Matilda Joslyn Gage
Gage, Matilda Joslyn
Gage, Matilda Joslyn (1826–1898)
Influential 19th-century radical suffragist whose work on behalf of the rights of women has been largely ignored. Born Matilda Joslyn in Cicero, New York, on March 25, 1826; died of an embolism in Chicago, Illinois, on March 18, 1898; daughter of Dr. Hezekiah Joslyn (a physician) and Helen (Leslie) Joslyn; married Henry H. Gage, in 1845; children: Helen Leslie Gage ; Thomas Clarkson Gage; Julie L. Gage; Maud Gage .
Delivered her first public address advocating women's rights in Syracuse, New York (1852); formed the National Woman Suffrage Association with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony and helped found the New York State Woman Suffrage Association (1869); named president of both state and national suffrage organizations (1875); co-wrote the "Declaration of the Rights of Women" (1876); was a founding member of the Equal Rights Party (1880); co-edited with Stanton and Anthony the first three volumes of the History of Woman Suffrage (1881–86); formed the Woman's National Liberal Union (1890); published Woman, Church and State (1893).
Along with Susan B. Anthony and Eliza-beth Cady Stanton , Matilda Joslyn Gage was the third member of the great 19th-century triumvi-rate of women suffragists. Yet unlike Anthony and Stanton, whose names remain synonymous with the struggle for women's rights, Gage, a talented organizer, theoretician, and "one of the most logical, scientific and fearless writers of her day," is barely remembered. Recent scholarly work by feminist writers, including Sally Roesch Wagner and the radical theologian Mary Daly , have sought to correct this historical oversight. More radical than either Anthony or Stanton, Gage was also the most intellectually daring. While her contemporaries focused on political issues, particularly the vote, Gage concerned herself with the broader sociological and historical aspects of women's issues. While others worked within the system to improve the legal status of women, Gage's vision moved her out-side the system and beyond the company of her fellow crusaders.
Matilda Joslyn Gage's interest in reform and her passionate dedication to women's rights was formed early. Born on March 25, 1826, in Cicero, New York, the only child of Dr. Hezekiah Joslyn and Helen Leslie Joslyn , Gage's upbringing from the first was decidedly unconventional. Unlike in most privileged bourgeois households of the 19th century, the dinner conversation in the Joslyn house was likely to turn to enlightened and lively discussions about abolition, temperance, women's rights and free thought—ideas her progressive-minded parents fervently advocated. Their home in Cicero was a meeting place for reformers and, reputedly, for members of the Underground Railroad.
Her father took it upon himself to supervise his daughter's education. Rather than attend school, Gage was tutored at home in Greek, mathematics and physiology. At age 15, she was sent to the Clinton (NY) Liberal Institute where she completed her formal education. Around 1843–44, Hezekiah Joslyn contacted an old instructor of his to find out if his daughter could receive a medical education. Nothing came of his inquiry.
Yet despite her unconventional upbringing, Gage, at least initially, set out on the very conventional course of marriage, children and housekeeping. In 1845, at age 18, she married Henry H. Gage, a merchant, and the young couple set up house in Fayetteville, New York. Over the next few years, her husband's business prospered, and she gave birth to five children (one died in infancy). Most of her energies during this time were directed towards raising the children and managing household affairs. Like her father, she was deeply interested and involved in her children's education, and by all accounts she was the dominant intellectual force in the household. One daughter later described her mother as "a character of independence of thought and action, decided convictions, courage of opinions, strong personality, great love of liberty and sympathy for the down-trodden."
Despite caring for her family and recuperating from her own recurrent bouts of illness, Gage became deeply interested in the burgeoning women's rights movement. In September 1852, at age 26, she made her first public address for the rights of women at the National Woman's Rights Convention in Syracuse, New York. Her appearance was a testament to her courage and determination. Gage was the youngest speaker at the convention and completely unknown. She suffered greatly from stage fright (a condition she never fully conquered), yet she ascended the platform and spoke passionately to the assembled suffragists, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton. In her speech, Gage urged that "self reliance [be] one of the first lessons taught to our daughters" and advocated legal and educational equality. Much of her speech was illustrated with notable examples of women's achievements throughout history. Extolling women's accomplishments, despite all the legal and societal obstacles placed in their way, was a theme that recurred in her speeches and writings for the rest of her life.
