Matilda Joslyn Gage

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Matilda Joslyn Gage

Matilda Electa Joslyn Gage (March 24, 1826 – March 18, 1898) was a 19th-century women's suffragist, a Native American rights activist, an abolitionist, a freethinker, and a prolific author, who was "born with a hatred of oppression."


"Let the Truth Prevail" (September 9, 1852)[edit]

Third National Woman’s Rights Convention, Syracuse City Hall, Syracuse NY

  • While so much is said of the inferior intellect of woman, it is by a strange absurdity conceded that very many eminent men owe their station in life to their mothers.
  • Trammeled as women have been, by might and custom, there are still many shining examples, which serve as beacon lights of what may be attained by genius, labor, energy, and perseverance combined.
  • Although so much is said against the unfitness of woman for public life, it can be seen, from Semiramis to Victoria, that she has a peculiar fitness for governing. In poetry, Sappho was honored by the title of the tenth Muse. Helena Lucretio Corano, a Venetian lady, who lived in the seventeenth century, was a woman of such rare scientific attainments, that the most illustrious persons, in passing through Venice, were more anxious to see her than all the curiosities of the city. She devoted herself, with intense perseverance, to literary pursuits; was made a Doctor, and received the title of Unalterable; and, with all, combined an unostentatious humility. She was but thirty-eight, when she died. Mary Cunitz, a native of Silesia, was one of the greatest geniuses of the sixteenth century. She understood many languages[,] was skilled in history, poetry, painting, music, and medicine; and these were but amusements. She particularly applied herself to Mathematics, and especially to Astronomy. She was ranked as one of the most able astronomers of her time, and formed astronomical tables, that acquired for her a great reputation. Another lady of the seventeenth century, Anne Maria Schureman, succeeded admirably in sculpture, engraving, and music. She was also learned in various languages; but in miniature painting she particularly excelled. Constantia Grierson, an Irish girl, of poor parentage, was celebrated for her literary attainments, although she died at the early age of twenty-seven. With the learning, energy, and perseverance of Lady Jane Grey, Mary, and Elizabeth, all are familiar. Mrs. Montague is spoken of by Cowper, as standing at the head of all that is called learned, and, that every critic veiled his bonnet at her superior judgment. Joannie Baillie has been termed the female Shakspeare [sic]. Miss Caroline Herschell shares the fame of her brother, as an astronomer, having herself discovered planets and comets. The greatest triumphs of the present age, in the drama, music, and literature, have been achieved by females, among whom may be mentioned Miss Cushman, Jenny Lind, Miss Chesebro, Miss Carey, Miss Fennimore Cooper, Grace Greenwood, Mrs. Stowe, and Margaret Fuller Ossoli. Mrs. Somerville’s renown has long been spread over both hemispheres, as one of the first astronomers of the present age. With this, she combines various literary acquirements; and to those who think them incompatible with feminine duties, it can be shown that she discharged, in an eminent degree, every social and family requirement.
  • To those who say women do not desire their rights, or think they have them already, I would say, converse with any intelligent woman on the subject, and you will not find them indifferent. Woman feels deeply, keenly, her degradation, but is bound by the iron hand of custom which so long has exercised tyrant rule over her. An ignorant woman is virtually in the same condition as the peasant who thinks it right that a king shall rule over him; and to keep him content, he is made to believe it would be blasphemy and treason in him to call in question this right.
  • The question is, how can this mental and moral lethargy, which now binds the generality of women, be shaken off? They are educated to a state of entire dependence; taught before marriage, to expect a support from their fathers, and after, from their husbands; to suppress their convictions, if contrary to those of their fathers, brothers and husbands, and to allow others to act for them. This state of listlessness follows as a natural consequence.
  • Self-reliance is one of the first lessons to be taught our daughters; they should be educated with our sons, and equally with them taught to look forward to some independent means of support: either to one of the professions, or the business best fitted to exercise their talents. Marriage has been looked to as the acme of hope, by women; and why? Because all lucrative and honorable means of support have been seized by men, and women have been driven to marriage, as a necessity. To what more fertile cause can be attributed the uncongeniality frequently existing between married parties? Women have been instructed in showy accomplishments, while literature has been nearly cast aside, as unnecessary; men have been educated not to expect companionship in their wives. At the proposition of equal education and rights, man starts up and says, if women are admitted as equals, you ruin domestic harmony. If a woman is permitted to think for herself, forsooth, she may disagree in her views with her husband, and family peace may be destroyed. A fig for such reasoning!
  • Were refined, intelligent conversation in the home circle appreciated, club-rooms, secret societies, taverns, and stores, where man’s leisure is generally spent, would be less frequented; for where all are educated, it is a disgrace to be ignorant, and time now wasted, would be spent in improvement.
  • Being placed in a position compelling them to act, has caused many persons to discover talents in themselves they were before unaware of possessing. Great emergencies produce great leaders, seemingly fitted by Providence, while it is but the arousing of some energy, hitherto dormant.
  • Those who fear woman’s incapacity to cope with the trials of life, should consider what is now actually thrust upon her by existing customs.
  • In all governments, it would be the dictate of policy, for the governed to submit to what the governors decree, provided they decree nothing inconsistent with their natural rights; but as soon as any government stretches its powers so far as to destroy the natural rights, to which the members of a community are entitled, these last are justified, by all the laws of God and man, in opposing such a government. We claim, as a natural right, the same privilege of acting as we think best, which is accorded to the other half of mankind – right bestowed upon us by God, when he created man in his own image, after his own likeness, both male and female, and gave them equal dominion
  • Although our country makes great professions in regard to general liberty, yet the right to particular liberty, natural equality, and personal independence, of two great portions of this country, is treated, from custom, with the greatest contempt; and color in the one instance, and sex in the other, are brought as reasons why they should be so derided; and the mere mention of such, natural rights is frowned upon, as tending to promote sedition and anarchy.
  • After marriage, the husband and wife are considered as one person in law, which I hold to be false, from the very laws applicable to married parties.
  • A woman’s personal property, by marriage becomes absolutely her husband’s, which, at his death, he may give away from her; while at her death she has no such power, or any power, of disposing of his personal property.
  • A shame on such laws! a SHAME on such men.
  • The present laws are deleterious to the moral sensibilities of both husband and wife. Woman has no inducement to prudence and industry, and she is obliged seemingly to acquiesce in the wishes of her husband, however repugnant to her, as the only means of obtaining, in even a small degree, her own; or she is allowed to follow her own plans and views as a favor, and not from the lack of power to compel her to do otherwise.
  • In the present posture of our national affairs, when the instruments of power, although professedly in the hands of the people, are, in reality, lodged in the hands of a moiety, thereby forming an Aristocracy, rather than a Republic – what are we to expect, but that one portion of the nation will be sunk in ignorance and grovelling [sic] submission.
  • We are invited to acquire a knowledge of government, not only by many immediate benefits, but by a multitude of future ones; and who can say it will not end in the full maturity of public happiness? Nothing is a stronger proof how natural the love of liberty is to mankind, than the efforts made to attain it. Let wives cast aside the thought that their highest duty consists in gratifying their husbands palates, by some delicacy; or listening with smiling countenance, to what he may please to relate of the day’s occurrences, while placidly darning his stocking, with no higher ambition than to have it well done. I do not, by any means depreciate these necessary employments, in their proper place; but they should not be the chief business of their lives. The duty to please, devolves equally on both parties. Remember your duty to God, and your own sex, as well as to man. Let us make such use of our talent, as to receive the plaudit of our Maker, of well done, good and faithful servant.
  • We need not expect the concessions demanded by women will be peaceably granted; there will be a long moral warfare, before the citadel yields; in the meantime, let us take possession of the outposts. The public must be aroused to a full sense of the justice of our claims. Beside the duty of educating our children, so as to make the path of right, easy to their feet, is that of discussion, newspaper articles, petitions: all great reforms are gradual. Fear not any attempt to frown down the revolution already commenced; nothing is a more fertile aid of reform, than an attempt to check it; work on!

