Matilda Joslyn Gage was born March 24th, 1826. On March 24th, 2017, we celebrated her 191st birthday at the Gage Center. Many arrived at this former home of Gage, where she resided for 44 years in Fayetteville, New York. There was a birthday cake and other refreshments—including cookies that were popular during Matilda’s lifetime. We gathered ‘round and sang “Happy Birthday.” For some, it was their first visit to the Gage House. But many of us have been there often. We gather to learn and hear lectures, have teas and do mailings, give tours and help add improvements and updates. Many special programs are held that are related to women’s rights and to the other issues that Gage cared so much about.
Matilda’s middle name was Electa. Electa was the Greek goddess of strength and power. She is a daughter of Oceanus and Tethys, a sea goddess daughter of Gaia. Electa is the Goddess of the Sea Clouds that gather around islands near the summits of mountains. She draws moisture and existence from the sea below. We derive the word electricity from the name Electa. As lightening was often seen in the clouds, the name Electa was given to these sea clouds. You might want to call on the Goddess Electa when you want to storm a bit in order to get things done. I am pretty certain that Matilda drew on this energy, as she “stormed” quite a lot. And she got plenty of things done!
She is one of the ancestors now and it would be wise to call on her. Matilda had a lot to say about ancestors. She once said, “To judge how much our acts will influence the future, we must look back and see what influence the past has had upon us.” Well, I have been calling on Matilda’s wisdom a lot lately. I have been a part of a 5-session online, interactive group of men and women who has been reading Matilda’s magnum opus Woman, Church and State: An HistoricalAccount of the Status of Woman Through the Christian Ages; with Reminiscences of the Matriarcate.
At the same time, I have been taking another online course, “England in the Time of Richard III” and acting as facilitator weekly for a local group who is taking this same course that people all over the world were participating in. Many, of course, were from England. There was quite a bit of overlap, as both courses dealt with much that happened during the superstitious, violent medieval time period of the Middle Ages. It was, indeed, a dark time for women, especially. A holocaust that lasted for 400 years was perpetrated against women as they were tortured and burned as witches. While our course material for Richard III covered housing, food, death and sanitation, it did not delve into the treatment of women. Matilda brought to life these ancestors in vivid detail that was enriched with meticulous research. She had these words to say about her ancestors: “Let me hope that I have done a little to rescue her memory from the oblivion to which the historian had consigned her. It is very well to give men their due, but it is equally a matter of justice to preserve the names of women pioneers.”
One leading female pioneer from these medieval times was Christine de Pizan, who was born in 1364. Christine de Pizan was an Italian French late medieval author. She served as a court writer for several dukes of Burgundy, and the French royal court during the reign of Charles VI. She wrote both poetry and prose works such as biographies and books containing practical advice for women. She completed forty-one works during her 30-year career from 1399 to 1429. She married in 1380 at the age of 15, and was widowed 10 years later. Much of the impetus for her writing came from her need to earn a living to support her mother, a niece and her two surviving children. She spent most of her childhood and all of her adult life in Paris and then the abbey at Poissy, and wrote entirely in her adopted language, Middle French. Christine took advantage of the intellectual atmosphere the court, making use of the royal library to teach herself languages, history, and literature. She was the first woman in Europe to make her living as a professional writer, presenting a highly-ornamented copy of her own work, The Queen’s Manuscript, to Isabeau of France in early 1414. She also defended women against the attacks of men who claimed females were inadequate creatures. Matilda contended that “The Women of today are the thoughts of their mothers and grandmothers embodied and made alive. They are active, capable, determined and bound to win. They have a thousand generations back of them. The pressure lies not alone in their own veins and arteries, but the hereditary transmission of qualities is making itself felt. Millions of women dead and gone are speaking through us today. If we are false to woman’s demands, we are false to the mothers who bore us. The revenges of time lie in our hands.” I am so glad that Matilda Joslyn Gage is again speaking to us today. Her words, written and spoken, address the issues we are still dealing with today. Let us stand on her shoulders and those of other heroic ancestors. Happy Birthday to you, Matilda. We honor your life as you have helped us to be active, capable, determined and bound to win!