Two years later, while vacationing in the fashionable resort town of Saratoga Springs, New York, she encountered Susan B. Anthony. The distressed Anthony was attempting to organize a town meeting on women's rights but with little success; though she had hired a hall, she had no speakers; though she was distributing flyers, she would be hard put to pay for them; and, on top of that, her purse had been stolen. Gage agreed to help; she also agreed to over-come her fear of public speaking. The meeting was a triumph, due in no small part to Gage's speech and her involvement. Her stylish attire and youthful appearance helped to belie the conventional notion in the press and in the minds of the public that suffragists were not particularly feminine. One reporter described Gage as a "medium sized, and lady-like looking woman, dressed in tasty plaid silk with two flounces." She would pass muster.
Following her appearance in Saratoga Springs, Matilda Joslyn Gage became a key player in virtually every women's rights' effort over the next 40 years. In 1869, women's rights advocates split into two organizations. Conservative reformers and later members of the Women's Christian Temperance Union formed the American Woman Suffrage Association. The more radical-minded Matilda Joslyn Gage, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA). That same year, Gage helped found and became secretary and vice president of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association.
Though Gage continued to rally support by speaking publicly on behalf of women's rights, her real talents lay in organizing and writing. She was a voracious reader, a thorough researcher, and a creative thinker who used her pen deftly and brilliantly to record the past accomplishments of women, thus creating a historical framework for the women's suffrage movement. Susan B. Anthony credited her with "bringing more startling facts to light than any woman I know." Her series of pamphlets, including "Woman as Inventor" (1870) which contained evidence that a woman (Catharine Littlefield Greene ) invented the cotton gin; "Woman's Rights Catechism" (1871); and "Who Planned the Tennessee Campaign of 1862? Or Anna Ella Carroll vs. Ulysses S. Grant" (1880) which argued that a woman planned the military strategy that changed the course of the Civil War, were widely read and enormously influential. Gage was also a regular contributor to the NWSA's newspaper, Revolution, and from 1878 to 1881 edited the monthly National Citizen and Ballot Box published by the NWSA. With Anthony and Stanton, she also edited the first three volumes of the monumental History of Woman Suffrage (1881–86).
Gage tried unsuccessfully to cast a ballot in the 1872 presidential election. When Susan B. Anthony successfully voted and was arrested, Gage was the only woman to join the speaking campaign that Anthony organized following her arrest. She and Anthony crisscrossed the country over the next year, making a series of public addresses. Her speech, "The United States on Trial—Not Susan B. Anthony," argued that the central issue was not whether the government should grant women rights; rather that the government had denied women rights to which they, as citizens and human beings, were naturally entitled.
In 1873, the NWSA called for a more organized national suffrage campaign under the revived motto of "no taxation without representation." The effort was launched on December 16, 1873, the centennial anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. At the New York Woman Suffrage Association, Matilda Joslyn Gage appealed to "the tax paying women of New York… to protest against the tyranny of taxation without representation." Gage once again laid the foundation for the protest by recalling that the original protestors in 1773 were women who had organized themselves and refused to buy tea from England. Though the campaign did not win them the vote, it legitimized their efforts, gained them new support, and moved the issue of women's suffrage more firmly to the center of public debate.
