Angelica Shirley Carpenter’s new book Born Criminal: Matilda Joslyn Gage, Radical Suffragist takes a look at Matilda Gage’s life and why she is often overlooked when her comrades, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, are regularly celebrated.
Reflecting upon her 1893 arrest, Gage said, “All of the crimes which I was not guilty of rushed through my mind, but I failed to remember that I was a born criminal – a woman.” What was Gage’s crime? Registering to vote. The verdict? Guilty as charged.
Prior to 1920, most women in the United States had no voice in who created laws or set their taxes, and they were arrested when they did attempt to cast ballots. By the mid-1800s, Matilda Joslyn Gage (1826-1898), and others like her, thought it was time for change.
Gage grew up in New York state in a home on the Underground Railroad, and her early introduction to the movement to abolish slavery made her value all people. When two of her grown children moved to Dakota Territory in the 1880s, Gage took the woman suffrage cause west, traveling from town to town on the frontier, promoting her ideals. At the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1886, she helped stage a protest, arguing that a woman could not represent liberty in a country where women were not guaranteed the right to vote. From 1854 to 1898, she lived in Fayetteville, New York, near Syracuse, but from the late 1880s, she spent winters in Dakota and later in Chicago with her daughter Maud and Maud’s husband, L. Frank Baum, who went on to write The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Gage’s ideas were not always popular, and others often viewed her as too radical. Stanton and Anthony, prominent leaders in the suffrage cause, both outlived Gage and eliminated her from their own histories of the women’s movement.
Carpenter has master’s degrees in education and library science from the University of Illinois. She served as director of the Palm Springs, Fla., Public Library and was the founding curator for the Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at California State University, Fresno. Carpenter currently resides in Fresno and is active in the International Wizard of Oz Club, the Lewis Carroll Society of North America, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
Born Criminal is available for $19.95, plus shipping and tax and can be ordered directly from the South Dakota Historical Society Press or by calling (605) 773-6009.