Woman, Church and State (1893)[edit]

Matilda Joslyn Gage : ‘Church, Woman and State’, New York, 1893. reprinted by Voice of India, New Delhi, 1997

  • As early as the sixth century a council at Macon (585) fifty-nine bishops taking part, devoted its time to a discussion of this question, ‘Does woman possess a soul ?’…… Until time of Peter the Great, women were not recognized as human beings in that great division of Christendom known as the Greek church, the census of that empire counting only males, or so many ‘souls’ -no woman named. Traces of this old belief have not been found wanting in our own country within the century. As late as the Woman’s Rights Convention in Philadelphia, 1854, an objector in the audience cried out : ‘Let women first prove they have souls; both the Church and the State deny it.’
    • pp. 56-57
  • The Parliament of Toulouse burned 400 witches at one time. Four hundred women at one hour on the public square, dying the horrid death of fire for a crime which never existed save in the imagination of those persecutors and which grew in their imagination from a false belief in woman’s extraordinary wickedness, based upon a false theory as to original sin.
    • p. 228
  • It is computed from historical records that nine millions of persons were put to death for witchcraft after 1484, or during a period of three hundred years, and this estimate does not include the vast number who were sacrificed in the preceding centuries upon the same accusation. The greater number of this incredible multitude were women.
    • p. 247
  • Boiling heretics and malefactors alive, commonly in oil but occasionally in water, was practised throughout Europe until a comparatively late period.
    • p. 267
  • Massachusetts was not the only, colony that treated witchcraft as a crime. Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia possessed similar enactments. Witchcraft was considered and treated as a capital offense by the laws of both Pennsylvania and New York, trials taking place in both colonies not long before the Salem tragedy......... Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts and New York, eight of the thirteen colonies recognized witchcraft as a capital crime.
    • pp. 289-90
  • While the sale of daughters was practiced in England for seven hundred years after the introduction of Christianity, we note that by the ancient law of India, a father was forbidden to sell his daughter in marriage, or receive the smallest present therefor. In mediaeval England the daughter was held as a portion of the father property to be sold to the highest bidder.
    • p. 301
  • For a long period after the reformation, English women were not permitted to read the Bible, a statute of the Eighth Henry prohibiting ‘women and others of low degree’ from its use.
    • p. 355
  • An examination of history proves that in Christian Russia as in Christian England the husband could release himself from the marriage bond by killing his wife, over whom under Christian law he had power of life and death. Her children, as to-day in Christian England and America, are not under her control; she is to bear children but not to educate them, for as under Catholic and Protestant Christianity, women are looked upon as a lower order of beings, of an unclean nature.
    • pp. 380-381
  • The careful student of history will discover that Christianity has been of very little value in advancing civilization, but has done a great deal toward retarding it.
    • p. 539
  • The church and civilization are antipodal; one means authority, the other freedom; one means conservatism, the other progress; one means the rights of God as interpreted by the priesthood, the other the rights of humanity as interpreted by humanity. Civilization advances by free thought, free speech, free men.
  • The State, agent and slave of the Church, has so long united with it in suppression of woman’s intelligence, has so long preached of power to man alone, that it has created an inherited tendency, an inborn line of thought toward repression.