In 1875, Gage testified before Congress on behalf of women's rights. That same year, she was elected president of both the state and national associations but turned over the post in the national association to the more visible Stanton in 1876, the centennial anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In January of that year, the NWSA held a meeting in Washington, D.C. At Gage's urging, the members agreed to draft a "Declaration of the Rights of Women." Written by Gage and Stanton, the declaration asked for "no special favors, no special privileges, no special legislation" but rather called for "all the civil and political rights that belong to citizens of the United States, be guaranteed to us and to our daughters forever." At the close of the reading of the original Declaration of Independence at the July 4 centennial celebration in Philadelphia, Gage, Anthony and two other NWSA members marched to the stage and, before they could be stopped, presented the "Declaration of the Rights of Women" to the vice president of the United States. The bold move drew attention and newspaper coverage but accomplished little else.
Gage's efforts on behalf of women's rights remained undiminished. In 1877, she drafted a "Petition for Relief from Political Disabilities," and her congressional representative introduced a bill to declare Matilda Joslyn Gage "a citizen of the United States, clothed with all the political rights and powers of citizenship, namely the right to vote and hold office to the same extent and in the same degree that male citizens enjoy this right." Scores of women across the country followed her example, and Congress was flooded with similar petitions.
In 1880, Gage lobbied the national conventions of the Republican, Democrat, and Green-back-Labor parties in an unsuccessful bid to add women's suffrage to their platforms. Undaunted, Gage and other activists formed the Equal Rights Party with Gage acting as elector-at-large. The party nominated Belva Lockwood for president and Marietta Stow for vice president under the slogan "Rally round the flag, girls/Rally round the flag, Shouting the battle cry of freedom." The Equal Rights Party platform included equal justice for all, regardless of race, sex or nationality, as well as an international peace pact, self-determination for Native Americans, and civil-service reform. In the 1884 election, the Lockwood-Stow ticket received 4,149 popular votes.
[Gage] is a major radical feminist theoretician and historian whose written work is indispensable for an understanding of the women's movement today.
As time went on, Matilda Joslyn Gage was becoming far more radicalized than her NWSA sisters. Increasingly, she found herself at ideological odds with Anthony and Stanton. The decisive break came in 1890 when Anthony engineered a merger between the NWSA and the conservative American Woman Suffrage Association (which included members of the Women's Christian Temperance Union). Gage was completely opposed to this merger on ideological grounds. Her work in the women's suffrage movement was leading her to a belief that the established churches, namely Christianity, bore a preponderance of responsibility for the prevailing notion of male superiority. She left the NWSA and formed the Woman's National Liberal Union. The new organization was more extreme in its views and focused on a wider range of issues relating to women, including the oppression of women by the church. It also called for an end to prayer in public school and supported labor reform. That year, Gage also published a pamphlet, The Dangers of the Hour, which outlined the development of her ideas through four decades of work in the women's movement. This manifesto constituted a clear warning to her friends in the movement that she was moving in a very different—and far more radical—direction than they were.
Gage expanded her views in her magnum opus Woman, Church and State (1893). The book's dedication said it all: "Dedicated to all Christian women and men, of whatever creed or name who, bound by church or state, have not dared to think for themselves." In Woman, Church and State, Gage set out to prove that the most egregious wrong ever inflicted upon woman was in the Christian teaching that God did not create her as man's equal. Gage traced this idea back to its origins in Genesis and claimed that this basic tenet of Christian faith had effectively stripped women of power and importance and sentenced them to lifetimes of subjugation.
Gage's assertion in Woman, Church and State was that in primitive, pre-Christian civilizations women exercised a great deal of authority and power. She referred to this period as the "Matriarchate" or Mother-rule. During the Matriarchate, women controlled social, political, and religious rituals and institutions. Gage then illustrated how Judaism and the rise of Christianity signaled the beginning of the "Patriarchate" or Father-rule in which men seized control of all aspects of society and systematically robbed women of authority and position. Gage went so far as to attribute the practices of infanticide, prostitution, and polygamy to the rise of the Patriarchate.
Woman, Church and State was widely read but offended many in the women's movement, particularly members of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Gage was seen to have gone beyond the pale, with the result that she was written off by the mainstream leadership of the women's movement and written out of its history.
