Thursday, November 19, 2020
Sally Roesch Wagner, How Native American Women Inspired the Women's Rights, Suffrage Movement
“Never was justice more perfect; never was civilization higher,” suffrage leader Matilda Joslyn Gage wrote about the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Confederacy, whose territory extended throughout New York State.
Matilda Joslyn Gage led the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, the three women trading executive positions over the 20 years of the organization’s existence.
According to Gloria Steinem, Gage was “the woman who was ahead of the women who were ahead of their time.” When the women’s suffrage leadership grew conservative, Gage dropped out of the movement. Suffragists stopped remembering her progressive contributions, like her 1893 revelation of the sex trafficking of women and girls in the United States.
Gage, and to a lesser extent Stanton, were largely dropped from the history. With their exclusion, we also lost this story of how they saw women’s rights in action in the native culture of the Haudenosaunee, and realized they could create the conditions for it in their own society.
Having worked for women’s rights for forty years, Gage and Stanton became increasingly frustrated with their inability to make major gains in their social, economic or political positions as women by the 1880’s.
In their disappointment, they looked beyond the Euro-American culture that was already known intimately to them and gained a vision of a world of equality from their nearby neighbors. Stanton and Gage grew up in the land of the Haudenosaunee, the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy: the Onondaga, Mohawk, Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida and Tuscarora who had social, religious, economic and political positions far superior to their own, they wrote.
The Six Nation Haudenosaunee Confederacy had, and still have today, a family/governmental structure based on female authority. Haudenosaunee women controlled the economy in their nations through their responsibilities for growing and distributing the food. They had the final authority over land transfers and decisions about engaging in war.
Children came through the mother’s line, not the father’s, and if the parents separated, the children stayed with their mother, and if she died, with her clan family. Women controlled their own property and belongings, as did the children. Political power was shared equally among everyone in the Nation, with decisions made by consensus in this pure democracy, the oldest continuing one in the world.