A Profile in Courage: Matilda Joslyn Gage

27 Aug

Matilda Joslyn Gage was born on March 25, 1826. She grew up in a abolitionist household that was part of the Underground Railroad. He parents were both supporters of liberal social reforms. Her father was a doctor and educated her at home for the first part of her childhood. She also learned from exposure to scientists and philosophers that were friends of her parents. When she was a little older, her parents decided that she need a more formal education so they sent her to the Clinton New York Liberal Institute.

Her schooling ended at 18 when she married businessman Henry Gage. They had four children and eventually settled in Fayetteville, New York. She and her husband were both liberal social reformers and allowed their home to be used as part of the Underground Railroad. Gage continued her own education. For example, she wanted to be able to read the original version of the Bible so she taught herself Hebrew. She also worked to further other social reforms such as temperance.

She began her fight for women’s suffrage in 1852 when she delivered a speech at the Third National Women’s Rights Convention in Syracuse. The speech focused on the accomplishments of women throughout history. It also talked about the need for women to escape the economic and legal restrictions put on women by society. She stressed this by using a parallel between women’s oppression and slavery. She helped found the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869. She helped Susan B. Anthony in 1873, who had been arrested for trying to vote in New York, try to convince the jury of the worthiness of their cause. She even went before Congress in 1875 to testify in favor of a suffrage bill that was under consideration. When the bill did not pass, she wrote a protest. It was distributed at the next NWSA convention in 1876 and encouraged women to not participate in the upcoming continental celebrations because she claimed that the US was not a democracy but an unequal power-system controlled by men. This angered government officials and the sent police to shut down the convention, calling it an illegal assembly. Gage refused to stop the convention and said she would continue it from jail if necessary. In May of that year she decided to hand her post to Elizabeth Cady Stanton because she was the most well known suffragist and the time. She believed this would help the cause.

After this, she focused on furthering the cause of suffrage through writing. She became the editor of the NWSA newspaper National Citizen and Ballot Box. She wrote about suffrage, the treatment of female 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. She began writing a in 1881. She also helped write a revised version of the Bible called The Women’s Bible. She also wrote a book called Woman, Church, and State that discussed the oppression of women by the Christian Church.

In 1889, the NWSA merged with the AWSS to created the National-American Woman Suffrage Association. She thought the NWSA was making too many ideological compromises in this merger. She launched her own organization called the Women’s National Liberal Union. They supported things like the abolition of prayer in public schools, prison reform, and the creation of labor unions.

Many other member of the suffrage movement did not approve of her actions and felt they hurt the cause. They publically condemned her efforts and even removed all references of to her from the fourth volume of the History of Woman Suffrage. This caused her to be ignored by many later historians.

She was forced to retire from reform activities in her later years because of her declining health. She moved to Chicago to live with her daughter. She died on March 18, 1898 of a brain embolism. She was a significant leader in the fight for not only women’s rights but other social reforms her whole life.

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