Matilda Joslyn Gage spent her later years in Chicago at the home of her youngest daughter. Declining health effectively ended her public appearances. Though she remained committed to women's suffrage, a budding interest in spiritual matters, including a flirtation with Theosophy, occupied much of her time. Gage, exceedingly ill, drafted but never delivered a speech for the 50th-anniversary convention of the women's rights movement in 1898. After two years of invalidism brought on by heart disease, she died of an embolism in the brain on March 18, 1898, at the age of 71. Upon her gravestone was carved her lifelong motto—"There is a word sweeter than Mother, Home, or Heaven: that word is liberty."
sources and suggested reading:
Buhle, Mari Jo, and Paul Buhle. The Concise History of Women Suffrage. Urbana, IL: University Of Illinois Press, 1978.
Daly, Mary. Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1978.
Gage, Matilda Joslyn. Woman, Church and State. NY: Arno Press, 1972 (reprint).
——, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony. History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. 1 (1881), Vol. 2 (1882), Vol. 3 (1886); Ida Husted Harper and Susan B. Anthony, eds. Vol. 4 (1902); Ida Husted Harper, ed. Vols. 5 and 6 (1922). Salem: Ayer Company reprint, 1985.
James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950: A Biographical Dictionary. Vol. II. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.
McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women; A Biographical Dictionary from Colonial Times to the Present. NY: Dover, 1983.
Spender, Dale. Women of Ideas and What Men Have Done to Them. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982.
Wagner, Sally Roesch. A Time of Protest: Suffragists Challenge the Republic: 1870–1887. Sacramento, CA: Spectrum Publications, 1987.
Zophy, Angela Howard, ed. Handbook of American Women's History. NY: Garland, 1990.
Gage Collection, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Matilda Joslyn Gage Woman Suffrage Scrapbooks, 4 vols., Library of Congress.
Suzanne Smith , freelance writer, Decatur, Georgia
Gage, Matilda Joslyn
GAGE, MATILDA JOSLYN
GAGE, MATILDA JOSLYN . Matilda Joslyn Gage (1826–1898), suffragist, abolitionist, and religious radical, was born March 24, 1826, in Cicero, New York, and spent her entire life within a thirty-mile radius of nearby Syracuse, raising her family of four with her husband, the merchant Henry H. Gage. Gage was the youngest member of the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) leadership triumvirate (with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony), presiding over the Executive Committee of the NWSA for most of the 1870s and 1880s while heading the New York State Suffrage Association. The three women, editors of the first three volumes of the History of Woman Suffrage (1881–1887), "will ever hold a grateful place in the hearts of posterity," predicted the Woman's Tribune in 1888.
A prolific writer and thorough researcher, Gage edited a suffrage newspaper for four years (The National Citizen and Ballot Box, 1878–1881) and contributed as correspondent to newspapers across the country. She wrote about the superior position of Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) women while she supported native sovereignty and treaty rights. Gage was a chief architect of the campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience in the 1870s that saw NWSA women refusing to pay their taxes, voting illegally, and petitioning Congress for relief from their political disabilities. Gage dropped out of the suffrage cause after what she perceived as a conservative takeover of the woman's movement in 1889, which she unsuccessfully moved to prevent.
The greatest danger at the time, Gage believed, was an attempt by Christian fundamentalists to place God in the Constitution and prayer in the public schools. Turning to what she believed was her grandest, most courageous work, Gage formed the Woman's National Liberal Union (1890) to challenge the religious right's drive to merge church and state. The organization, which lasted only a year, also strove to free woman from the "bondage" of the church, which "enslaved her conscience and reason."
Gage published her magnum opus, Woman, Church, and State in 1893, and Anthony Comstock, the press censor of the United States Postal Service, immediately banned the book from public school libraries, threatening to arrest anyone who made the book available to children. A powerful indictment of the church's primary role in the oppression of women, the book also exposed the institutionalized sexual abuse of women and children by the priesthood and documented gynocidal witch-burnings (nine million European women, Gage estimated, murdered by the church and later the state over a 500-year period). Gage argued that the early church had accepted the equal feminine nature of the divine, and women served at the altar and administered the sacrament until 824, when the Council of Paris removed women from religious duty. Women were then slowly forced out of the priesthood and the female in the godhead was removed.
