More reviews and articles at: The Bucks Underground Railroad, GirlsSucceed, My Central Jersey and Gold From the Dust. Some sample pages below — all images copyright their illustrators, please do not reuse without permission.
Matilda grew up in Cicero, New York, the only child of the only doctor in town. Both her parents encouraged her to read, learn, think, question and act on her beliefs. They were active abolitionists and her home was a station on the Underground Railroad. She, herself, would later risk prison and a $2000 fine after the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 criminalized assistance to escaped slaves. Matilda had big dreams – she wanted to become a doctor. Her father had given her an extraordinary education: art, music, literature, Greek, philosophy, mathematics, plus the anatomy and physiology a doctor would need to know. But when she applied for admission at Geneva Medical College, her application was refused – no women were allowed. Instead 18-year-old Matilda married and was soon a mother. Because she had young children to care for, Matilda missed the 1848 Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention and the one in 1850. But in 1852, when she was 26 years old, she attended the National Women’s Rights Convention in Syracuse, New York. There she met Susan B. Anthony and made her first speech ever – in front of 2000 people! It was a remarkable speech. Showing both an amazing intellect and a sympathy for the poor and abused women in society, she quoted Goethe and Sir Isaac Newton, pointed out many examples of extraordinary women in history, then showed how the plight of poor and working women was a result of the unfair laws society imposed upon them. She soon became an active speaker and writer for the movement.
In 1869, she joined Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to create the new National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and was an officer for over 20 years. She and nine other women attempted to vote in 1871 and she made compelling legal and moral arguments in 21 speeches defending Susan B. Anthony’s right to vote after Susan was put on trial for trying to cast a ballot in the 1872 presidential election. Matilda worked hard to get the right to vote in New York and in 1880, after New York granted women the right to vote in school elections, Matilda led 102 other women to the polls. Along with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, she wrote and edited the first three volumes of The History of Woman Suffrage.
However in 1890, Susan B. Anthony, seeking a stronger united voice for women’s suffrage, spearheaded the merger between NWSA and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). AWSA members supported the suffrage movement because they believed women’s votes would achieve temperance and Christian political goals. Matilda and Elizabeth Cady Stanton felt that this violated the separation of church and state. After the merger, Matilda founded the Woman’s National Liberal Union (WNLU) as a place for radical and liberal women’s rights activists and became its president and the editor of its official journal, The Liberal Thinker. In 1893, Matilda published the book Woman, Church and State arguing that Christianity had oppressed women and reinforced patriarchal systems and that religion had no place in government. Her book also decried the brutal treatment of Native Americans and praised the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) society which was a ‘Matriarchate’ in which women had true power, noting that descent through the female line and female property rights led to a more equal relationship between men and women. (Matilda had lived among the Haudenosaunee and been given the name Karonienhawi “she who holds the sky” when she was initiated into the Wolf Clan and the Council of Matrons – the tribal elder females who chose the chiefs.) Matilda died in 1898, a few months before the 50th anniversary of the first woman’s rights convention. Her memorial stone reads, “There is a word sweeter than Mother, Home or Heaven. That word is Liberty.”
Fascinating Factoids: Matilda’s youngest daughter married L. Frank Baum, the creator of The Wizard of OZ stories and Matilda was the inspiration for the good witch Glenda. Ironically, Matilda was literally written out of the history of the suffrage movement. Susan B. Anthony, who outlived Matilda, chose her own biographer, Ida Hustad Harper, to write the 4th volume of the History of Women’s Suffrage 1883-1900 and Ida eliminated any mention of Matilda’s contributions. In 1993, the scientific historian Margaret W. Rossiter created the term “Matilda effect” to describe when female scientists receive less credit for their scientific work than it deserves.
Read More – for kids: Matilda Joslyn Gage by Darlene Beck Jacobson (forthcoming), for teens and adults: Sisters in Spirit by Sally Roesch Wagner, 2001. Matilda Joslyn Gage: She Who Holds the Sky 1998. Excluded from Suffrage History: Matilda Joslyn Gage, Nineteenth-Century American Feminist by Leila R. Brammer, 2000.
Visit: The Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation Fayetteville, NY
Also available — the companion program:
Remembering the Ladies: From Patriots in Petticoats to Presidential Candidates. Carol Simon Levin portrays Abigail Adams — who famously wrote to her husband John asking that the Continental Congress “remember the ladies” when drafting new laws for the new nation. He wrote back that she was “so saucy” and he and the rest of the Congress ignored her pleas completely. “Abigail” then looks forward in time to tell the stories of some of the courageous and tenacious women of all colors and creeds who fought to enhance women’s political participation — from Dolly Madison to the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote and the pioneering female activists and politicians who’ve worked to extend women’s economic, social, and political rights. More about this program and others at: tellingherstories.com