How many of these women’s names do you recognize?
- Harriet Tubman
- Eleanor Roosevelt
- Mother Jones
- Susan B Anthony
- Matilda Joslyn Gage
- Ida B. Wells
- Jane Addams
- Indira Gandhi
- Elizabeth Blackwell
- Alice Paul
- Marie Curie
- Amelia Earhart
- Grace Hopper
- Rosa Parks
- Dr. Sally Ride
- Sojourner Truth
- Madeline Albright
- Clara Barton
- Margaret Mead
- Carrie Chapman Catt
If you know them all, you’re ahead of me. These ladies are pictured in the youtube video during the song “Standing on the Shoulders,” a women’s rights and suffrage anthem by Earth Mama®. It’s a beautiful song. I encourage you to listen to it now and note all the other women included. See how many you know:
Why does it matter? Because women wouldn’t be where they are today without them.
Above: Indira Gandhi (1967), Eleanor Roosevelt (credit Douglas Chandor), Rosa Parks (1955). All pictures are public domain, from Wikipedia Commons.
We easily take for granted the right to vote, own property, go to college, and follow the career of our choosing. Not so with many of these women. But because of their tireless efforts, we’ve gained rights, freedom, and opportunities they either never experienced or paved the way for.
Did you recognize the name Matilda Joslyn Gage? Most people don’t. Yet she worked steadfastly, shoulder to shoulder, with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton for women’s suffrage. And more.
Why haven’t most people heard of Matilda? She was written out of history.
But now she’s making a comeback—through the work of Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner, the mission of The Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation, Inc. and Gage Home, and a book by Angelica Shirley Carpenter: Born Criminal, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Radical Suffragist (2018).
Dr. Wagner is the founder and executive director of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation, Inc. and the Matilda Joslyn Gage Center for Social Justice Dialogue.
Angelica Shirley Carpenter spent her career surrounded by children’s literature and writing biographies of children’s authors, such as Frances Hodgson Burnett, L. Frank Baum, Lewis Carroll, and Robert Louis Stevenson. (See my last blog post.) So tackling a biography of Matilda Joslyn Gage was a different undertaking altogether.
I’ve read the book and highly recommend it. Matilda not only advocated for women’s suffrage, but for the rights of all—regardless of gender, social class, race, or ethnicity. She befriended the Iroquois women of central New York. Unlike her peers, she fought for separation of church and state. Her Fayetteville home was part of the Underground Railroad in central New York. She refused to obey the Fugitive Slave Act. She feared nothing.
Matilda was also the mother-in-law of L. Frank Baum. That made for interesting family dynamics! As a forward thinker, Matilda was not pleased when her daughter Maud dropped out of college to marry an itinerant actor who would most likely have trouble supporting her. Read Born Criminal to learn more about how that relationship developed.
Besides the biography, Angelica has written a picture book, too, The Voice of Liberty, to be released in September 2020. The story highlights Matilda’s protesting at the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1886. Surprising? Read on to learn more.
(Please put your biases aside and consider the amazing amount of good Matilda accomplished.)
Q & A with Angelica
What led to your writing of Born Criminal?
Angelica: When Mother and I wrote our Baum biography, we became aware that Frank’s mother-in-law was a famous leader in the early women’s rights movement, but we didn’t really know much about her. There wasn’t much written about her then. I kept her in the back of my mind as someone to investigate in the future.
When I was president of the Oz Club, I heard Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner speak a couple of times about Matilda Joslyn Gage. After reading some of Sally’s research, I knew I wanted to write about Matilda.
What most fascinates you about the life of Matilda Joslyn Gage?
Angelica: To me, her most amazing quality, out of many, was that whenever she faced opposition, it made her stronger. I wish I could be that way.
What’s an example of how opposition made Matilda stronger?
Angelica: Matilda donated a copy of her book Woman, Church and State to a school in her home town of Fayetteville. A school board member, who happened to be Catholic, sent it to Anthony Comstock, head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. In newspapers, Comstock censored the book, calling it “tales of lust” and saying he would file suit against anyone who put it in a school.
Matilda was thrilled. “This is all right splendid for the book,” she wrote to her son. “All it needs now is to get into the Papal index Expurgatorius.”
Later she told a reporter, “You wish to know the effect of this Comstock-Catholic attack on me? It has acted like a tonic. I have not been well through the summer . . . but the moment I learned of Comstock’s letter and read the falsities so freely printed in regard to my book, I grew better and feel myself able to meet all enemies of whatever name or nature.”
By the way, Woman, Church and State is still a good book. I recommend it heartily.
Why is Matilda not as well known as Susan B. Anthony as a suffragist?
Angelica: In her lifetime she was very well known. After she died, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote her out of history. If you want to know how they did it, you’ll have to read Born Criminal.
What are some things that Matilda accomplished that put her in the ranks of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton?
Angelica: She was president of the National Woman Association in 1875. She organized the New York Woman Suffrage Association, developing a pattern for all affiliated state associations. She and Stanton were the National’s two primary writers, producing all the organization’s important documents.
She was an expert on women’s history, much more than the other two. She excelled at civil disobedience, developing national campaigns. She worked tirelessly, putting on conventions in the East while Anthony and Stanton were on speaking tours.
She never compromised, as Anthony did, making deals with right-wing religious organizations. Some might see this as a flaw in the struggle for suffrage, but Matilda believed in, and fought for, the separation of church and state.
How would you describe her influence on L Frank Baum and his legacy?
Angelica: She liked the stories he told his sons and she urged him to write them down and submit them to publishers. Her influence in the Oz books is strong, whether seen in the fact that women rule Oz or in a funny scene, related to her being a vegetarian. In Ozma of Oz, Dorothy and Billina, a chicken, discuss the pros and cons of eating live bugs versus dead animals.
What led to writing the picture book coming out in September?
Angelica: The picture book, The Voice of Liberty, is also about Matilda Joslyn Gage, her friend Lillie Devereux Blake, and Blake’s daughter, Katie, a schoolteacher. The three led a protest at the 1886 dedication of the Statue of Liberty.
Why protest a beautiful statue? They didn’t think it fair for Liberty to be portrayed as a woman when women had no freedom in the United States. I wrote about this protest in Born Criminal. The women ended up renting a smelly cattle barge to sail out to the statue.
After I finished Born Criminal, I couldn’t get that cattle barge out of my mind, so I wrote a picture book about that day. My publisher for both books, the South Dakota Historical Society Press, asked Edwin Fotheringham, a very famous illustrator, to do the pictures for The Voice of Liberty. I was thrilled at that choice.
The Voice of Liberty will come out September 15, 2020. It’s dedicated to my granddaughter. Promoting a book during a pandemic will be a challenge, but I’m working with the publisher on some virtual presentations.
Now . . . if you haven’t listened to the song yet, do it now.
Read these books about Matilda Joslyn Gage. Learn about the women whose shoulders you stand on—the ones who give us a better view to a brighter future.
- Angelica Shirley Carpenter
- Angelica’s interview with The Baum Bugle editor Sarah Crotzer
- Born Criminal, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Radical Suffragist by Angelica Shirley Carpenter
- The Voice of Liberty, by Angelica Shirley Carpenter
- International Wizard of Oz Club
- Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children’s Literature
- Lewis Carroll Society–U.K.
- Lewis Carroll Society of North America (LCSNA)
- Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner
- Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner lectures
- Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation
- Matilda Joslyn Gage Home in Fayetteville, NY
BIO: Angelica Shirley Carpenter has master’s degrees in education and library science from the University of Illinois. She is the author or co-author of four illustrated biographies for young people. For sixteen years, she served as director of the Palm Springs, Florida, Public Library. In 1999 she became the founding curator of the Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at California State University, Fresno. Having retired in 2011, Carpenter currently resides in Fresno and is active in the Authors Guild, the International Wizard of Oz Club, the Lewis Carroll Society of North America, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
Whose shoulders do you stand on? Is there any particular woman you feel indebted to?
Please add your comments below. I’d love to hear from you!
We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.