The title above is a shortened version of a longer description often applied to the remarkable woman who is the subject of this article:
The Woman Who Was Ahead of the Women Who Were Ahead of Their Time.
Most people who have read about the Women’s Suffrage Movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries have heard the names Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. I doubt if many have ever heard the name Matilda Joslyn Gage. But she was an early voice in the women’s rights movement, and her name was well known at that time. In fact, the three of them…Anthony, Stanton and Gage…were known as “The Triumvirate.” They were the founders of the National Woman Suffrage Association and co-editors of a book titled The History of Woman Suffrage. You can read it free here on Gutenberg Press:
How could it be that such a prominent figure has been omitted from our history? You might well ask the same question about Robert Green Ingersoll, a wildly popular orator, writer and debater in those same times.
Ingersoll and Gage have one common characteristic: They were both ardent advocates of “Freethought,” and outspoken critics of Christianity. I think it is reasonable to speculate that the writers of history texts for our schools were deliberate in their efforts to suppress any recognition of these two individuals…and they were so successful that both of them are unknown to the vast majority of US citizens to this day. In recent years organizations like the Center for Inquiry have resurrected both Ingersoll and Gage, and historical buildings associated with both of them are part of the Freethought Trail in upstate New York.
Ingersoll (b. 1833, d. 1899) and Gage (b. 1824, d. 1898) were contemporaries. They must have known about each other, but I can find no record of any meeting between them. Ingersoll’s takedown of Christianity has been documented here in several articles. Until now, Gage’s equally outspoken criticism has not. It is time to let the world know about this remarkable woman. In 1890, at the founding convention of the Woman’s National Liberal Union, an organization founded by Gage to challenge the religious powers in the country, she let them have it with both barrels:
It is the church and not the state to which the teaching of woman’s inferiority is due; it is the church which primarily commanded the obedience of woman to man. It is the church which stamps with religious authority the political and domestic degradation of woman; it is the church which placed itself in opposition to all efforts looking towards her enfranchisement and it has done this under professed divine authority and wherever we find laws of the state bearing with greater hardships upon woman than upon man, we shall ever find them due to the teachings of the church.
In 1893, she decided to write a book, based on her lectures and writings, titled “Woman, Church and State.” It’s a magnum opus of over 500 pages, and well worth reading. It is available for a free download here:
Here is an excerpt from the preface:
This work explains itself and is given to the world because it is needed. Tired of the obtuseness of Church and State; indignant at the injustice of both towards woman; at the wrongs inflicted upon one-half of humanity by the other half in the name of religion; finding appeal and argument alike met by the assertion that God designed the subjection of woman, and yet that her position had been higher under Christianity than ever before: Continually hearing these statements, and knowing them to be false, I refuted them in a slight résumé of the subject at the annual convention of the National Woman Suffrage Association, Washington, D. C., 1878.
There is a lot more to say about this remarkable woman…and her husband. During and after the Civil War, they were activist abolitionists who used their house as a shelter and refuge for escaping slaves, as part of the Underground Railroad.
It is a shame that people like Matilda Joslyn Gage and Robert Green Ingersoll are not revered as the national heroes that they certainly are.