her father was her instructor in mathematics, Greek and physiology, and at the same time taught her what she most prized, to think for herself. She received her later instruction in DeRuyter and Hamilton.
From her mother a Scotch lady of the old and influential family of Leslie, she inherited a taste for delving into old histories and writings.
She was married in 1845 to Henry H. Gage, a merchant, with whom she soon removed to Manlius, where she was the sole representation of the woman's suffrage movement.
After a short residence in Manlius, Mr. and Mrs. Gage located in Fayetteville. She had a family of children, yet her pen was ever at work upon the suffrage movement. She had served as president and vice-president of both the state and national organizations of woman's suffrage.
During the rebellion she was one of the most enthusiastic workers in Fayetteville in preparing hospital supplies for the soldiers and in 1862 predicted the failure of any course of defense and maintenance of the Union that did not free the slaves.
When Company C, 122d Regt., N.Y., S. Vols., was leaving for the war, Mrs. Gage presented to them, in an appropriate and patriotic address, a national flag; during which address she wrapped the flag about her, referring impressively to its symbolism of protection and freedom, and passed it to them amid the enthusiasm of the company and of the people who had gathered to bid them a good bye.
In 1876 at the approach of the presidential campaign Mrs. Gage, Lillie Devereux Blake and Dr. Clemence S. Lozier prepared an appeal to the legislature asking for suffrage for women in the presidential election, an action within its power without a constitutional amendment. After presentation to the legislature the appeal was referred to the judiciary committee and though reported unfavorably and never reaching a vote, the little consideration given it was again over former years, when a plea of such a nature was hardly noticed.
In 1880, when school suffrage was given in this state to women, Mrs. Gage led a company of women in her own village and was the first woman to cast a ballot, helping to elect the first woman school trustee in this state.
Mrs. Gage was a lecturer and writer well known throughout the country. Her books aside from those mentioned above are, "Woman as Inventor," "Who Planned the Tennessee Campaign?" Woman's Rights Catechism." She had a distinctive personality, decided convictions, independence of thought and action, a courage of opinion, was gifted in the use of language, a forceful speaker and with all had a warm and sympathizing nature which made her a friend and help to the poor and a kind neighbor. The strength of her convictions and her fearlessness in enunciating them, radical as many of them were, of course provoked antagonisms, and yet none but would recognize her honesty and sincerity, and she commanded the respect of those who did not adopt her views. Her...commanded attention and respect in any sphere in which she moved. Since the death of her husband, Sept. 16, 1884, and the marriage of her children one after another, Mrs. Gage has spent only a portion of time here, but has kept up the old home, and was happy in the anticipation of returning to it soon, when the summons came and she passed on to the home beyond. She is survived by four children, Mrs. Helen Leslie Gage, widow of the late Charles H. Gage, of Aberdeen, S.D. Mrs. James Carpenter of Fargo, S.D., Clarkson T. Gage, of Bloomington, Ill. and Mrs. Frank Baum, of Chicago, where Mrs. Gage died.