Born Criminal: Matilda Joslyn Gage, Radical Suffragist

A biography for ages 12 and up by Angelica Shirley Carpenter
South Dakota Historical Society Press, September 2018

In 1893, a deputy sheriff knocked on Matilda Joslyn Gage’s door in Fayetteville, New York. He had come to arrest her. “All of the crimes which I was not guilty of rushed through my mind,” she wrote later, “but I failed to remember that I was a born criminal—a woman.” Her crime: registering to vote. The verdict: guilty as charged.

Matilda was actually pleased to be arrested. She welcomed attention to her cause: women’s rights. A famous leader in the early women’s movement, she was a writer, organizer, speaker, planner, and historian. She worked closely with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but today she is mostly forgotten, after those so-called friends wrote her out of history. I hope that my book will help to write her back in.

Matilda (1826-1898) fought for women’s right to vote and more: equal pay for equal work, equality in property and child custody laws, and a woman’s right to control her own body. She wrote books that are still being studied. She was controversial for her opinion that organized religion oppressed women. She balanced work with care for a large, loving family. Her youngest daughter, Maud, married L. Frank Baum, who later wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. His fourteen Oz books reflect a feminist point of view.

I hope that you will enjoy meeting Matilda and that she will inspire you, as she has me.

For publicity information, contact Jennifer McIntyre

To see my brief talk about Matilda and L. Frank Baum, click here.

Matilda’s house in Fayetteville (near Syracuse), New York, is now a museum, open to the public. Click here for information.

Matilda is included in the the 7th grade social studies curriculum in New York State (p. 96-97):
 7.7.c Students will examine the efforts of women to acquire more rights. These women include Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Susan B. Anthony.

Reviews of Born Criminal: Matilda Joslyn Gage, Radical Suffragist:

Booklist: "This impeccably researched narrative is often lively but also dense with detail, with many photos extending the text. Gage is a forgotten heroine, and those interested in women's history will appreciate this restoration."

Foreword: "Skillfully fills in the history of an activist erased from history. . . . tracks Gage’s life from childhood to death, illuminating the incredible work she did. This includes writing seminal texts on women’s rights, leading conventions, and heading organizations.Carpenter’s book is a strong reminder that history is written by the victors. Born Criminal is an inspirational portrait of a woman who never gave up the fight for equality; her message could not be more timely or more necessary."

Bayviews: "Outstanding. Although most tweens and teens will be unfamiliar with suffrag­ist Matilda Joslyn Gage, they will breeze through this engaging biography due to the author’s charming writing style. Readers will feel they have gotten to know Gage by the end of the book and will also learn a great deal about the first century of the women’s rights movement in the United States, since Gage was just as involved as the better-known Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Susan B. Anthony."

Midwest Book Review: "A deftly written and seminal work of simply outstanding scholarship .... Born Criminal is unreservedly recommended for high school, community, college, and university library 19th Century American Biography and Women's Suffrage History collections, as well as the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the heretofore forgotten life of a truly remarkable woman who help shaped American political culture to what it is today."

Story Circle Book Reviews, reviewing books by, for, and about women: "...A fascinating look at the nascent women's movement of the 19th century, and at a powerful figure in that movement, who was in danger of being forgotten. It also resonates in the twenty-first century, as resistance to women's equality continues, and differences of religion, lifestyle, and class, and competition, still muddy the water for activist women. The author has given us some insights that could be put to use today....Carpenter restates with fresh vigor the significance of the early feminists, the challenges they faced, and their continuing impact. We need the reminder. She allows Matilda's powerful words to reach us again: 'The longer I work, the more I see that woman's cause is the world's cause."

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