Beginning in the 1870s, Gage charged in her writing and speeches that the foundation of the Christian church became the theory that woman brought sin and death into the world. The result was idolatry, a worship of the masculine, Gage told the International Council of Women in 1888. God punished Eve's sin by putting woman in subordination and servitude to man; women's second-class position in all areas—political, legal, educational, industrial, and social—resulted from this mythological story, Gage explained. The church required women to pledge obedience to their husbands in the marriage ceremony. When canon law became the foundation for common law, married woman's subordinate position rendered her "dead in the law," without rights or even legal identity.
The great underlying creative principle is female, Gage reasoned, a fact recognized by all ancient nations, where goddesses were seated everywhere with gods, and often considered superior to them. Gage believed that returning the motherhood of God to the place of sacredness from which it had been removed by the patriarchal Christian overthrow was critical to elevating the position of women. Women were not the only victims of Christianity; the authority of the Bible had been used to justify slavery and oppose science, art, invention, and all reform movements. Considering religious belief tantamount to the death of the soul, Gage celebrated the greatest lesson of her life—to think for herself—given in childhood by her father. She embraced moral relativism, believing that no absolute moral standard exists, but that what is considered right changes over time and from culture to culture.
While nominally a church member throughout her life—she joined the Baptist Church in childhood and her name stayed on the church rolls until shortly before her death—Gage's religious journey took her through membership in the American Theosophical Society (1885) and a serious investigation of the paranormal.
A contributor to the Woman's Bible, which Elizabeth Cady Stanton edited (1895–1898), Gage moved from her interpretation of the Bible as history or mythology to a reading of it as an occult work of ancient mysteries written in symbolic language. She suggested that the Book of Revelation, understood from this perspective, may be read as a work about woman's spiritual powers.
Gage remained hopeful about the future of women who were rising up against the "tyranny of Church and State" in the most important revolution the world had yet seen. It "will shake the foundations of religious belief, tear into fragments and scatter to the winds the old dogmas upon which all forms of Christianity are based," she predicted at the conclusion of Woman, Church, and State. The result "will be a regenerated world."
Gage died March 18, 1898, and was buried in the Fayetteville, New York, cemetery under a tombstone blazing her motto: "There is a word sweeter than mother, home or heaven. That word is Liberty."
A full-length comprehensive biography of Gage's life and work has yet to be written. Sally Roesch Wagner's monograph, Matilda Joslyn Gage: She Who Holds the Sky (Aberdeen, S.Dak., 2002), and Leila R. Brammer's Excluded from Suffrage History: Matilda Joslyn Gage, Nineteenth-Century American Feminist (Westport, Conn., 2000) pave the way. Several reprint editions of Gage's magnum opus, Woman, Church, and State, are available, including one from Humanity Books (Amherst, N.Y., 2002); the Modern Reader's edition, published by Sky Carrier Press (Aberdeen, S.Dak., 1998) and edited by Sally Roesch Wagner, is the only one containing a bibliography documenting Gage's extensive research. Gage's papers are available on microfilm from the Schlesinger Library, and her woman's rights scrapbooks from the Library of Congress, Rare Books Division. With Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Gage edited the first three volumes (1881–1887) of History of Woman Suffrage (reprint, Salem, N.H., 1985). Gage's important address, "Woman in the Early Christian Church," was delivered at the International Council of Women's Religious Symposium (Report of the International Council of Women, Washington, D.C.: National Woman Suffrage Association, 1888, pp. 401–407). In addition to the newspaper she edited, the National Citizen and Ballot Box (1878–1881), Gage wrote extensively for The Revolution (1868–1871). Two good sources for her religious views are The Index ("The Church, Science, and Woman," April 29, l886) and The Woman's Tribune ("The Foundation of Sovereignty," April 1887).
