Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1800-1925: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview

MATILDA JOSLYN GAGE
(1826-1898), suffragist and freethinker

SALLY ROESCH WAGNER

To say that she was "outspoken," as the tactful did, is a little like describing a tornado as a grand gust of wind. "My Dear Mrs. [ Harriet Hanson] Robinson, I think you are perfectly incomprehensible," Matilda Joslyn Gage began a letter to a coworker who had gotten cold feet in a decisive showdown ( March 1890, Robinson Collection, HOW). "An appalling frankness of speech" is how. the daughter of suffragist Lillie Devereux Blake described her. Katherine Devereux Blake went on to say, "She was absolutely honest in all her dealings, and I would take her word at any time as against anybody else's. I always loved and admired her greatly." Placing her alongside SUSAN B. ANTHONY, ELIZABETH CADY STANTON, and Isabella Beecher Hooker in her importance to the movement, she concluded, "I think that in some ways she was the greatest of those four women" ( Blake, 1943:115).

CLARA BEWICK COLBY, editor of the Woman's Tribune, was another who recognized her importance: "Mrs. Gage has been conspicuous, and united with Mrs. Stanton since the early days; and the three names, Stanton, Anthony, and Gage, linked together in the authorship of The History of Woman Suffrage, will ever hold a grateful place in the hearts of posterity" ( March 28, 1888).

But Joslyn Gage didn't simply fly off the handle. Her pen and tongue conveyed razor-sharp, focused fact. Olympia Brown observed that she was "always filled with matter, the results of careful research and thorough investigation" ( 1911:89), echoing Cady Stanton's amazement that she "always had a knack of rummaging through old libraries, bringing more startling facts to light than any woman I ever knew." Her "appalling frankness" and thorough research characterize her speeches. "To speak of atrocious crimes in mild language is treason to virtue," Edmund Burke said, and she was never, ever treasonous. The cost of unswerving truth-telling, of course, is generally the sort of isolation and historical neutralizing that she experienced.

"I think of her," a family friend reminisced with Joslyn Gage's daughter Julia, "as almost the one person in our community of intellectual vision, living as such persons must, somewhat isolated from her neighbors by no wish of her own but because of their inability to keep pace with her thought and sympathies."

Joslyn Gage entered the movement, as did Anthony, in 1852, four years after the first convention in Seneca Falls. Along with Cady Stanton, these women eventually became key figures in the radical wing of the woman's rights movement, sharing leadership positions in the NWSA. Anthony was the organizer; Cady Stanton and Joslyn Gage were the movement's theoreticians.

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