"That they allow the priciples of justice to rule their lives irrespective of race, color, condition, or sex is the desire of mother" --Gage, c.1865
A reformer and American Women's Suffragist.
Born Matilda Electa Joslyn in Cicero, NY. Both parents were involved in the abolition movement and she was exposed to political reform throughout her childhood. Her father was a doctor and both of her parents dedicated themselves to the education of their only child. Her father tried to use his influence get her accepted to medical school, but the idea was ahead of its time. At the age of 18 Matilda Joslyn married Henry H. Gage, and the two of them settled in Fayetteville NY.
Gage attended her first women's rights convention at the age of 26, the Syracuse, NY convention in 1852. She was not on the program to speak at the convention, but she had prepared a speech anyway, and when she felt the time was right, walked up to the podium, and read her speech to those assembled. (Remember that at this time women were generally kept so far from the public arena that most of them had no knowlege of parliamentary procedure.) From that day she dedicated her life to women's suffrage, working closely with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.
Gage's thinking and ambitions for women were ahead of their time. While Elizabeth Cady Stanton argued that women should have the vote because they were morally superior to men (which was an accepted truth at the time), Gage argued that women already HAD the right to vote as citizens of the United States. This argument opened up the other aspects of women's rights for the women's rights movement. Most suffragists at the time believed that if women had the vote, then they could change the laws that contributed to their oppression. Gage was unwilling to concentrate only on suffrage however, but wrote about property rights, equal pay, prostitution, and sexual double standards.
Her enormous contribution to the women's suffrage movement is only now being uncovered by historians. It is now believed that she contributed a vast amount to the first three volumes of the History of the Women's Rights Movement, possibly contributing more than either Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who receive most of the credit. Based on letters written by Gage and letters written by Susan B. Anthony, it appears that Gage may have done as much as half the writting and editing of these important books. (Possibly more, since Anthony frequently said that she couldn't write a word, that she limited herself to letters and would never write a book.)
She didn't recieve credit for the writting of the History of the Women's rights Movement because Susan B. Anthony bought out both her share in the profits as well as Elizabeth Cady Stanton's. At that point a distance had been growing between herself and other suffragists because of her radicalism for quite some time. Gage was anti-religion, believing 'the political church' to be the main source of women's oppression. She gradually lost touch with other suffragists after the union of the two women's suffrage organizations at the time -- the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) and the National Women's Suffrage Association (NWSA) became the National American Women's Suffrage Assoication (NAWSA) in 1888.
The National American Women's Suffrage Association concentrated on the vote, and concentrated on white upper middle class women's getting it. The language of the law certainly didn't exclude poor women, or black women but when the NAWSA pushed for votes for women, those were not the women that were intended to improve the country with their civilizing influence. Gage continued to push for the rights of poor and working class women, continued to expose sexual double standards about prostitution. It was necessary for the NAWSA to maintain credibility and they therefore had to distance themselves from Gage, undoubtedly the most threatening suffragist of her era.
With the formation of the NAWSA she started to concentrate her work on what she believed (and most now agree) was her most important work, a book titled Woman Church and State, published in 1893. This book was one of the first to discuss ancient Goddess religions, and it attacked religious arguments in favor of the subjugation of women. Her main point was that the patriarchal structure of the organized church was the main source for the oppression of women. The book met with good reviews all over the country when it first came out, but was eventually banned from the mail by Anthony Comstock.
Around 1890 Gage and Elizabeth Cady Stanton agreed to form a new organization called the Women's National Liberal Union. Gage wrote Stanton, "I am sick of the song of suffrage". The organization was to dedicate itself to all issues pertaining to women's oppression, particularly their oppression by the political church. Stanton eventually backed out of the organization to become president of the National American Women's Suffrage Association, causing a further rift between Gage and her old collegues, which contributed to her being forgotten by history.
Matilda Joslyn Gage is not remembered in many history books because she challenged not only the establishment, but the beliefs of those challenging the establishment. She was so far ahead of her time and so threatening that it was some time before anyone was willing to document her life. The current expert on Gage is Sally Roesch Wagner, who published She Who Holds the Sky about the life of Matilda Joslyn Gage in 1998.