Sally Roesch Wagner (2005)
Matilda Joslyn Gage
Matilda Joslyn Gage
American reformer Matilda Joslyn Gage (1826-1898) was a leader in the struggle for women's rights in the nineteenth century. A onetime leader of the National Woman Suffrage Association, she wrote numerous speeches, essays, and books that analyzed the role of women throughout history and provided arguments for rejecting the traditions that perpetuated the oppression of women, African slaves, Native Americans, and other minorities in America.
Matilda Joslyn Gage was a leading figure in the women's suffrage movement of the late 1800s in the United States. A colleague of such prominent women's rights activists as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Gage became a primary voice of the movement with her numerous speeches and feminist writings. Her works often stressed the historic accomplishments of women and the way in which men had frequently taken credit for or denied women's contributions. Gage herself was denied recognition of her achievements when she left the mainstream women's suffrage organization to form a more radical group; the resulting animosity led Anthony and Stanton to remove references to Gage in their book on the history of the suffrage movement. Because of this lack of documentation on Gage's role, she has often been overlooked by the generations that followed her.
Gage was born on March 24, 1826, in Cicero, New York. Her parents, Hezekiah and Helen Leslie Joslyn, were both supporters of liberal social reforms and took an active role in the education of their only child. Her father, who was a doctor, took charge of Gage's early schooling, instructing her at home in subjects such as Greek, physiology, and mathematics. Her learning was supplemented by her exposure to the ideas of scientists, philosophers, and theologians who were frequent guests of her parents. As she grew older, however, her parents decided she needed a more formal education and enrolled her in the Clinton New York Liberal Institute.
Used Literary Talents for Reform
Gage ended her schooling at the age of 18 when she married businessman Henry H. Gage. The couple, who eventually had four children, first settled in Syracuse, New York, but later moved to Fayetteville, New York. Gage continued to study independently to expand her knowledge, taking a particular interest in theology—a subject she would pursue throughout her life. In order to read original versions of the Bible, for instance, she furthered her studies of Greek and taught herself Hebrew. She also began to devote her energies to various social causes. An active abolitionist, she opened her home to escaped slaves as a stop on the Underground Railroad. As a supporter of the temperance movement to outlaw alcohol, she composed articles and gave speeches on the topic at meetings and conventions. The talent for organization and communication that she displayed in these activities were later devoted to the main work of her life—the fight for women's rights, including the right to vote.
Her days in the women's rights movement began when Gage delivered a speech at the Third National Women's Rights Convention in 1852 in Syracuse. Although, at the age of 26, she was the youngest speaker at the event, her words were so well-received that they were later published and circulated to gain support for the cause. Gage's talk focused on the numerous accomplishments of women throughout history and the need for women to escape the legal and economic shackles placed on them by society. She drew a parallel between the limited rights of women in America and the institution of slavery, stating that both forms of oppression stemmed from the same patriarchal attitudes. Over the next decade, Gage increased her stature in women's rights circles, holding a number of organization posts, writing articles, and giving speeches.
Elected Head of Suffrage Group
In 1869, Gage played a central role in the creation of the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and became a member of the group's advisory council. Throughout the 1870s, she was in the forefront of the increasingly radical statements and actions of the women's rights movement. In 1873, Susan B. Anthony was arrested for her illegal attempt to vote in New York. Gage joined Anthony in attempting to convince prospective jurors of the rightness of their struggle. Traveling to various townships across the state, she presented a reasoned and spirited speech titled "The United States on Trial, Not Susan B. Anthony." After her election to the top posts in both the National and New York suffrage organizations in 1875, Gage appeared before the U.S. Congress to testify in favor of a suffrage bill under consideration. When the government failed to pass the measure, she wrote a strongly worded protest that was circulated at the NWSA convention in Washington, D.C., in January of 1876. The essay declared that women should not participate in upcoming celebrations of the country's centennial because the nation was not a true democracy, but an inequitable power-system controlled by men. These statements raised the ire of government officials, and police were sent to close down the convention on the grounds that it was an illegal assembly. Gage refused to put an end to the gathering, telling enthusiastic supporters that if arrested, she would continue the convention in jail.
