MATILDA JOSLYN GAGE: forgotten feminist
Sally Roesch Wagner
Introduced by Susan B. Anthony at the International Council of Women in 1888, Matilda Josyln Gage began her speech with a brief sketch of her early entry into the suffrage movement:
I have frequently been asked what first turned by thoughts towards woman's rights. I think I was born with a hatred of oppression, and, too, in my father's house, I was trained in the anti-slavery ranks, for it was one of the stations on the underground railway, and a home of anti-slavery speakers. Well I remember the wonder with which, when a young girl, I looked upon Abby Kelly, when she spoke of the wrongs of black women and black men. Then I remember, before the Round House in my city of Syracuse was finished, a large and enthusiastic anti-slavery convention was held there, attended by thousands of people who all joined in singing William Lloyd Garrison's song, "I'm an Abolitionist and glory in the Name," and as they rang out that glorious defiance against wrong, it thrilled my very heart, and I feel it echoing to this day. I am indebted to my father for something better than a collegiate education. He taught me to think for myself, and not to accept the word of any man, or society, or human being, but to fully examine for myself. My father was a physician, training me himself, giving me lessons in physiology and anatomy, and while I was a young girl he spoke of my entering Geneva Medical College, whose president was his old professor, and studying for a physician, but that was not to be. I had been married quite a number of years when Elizabeth Blackwell was graduated from that institution, which opened its doors to admit her, closing them, upon her graduation, to women, until since its union with the Syracuse University.
But with regard to woman's rights proper, when I saw the reports of the first convention in the New York Tribune, I knew my place; and when I read the notice of a convention to be held in Syracuse, in 1852, I at once decided to publicly join the ranks of those who spoke against wrong. But I was entirely ignorant of all parliamentary rule, or what was necessary to be done. I prepared my speech, and going to the convention, sat near the front, and with a palpitating heart waited until I obtained courage to go upon the platform, probably to the interference of arrangements, for I knew nothing about the proper course for me to take. But I was so sweetly welcomed by the sainted Lucretia Mott, who gave me a place, and, when I had finished speaking, referred so pleasantly to what I had said, and to her my heart turned always with truest affection.
Soon after the close of the convention, almost immediately afterwards, it was criticized from the pulpit by the Rev. Mr. Ashley, of the Episcopal Church, and Rev. Mr. Sunderland, now of this city, but then established at Syracuse. With the latter gentleman I carried on a long newspaper controversy. As Miss Grew has truly said, it is not religion that has opposed woman suffrage, because true religion believes in undoing the heavy burdens and letting the oppressed go free. But from the church and from theology this reform has met opposition at every step.
It was Gage's outspoken opposition to the bigotry of Christian theology that would eventually cost her dearly. The price of liberty to Matilda Joslyn Gage became historical invisibility.
"Until liberty is attained--the broadest, the deepest, the highest liberty for all--not one set alone, one clique alone, but for men and women, black and white, Irish, Germans, Americans, and Negroes, there can be no permanent peace."
You can read the entire article here.
Gage spoke these words during the Civil War, and they characterize her life-long commitment to the struggle of freedom for all people.
Mathilda Joslyn Gage Foundation website is here.
Image atop is from Wiki; image in the text is from the article.
Interesting note: she was the mother-in-law of L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz.