Angelica Shirley Carpenter, Part 2—-Standing on the Shoulders of Matilda

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:

Standing on the Shoulders

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. 

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Wikipedia Commons, public domain.

Why haven’t most people heard of Matilda? She was written out of history.

Matilda Joslyn Gage, Courtesy Wikipedia Commons

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).

Angelica Shirley Carpenter at a book signing event. Courtesy of Angelica.

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.

L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz

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.

Angelica at a book signing for Born Criminal. Courtesy of Angelica.

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.  

Matilda Joslyn Gage, Courtesy of Visual Hunt

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. 

Available on September 15, 2020

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.

Standing on the Shoulders

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.

Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

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!

Ever musing,


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11 thoughts on “Angelica Shirley Carpenter, Part 2—-Standing on the Shoulders of Matilda

  1. Fascinating story! I also admire women who had the confidence in their calling. Enough so to become stronger in the face of opposition. The cattle barge floating before the Statue of Liberty particularly catches my imagination!
    Can you imagine not being able to vote? Oh, my goodness. I take it too much for granted.
    I’d say I stand on the shoulders of my mom. She became a single mom in the 40’s—a time when unwed mothers were sent away once they began to ‘show’ to have their babies in secret, and arrange for a secret adoption. She raised my older sister for 10 years, married my dad, had several miscarriages between myself and my little sister, adopted a baby boy, and almost always worked full time to support my Christian-school-teacher father. Then, when he sustained irrevocable brain damage in his late 70’s, she took Dad out of the nursing home and cared for him at home the rest of his life. She mentored young moms, volunteered for many Christian organizations, went back to school in her 50’s to get her high school diploma, and never EVER called attention to herself. Just writing it down, I am more amazed than ever at her.

    1. How fortunate that you were able to see your mom’s life in action, the way she devoted herself to taking care of her family despite obstacles. She certainly exhibited a life of sacrificial service–and got her diploma, too! What a wonderful role model for you!

  2. First of all, all praise to Angelica for doing the hard work of bringing Matilda Joslyn Gage to our attention and writing Born Criminal and The Voice of Liberty. In history, we have such huge gaps of not only of women and marginalized groups, but also of people like Gage who fought for justice and equity when it wasn’t that popular.
    America was founded in part on the Revolutionary War. It was a violent response to England’s oppression of America as a colony. This violence has become part of our culture with a massive U.S military budget, widespread and irresponsible gun use, militias, slavery & oppression, and a brutal police force. Forgotten and left out of history are people like Gage who sought change through protest, dialogue, and peace making. We need to replace our traditional American heroes with people like Gage who struggle peacefully for ‘liberty and justice for all.’ I pre-ordered my copy of The Voice of Liberty!

  3. Gage sounds interesting. I don’t know that I view Anthony as having “compromised,” and there are different views as to the meaning of “separation of church and state,” but we do owe much to women who stood up for us to have the right to vote. The Mary Poppins song immediately pops into my head: “Take heart, for Missus Pankhurst has been clapped in irons again!”
    I stand on the shoulders of my mom who taught my brothers, my sister, and me the God-given value of a woman. She showed us the importance of using our brains, our hands, and our heart to help those around us. She was a scientist, a biology teacher, a Sunday School teacher, a playwright, a poet, a seamstress, a farmer, a cook, a supporter of missionaries, an incredible mom, and a strong, supportive wife, to mention just a few. I lost her much too soon, but her legacy touched everyone who ever met her. 28 years after her death, I still have people who break into tears when they talk about her. because even in the midst of chemo herself, she was making meals for others who were also sick. Now, as a mom of 4 girls and a boy myself, I hope they see me teaching them the God-given value of women, too.

    1. So glad you had the blessing of a strong woman role model while growing up. My mother, too, was a great example of service. She loved doing things for people. Losing those chances to serve was one of the things she grieved the most in her final stages of M.S., when she couldn’t do much of anything. She never stopped striving, though, and always looked for more ways to give.

  4. Angelica Carpenter’s recent books, Born Criminal and The Voice of Liberty, share with readers the important stories leading to the right for women to vote. Her well researched books on woman suffrage movements, infused with photographs and notes, inform readers of the history and role women participated in to guarantee the right to vote for all women. Today, role models continue to inspire young girls to follow the paths women before them have paved. All of us have strong, creative, and forward-looking women who demonstrate and invite us to be the best we can become, always making the world a better place. Thank you to all of the women in my life who have reached out at hand to invite me to continue to grow.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing. I appreciate your great endorsement for Angelica’s books. And no doubt there are plenty of women in our lives who need to be thanked!

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