In May of that year, Gage willingly handed over her national post to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, acknowledging the importance of having the most widely-known suffragist in the country represent the group during the centennial. She began to focus her efforts even more on writing in order to spread her ideas on women's rights and other social reforms. In 1878, she began a three-year tenure as editor of the NWSA newspaper, National Citizen and Ballot Box. Her articles covered such topics as the treatment of women prisoners, prostitution, the plight of Native Americans, and the role of Christianity in the oppression of women. These writings became the basis of many NWSA policies and inspired some court cases challenging the limits of women's rights.
Documented Women's Fight for Suffrage
With Stanton, Gage contributed a great deal of writing to the ambitious task of compiling a complete history of women's fight for suffrage. The first volume of the 3,000 page, three-part History of Woman Suffrage appeared in 1881. The two women also collaborated on a revised version of the Bible published under the title The Women's Bible. Gage applied her previous Biblical studies to research on the Old Testament for the project's Revising Committee. Her other literary work of that time included an 1880 pamphlet—"Who Planned the Tennessee Campaign of 1862?"—that showed how a woman by the name of Anna Ella Carroll had actually masterminded a critical military maneuver of the Civil War, but had not been given credit for the idea. Later in her life, Gage's writings would develop her ideas on religion and women's rights. In her 1893 book, Woman, Church, and State, she outlines a lengthy history of oppression of women by the Christian church, citing as evidence the burning of accused witches, the end of the early Church's allowance for women deacons, and the negative role of woman in the doctrine of original sin. Gage lamented the absence of the feminine in traditional concepts of God, and shocked one gathering of women in 1888 by opening a meeting with a prayer to a female God. Her attempts to extend feminist thought in this way did not find sympathy with many women activists, who found her concepts too radical.
In 1889, the NWSA merged with the other major national suffrage organization, the American Woman Suffrage Society, a more conservative body. Gage did not approve of the ideological compromises that the NWSA had made by joining the new organization, known as the National-American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). She launched a more liberal organization, the Women's National Liberal Union (WNLU), which pushed for such measures as the abolition of prayer in public schools, the improvement of prisons, and the creation of labor unions. Cady and Stanton were angered by Gage's creation of the WNLU, feeling that the organization detracted from the goal of presenting a strong, unified women's lobby. Not only did they publicly condemn her efforts, they removed all references to her from the fourth volume of the History of Woman Suffrage; consequently, Gage would be ignored by many later historians.
In her final years, Gage was forced to retire from her reform activities due to her declining health. She moved to Chicago to stay in the home of one of her daughters and died there of a brain embolism on March 18, 1898. While her name has not been remembered as well as other suffragists such as Anthony and Stanton, Gage's extensive body of feminist literature serves as a record of the philosophy that drove the women's rights movement in her day. The rediscovery of these works by scholars is gradually reestablishing her reputation as one of the most influential voices among nineteenth-century woman reformers.
Gage, Matilda Joslyn, Woman, Church, and State, Persephone Press, 1980.
Spender, Dale, Women of Ideas and What Men Have Done to Them, Pandora Press, 1988.
Spender, Lynne, "Matilda Joslyn Gage: Active Intellectual," in Feminist Theorists, edited by Dale Spender, Pantheon Books, 1983.
Wagner, Sally Roesch, A Time of Protest: Suffragists Challenge the Republic, 1870-1887, Spectrum, 1987. □
Gage, Matilda Joslyn
Matilda Joslyn Gage, 1826–98, American woman-suffrage leader, b. Cicero, N.Y. Joining the women's rights movement in 1853, she edited in Syracuse, N.Y., the National Citizen, a feminist journal. She was president (1875–76) of the National Woman Suffrage Association. She collaborated with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in their History of Woman Suffrage (1881–86).