Quotes about Matilda Joslyn Gage[edit]

  • The Women's National Liberal Union was a short-lived, self-styled "radical woman's society" that came into existence in 1890 under the direction of Matilda Joslyn Gage, a suffragist and friend of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Gage believed that "existing woman suffrage societies have ceased to be progressive," since they chose to concentrate narrowly on winning the vote, ignoring other issues that she considered crucial to the achievement of sexual equality. The purpose of the Women's National Liberal Union was to provide a feminist forum to consider the issues of marriage and divorce reform, show sensitivity to the plight of working-class women, and counter the influence of religion on women. (Gage believed that the churches, both Protestant and Catholic, were the primary oppressors of women.)...Unfortunately, the Women's National Liberal Union did not long outlast its first convention; Gage was unable to muster sufficient support from within the mainstream feminist movement...From the mid-seventies onward, organized feminism had become increasingly decorous. Matilda Joslyn Gage, after all, was forced to go outside the organized movement to find a platform for her anticlerical views, and the venerable but always irreverent Elizabeth Cady Stanton found herself out-flanked and outvoted by her more conventional sisters.
    • Margaret S Marsh, Anarchist Women, 1870-1920 (1981)
  • William Blackstone's declaration respecting the civil death of married women haunted many other outstanding leaders in the woman movement of the middle period. Although Matilda Joslyn Gage tried to meet it by a curious display of logic, she regarded it as a statement of the law. "After marriage," she declared in 1852, "the husband and wife are considered as one person in law, which I hold to be false from the very laws applicable to married parties. Were it so, the act of one would be as binding as the act of the other;...were it so, a woman could not legally be a man's inferior. Such a thing would be a veritable impossibility. One-half of a person cannot be made the protection or direction of the other half. Blackstone says 'a woman may indeed be attorney for her husband, for that implies no separation from, but rather a representation of, her lord. And a husband may also bequeath anything to his wife by will; for it cannot take effect till the coverture is determined by his death." After stating at considerable length the reasons showing their unity, the learned commentator proceeds to cut the knot, and show they are not one, but are considered as two persons, one superior, the one inferior, and not only so, but the inferior in the eye of the law as acting from compulsion"...At the Woman's Rights Convention held in Syracuse the following year, 1853, Mrs. Gage recurred to the subject and spoke as if equity and legislation had made no changes in the "disabilities" of married women at common law. She affirmed that "the legal disabilities of women" are numerous; that they are only known to those who bear them; that they "are acknowledged by Kent, Story, and many other legal authorities." Without directing attention to those pages of Kent and Story which set forth at length the equitable principles by which common-law rules could be and often were nullified, Mrs. Gage went on with her oration: "A wife has no management in the joint earnings of herself and her husband; they are entirely under control of the husband, who is obliged to furnish the wife merely the common necessaries of life; all that she receives beyond these is looked upon by the law as a favor, and not held as her right. A mother is denied the custody of her own child; a most barbarous and unjust law, which robs her of the child placed in her care by the great Creator himself. A widow is allowed the use merely of one-third of the real estate left at the husband's death; and when her minor children have grown up she must surrender the personal property, even to the family Bible, and the pictures of her dear children. In view of such laws the women engaged in this movement ask that the wife shall be made heir to the husband to the same extent that he is now her heir...."The present law of divorce is very unjust; the husband, whether the innocent or the guilty party, retaining all the wife's property, has also the control of the children unless by special decree of the court they are assigned to the mother."

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