Matilda J Gage

Lived:March 24, 1826—March 18, 1898 (aged 71)
Career:Suffragist, Native American activist, abolitionist

Matilda Joslyn Gage, suffragist and writer, was born in Cicero, New York, on March 24, 1826. Gage's father provided her early education, which included mathematics, Greek, and biology, after which she attended the Clinton Liberal Institute in New York. She married Henry H. Gage, a merchant, in 1845; they had five children, although one son died in infancy. The couple later moved to Syracuse and Manlius before finally settling in Fayetteville, New York.

Gage's activism in women's rights began at the National Woman's Rights Convention in Syracuse in September 1852. Becoming close friends with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Gage began lecturing and organizing in support of women's rights. During the Civil War, a general moratorium was declared within the movement for women's rights, so that women could devote their efforts to the war efforts. An original member of the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and the New York State Woman Suffrage Association, she was elected vice-president and secretary of the latter organization in 1869. In 1875, Gage was elected president of both the state and national suffrage associations. She contributed to the NWSA's newspaper, The Revolution, and testified before several House and Senate committees that debated woman suffrage.

Gage became more and more convinced that the misogynist elements of Christian doctrine were major causes of women's lower social status. She argued that many churches taught that woman was inferior to man and blamed women for the introduction of sin into the world. From 1878 to 1890, Gage lobbied within the NWSA to make opposition to misogynist religious teachings a priority. Her efforts met with strong resistance from the moderate and conservative party elements, and in 1890, she left the organization to found the Woman's National Liberal Union. The WNLU's objectives included woman suffrage, but the organization also sought to expose the religious denigration of women, and to fight for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the separation of church and state.

One of Gage's contributions to the suffrage movement was her writings. With Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, she authored the Woman's Declaration of Rights, which was read at the 1876 Independence Day celebration in Philadelphia. Between 1878 and 1881, she edited and published the National Citizen and Ballot Box, the monthly newspaper of the NWSA. Her 1881 essay, "Preceding Causes," places the nineteenth-century women's rights movement within the larger historical context of Western civilization. The church and the state, she argued, have been twin barriers to human rights because both conspire to limit freedoms. One surprising pamphlet, "Who Planned the Tennessee Campaign of 1862?" (1880), makes the claim that Anna Carroll deserves the credit for masterminding the Union military campaign in Tennessee during the Civil War. Gage's second collaboration with Stanton and Anthony resulted in the first three volumes of the exhaustive six-volume "History of Woman Suffrage" (1881-1922). In the final chapter of the first volume, Gage asserts that "the most grievous wound ever inflicted upon woman has been in the teaching that she was not created equal with man, and the consequent denial of her rightful place and position in Church and State" (p. 754). The scholarly "Woman, Church and State" (1893), which Gage considered her most important work, continues in this vein, expounding her controversial views on the relationship between Christianity and women's status.

Gage spent her final years in Chicago with her daughter, Maud Baum, wife of L. Frank Baum, who later wrote "The Wizard of Oz." Her later writings concentrated on religious and metaphysical questions. In her last months, she wrote a paper for the National American Woman Suffrage Association's celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the first women's rights convention. She died in Chicago on March 18, 1898.