Matilda Joslyn Gage

“There is a word sweeter than Mother, Home or Heaven – that word is Liberty”

Matilda Joslyn Gage (1826 – 1898)

Matilda Joslyn Gage was a writer, academic, campaigner and champion of social justice and equality for all.  She was a powerful storyteller, unearthing and bringing evidence of women’s history that was previously hidden. She brought to the fore the records and verification that chronicled women as inventors, entrepreneurs, educators, warriors, leaders and gods. 

Famously referred to as “the woman who was ahead of the women who were ahead of their time,” author, activist, and lecturer Matilda Joslyn Gage worked tirelessly to advocate for abolition of slavery, women’s rights, and Native American rights. While her opinions were considered extremely radical for her time, Gage paved the way for the American women’s movement and social progress in the United States.   

Image of Matilda Joslyn Gage
Image of Matilda Joslyn Gage

And yet she is a woman few have heard of, never mind understood her importance as a historical figure.  Matilda Joslyn Gage navigated terrains that women were not allowed to be in.  She was one of those first women to breach the walls of academia.  Her passionate interest in history led to her reclaiming women’s place in the bible, with her leadership in the research for the groundbreaking The Women’s Bible.  

At the age of 26, she launched into the women’s movement with her speech at the National Convention in 1852.  Her speech was an outline of women’s achievements throughout history, which she had discovered from her archivist research. This changed many of the assumptions about history and women.  Until she entered the movement, the focus had been on what women might do, given the opportunity.  Gage was the first to show what they had done – drawing on the annals of the pre-Christian era.

Whilst Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony have gone down in history as leaders of the first wave of the American women’s movement, it was Gage who was the third leader, and written out of history.  She wrote the first two chapters and final chapter of Vol.1 of one of our classic historical records, History of Woman Suffrage, which is regarded as the most passionately argued of all the volumes, yet accredited to Stanton.   

Her book, Woman, Church and State, unearths the step by step permeation of patriarchy into our lives, religion and state structures.  The most radical chapter is her research and documentation of the systematic torture and execution of women through the 300-year witch trials.  She was the first to say “for witch read woman”.  One cannot read the compilation of evidence that she recites and ever think of ‘witchcraft’ in the same way.  

But Matilda was too radical for the conservative thrust of the American women’s movement, and Dale Spender documents how her contribution was made invisible within the annals of the movement.  

Matilda Joslyn Gage inspires me because she was dedicated as a scholar, and a groundbreaker in the records and archives that she unearthed about women’s history.  She is a woman who gave witness to her beliefs in her activism and championing of social justice.  For me, her contribution to chronicling the power in women’s history is unmatched.

Let’s celebrate Women’s History Month together! Do you have a woman in history that inspires you?  Leave a comment below and tell us why she inspires you?  

About the Author

Siobhan Riordan MA, PG Cert is Director of Learning Communities Network. Whilst Principal Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer at the University of East London, she undertook groundbreaking research in the development of women’s organisations as well as led development of the first postgraduate programme in Women’s Leadership in the UK. She is an innovator in education and master facilitator in Learning Communities. She has been creating personal and professional development courses for over 30 years. With her eclectic training in Psychosexual Therapy, Group Dynamics and Leader of Sacred Circles, she brings an original and creative approach to teaching and learning. She lives in Wales, UK, with her rescue dog.

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