Birthday: March 24, 1826
Died At Age: 71
Sun Sign: Aries
Also Known As: Matilda Electa Gag
Born in: Cicero
Famous as: Abolitionist, Freethinker, Author
Spouse/Ex-: Henry Hill Gage
father: Hezekiah Joslyn
children: Charles Henry Gage, Helen Leslie Gage, Julia Louise Gage, Maud Gage Baum, Thomas Clarkson Gage
Died on: March 18, 1898
place of death: Chicago
U.S. State: New Yorkers
Matilda Joslyn Gage was a prominent women’s rights activist and women’s suffrage leader of the nineteenth century. She used the pen as her weapon for fighting against the subjugation of women and wrote several speeches, feminist essays and books which put emphasis on the importance of women all through history and how their role was strategically dismissed by men. ‘Born with a hatred for oppression’, Matilda Joslyn Gage was not just concerned with the exploitation of white women but also fought relentlessly against the violence perpetuated on the African slaves, native African-American women and similar minor classes of America. She was elected as the leader of the National Woman Suffrage Association once. Gage was the contemporary of women rights activists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Her significance in the women’s suffrage movement was not much acknowledged because when she formed a radical suffrage organization on her own, Anthony and Stanton removed her references from their legendary book on the history of suffrage movement. Scientific historian Margaret. W. Rossiter came up with the phrase ‘Matilda Effect’ after Gage’s name.
Childhood & Early Life
Matilda Gage was born on March 24, 1826 in Cicero, New York, in a house which was the station of the Underground Railroad.
Her father, Hezekiah, and mother, Helen Leslie Joslyn, were both free thinkers and supporters of liberal social reforms.
Gage was taught by her father at home. She became proficient in Greek, Physiology and Mathematics. When she grew older, she was enrolled at in the Clinton New York Liberal Institute.
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Gage’s involvement in the women’s rights movement began with her speech delivered at the Third National Women’s Rights Convention in Syracuse, in the year 1852, at the age of 26. The speech focused on how slavery and the constricted rights of women were different sides of the same coin. This speech became popular and was later published.
In 1869, Matilda Joslyn Gage became a member of the advisory council of the National Woman Suffrage Association. She was the president of the organsation during 1875-1876.
In 1875, she appeared before the U.S congress to state under oath in favor of a Suffrage Bill which was under deliberation. But when the government did not pass the Bill, she wrote an essay which was circulated at the NWSA convention in Washington in 1876. The essay infuriated the government officials who tried to put an end to the convention. However, Gage successfully thwarted their attempt.
In 1878, she started a monthly journal of a Toldedo (Ohio) suffrage group by the name of ‘The National Citizen and the Ballot Box’. The journal covered topics like the plight of women prisoners and prostitutes and opposition of Class Legislation.
As a consequence of her persistent campaigning for women’s right to vote, the state of New York granted women the right to elect members of the school boards.
She supported women like Victoria Woodhull, Ulysses S Grant and Susan B. Anthony, who voted in the 1872 Presendial election by demonstrating moral and legal arguments in their defence.
Matilda Joslyn Gage established a radical group by the name of Woman’s National Liberal UNION (WNLU) in 1890. This group was formed as a reaction to the conservative takeover of the suffrage movement. WNLU soon became a stage for radical ideas which included social reforms like improving prisons, creating labor unions. Gage was the editor of ‘The Liberal Thinker’, a journal of WNLU.
The creation of WNLU was not supported by Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton. They publicly spoke against Gage and removed all reference of her from the fourth volume of the ‘History of Woman Suffrage’.
Gage strongly supported the separation of church and the state, believing that the church doctrines played an active role in upholding the patriarchal system.
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She wrote various pamphlets, essays and books regarding women’s right over their lives and body.
Under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, she was imprisoned because of the assistance she offered to escaping slaves.
Matilda Gage published a vast collection of opinion pieces, essays and books during her lifetime. Some of her most remarkable publications are ‘Woman as Inventor’(1870), ‘History of Woman Suffrage’ (1881), ‘Woman, Church and State’(1893),), ‘Prospectus’ and ‘Indian Citizenship’.
Personal Life & Legacy
Matilda married Henry Hill Gage and the couple bore five children - Charles Henry, Helen Leslie, Thomas Clarkson, Julia Louise, and Maud.
Maud married L.Frank Baum, the author the children’s classic tale ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’.
Gage’s son Thomas Clarkson Gage and his wife Sophia were the parents of Dorothy Gale, the namesake of the fictional character created by her uncle Baum.
Gage died in 1898, at the Baum home, in Chicago. There is a memorial stone erected as a tribute to her at Fayetteville Cemetery, which carries her slogan: “There is a word sweeter than Mother, Home or Heaven. That word is Liberty”.
She was inspired by the Iroquois society, a matriarchate clan. She spent time among them and was admitted into the Iroquois Council of Matrons who gave her the name ‘Karonienhawi’- ‘she who holds the sky’.
In 1993, scientific historian Margaret W. Rossiter coined the phrase ‘Matilda Effect’, as an antithesis to the ‘Matthew Effect’, after the name of Matilda Joslyn Gage. It was to recognize a social situation where a woman scientist would invariably receive lesser acknowledgement for her contribution to science, based on gender discrimination.
When her daughter, Maud, informed her about her decision to marry Baum, who was but a struggling actor then, Gage was horrified. But only a few minutes later, she burst out laughing, knowing that her daughter bore the same headstrong qualities which she possessed.