Matilda Joslyn Gage was a central figure in the United States’ nineteenth century feminist movement. Her father, Dr. Hezkiah Joslyn, of New England stock, was an ardent abolitionist who supported liberal issues such as woman suffrage and temperance. Helen, Gage’s Scottish mother, was the youngest daughter of Sir George Leslie and was related to the Gregory family of early British scientists. Hezkiah and Helen made their home a stop on the Underground Railroad, which helped runaway slaves, and a gathering place for reformers. Their daughter was taught to be thoughtful, fearless, and truthful. Gage studied the sciences, Greek, and history at home, then attended Clinton Liberal Institute in New York. In 1845, she married a merchant, Henry H. Gage, and settled in Fayetteville, New York, where he operated a successful dry goods business. Matilda Gage had five children; four lived to adulthood. She entered public life in 1852 as the youngest woman on the platform of the National Woman’s Rights Convention in Syracuse, New York. Her fledgling speech attacked women’s subordinant social position as a cause of mental and moral lethargy.
In the postbellum United States, Gage became a significant leader in the suffrage movement at local, state, and national levels. She was a founding member of the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) in 1869; she served as its secretary and vice president from 1869 to 1875 and then as its president from 1875 to 1876. In 1875, Gage was elected president of both the New York State and national suffrage organizations. In 1876, she relinquished the national post to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, though retaining the state presidency until 1879.
The year 1880 was the turning point in Gage’s career as a reformer. She had tried and failed to have NWSA oppose contemporary Christian misogynist doctrines of female inferiority. When the liberal NWSA formed a union with the conservative American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), Gage resigned. She then formed and served as president of a new organization, the Woman’s National Liberal Union...
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