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Frances Dana Gage & Sojourner Truth

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Frances Dana Gage

By Henry Robert Burke

 

   Frances Dana (Barker) Gage was born in Marietta, Washington County, Ohio on October 12, 1808. Her father, Colonel Joseph Barker, was a New Englander who came to Marietta with the second group of settlers in the United States Northwest Territory in 1788. In 1829 Miss Barker married James L. Gage, a young lawyer from McConnelsville, Morgan County, Ohio. Frances Gage raised eight children, including four sons who served with Union Forces during the Civil War.

Mrs. Gage was deeply involved with social issues, "Temperance", "Anti-slavery" and "Women's Rights", and the Underground Railroad, that one must wonder how she managed so many positive accomplishments.

In 1851, Frances Gage presided over "The Women's Rights Convention", held in Akron, Ohio and her opening speech attracted widespread attention to the Movement. She invited Sojourner Truth to speak and Frances Gage preserved the words of the famous speech "Ain’t I A Woman", given at that convention by Sojourner Truth.

In 1853, she moved to St. Louis, Missouri with her husband and family. While there she came under repeated threats of violence because of her anti-slavery views. Twice she was the target of arsonists. St. Louis, Missouri and Alton, Illinois are located on the Mississippi River, which was the western extension of the Mason-Dixon Line. Incredible violence over the slavery issue ensued in that region during the period, beginning with the Missouri Compromise in 1820 and ending with the close of the Civil War in 1865.

On November 7, 1837, in Alton, Illinois, the famous Anti-Slavery martyr Elijah Parish Lovejoy was shot to death by a pro-slavery mob while he and others defended a printing press used to print anti-slavery literature. The fact that she carried on her anti-slavery work in such a dangerous environment attests to the courage of convictions held by Mrs. Gage.

In 1857-58 Mrs. Gage visited Cuba, St. Thomas and Santo Domingo, and on her return to the U.S. she wrote and lectured about her travels. Mrs. Gage then became the editor for an agricultural newspaper in Ohio. When the Civil War began, she went south and gave aid to wounded Union soldiers. She also taught freed slaves to read and write, and then, without pay, she acted as an agent for the Sanitary Commission at Memphis, Vicksburg and Natchez. In 1863-64 she became superintendent of 500 freedmen, under General Rufus Saxton, at Paris Island, South Carolina.

In an 1865 she was crippled by an overturned carriage in Galesburg, Illinois; still she continued to lecture on until 1867, when she became permanently disabled by a paralytic stroke. Under the pen name of "Aunt Fanny", Mrs. Gage wrote many stories and verses for children. She was a contributor to the Saturday Review and published the poems: "Elsie Maroon or The Old Still-House; "Steps Upward"; and "Gertie's Sacrifice." 

        Frances Dana Gage was one of the 19th century's best-known women lecturers. Her arguments on women's rights and woman suffrage were logical and well-reasoned. Here's an example of one of her talks on suffrage.

Address to the First Anniversary of the American Equal Rights Association (1867)by Frances Dana Gage:

"Mrs. President: It seems to be my fate to come in at the eleventh hour. We have been talking about the right to the ballot. Why do we want it? What does it confer? What will it give us? We closed our argument at three o'clock to-day by a discussion whether the women of this country and the colored men of this country wanted the ballot. I said that it was a libel on the womanhood of this country, to say they do not want it; and I repeat that assertion. Woman may say in public that she does not want it, because it is unpopular and unfashionable for her to want it; but when you tell her what the ballot can do, she will always answer you that she wants it. Why do we want it? Because it is right, and because there are wrongs in the community that can be righted in no other way.

After the discussions we have had to-night, I want to turn to a fresh subject. Last evening I attended the meeting of the National Temperance Association at Cooper Institute. A great audience was assembled there, to listen to the arguments against the most gigantic evil that now pervades the American Republic. Men took the position that only a prohibitory law could put an end to the great evil of intemperance. New York has its two hundred millions of invested capital to sell death and destruction to the men of this country who are weak enough to purchase. There are eight thousand licensed liquor establishments in this city, to drag down humanity. It was asserted there by Wendell Phillips that intemperance had its root in our Saxon blood, that demanded a stimulus; and he argued from that standpoint. If intemperance has its root in the Saxon blood, that demands a stimulus, why is it that the womanhood of this nation is not at the grog-shops to-day? Are women not Saxons?

It was asserted, both by Mr. Phillips and by President Hopkins, of Union College, that the liquor traffic must be regulated by law. A man may do what he likes in his own house, said they; he may burn his furniture; he may take poison; he may light his cigar with his greenbacks; but if he carries his evil outside of his own house, if he increases my taxes, if he makes it dangerous for me or for my children to walk the streets, then it may be prohibited by law. I was at Harrisburg, a few days ago, at the State Temperance Convention. Horace Greeley asserted that there was progress upon the subject of temperance; and he went back to the time when ardent spirits were drank in the household, when every table had its decanter, and the wife, children and husband drank together. Now, said he, it is a rare thing to find the dram-bottle in the home. It has been put out. But what put the dram-bottle out of the home? It was put out because the education and refinement and power of woman became so strong in the home, that she said, "It must go out; we can't have it here." Then the voters of the United States, the white male citizens, went to work and licensed these nuisances that could not be in the home, at all the corners of the streets.

I demand the ballot for woman to-day, that she may vote down these nuisances, the dram-shops, there also, as she drove them out of the home. What privilege does the vote give to the "white male citizen" of the United States? Did you ever analyze a voter-hold him up and see what he was? Shall I give you a picture of him? Not as my friend Parker Pillsbury has drawn the picture to-night will I draw it. What is the "white male citizen"-the voter in the Republic of the United States? More than any potentate or any king in all Europe. Louis Napoleon dares not walk the streets of his own city without his bodyguard around him, with their bayonets. The Czar of Russia is afraid for his own life among his people. Kings and potentates are always afraid; but the "free white male citizen" of the United States, with the ballot in his hand, goes where he lists, does what he pleases. He owns himself, his earnings, his genius, his talent, his eloquence, his power, all there is of him. All that God has given him is his, to do with as he pleases, subject to no power but such laws as have an equal bearing upon every other man in like circumstances, and responsible to no power but his own conscience and his God. He builds colleges; he lifts up humanity or he casts it down. He is the lawgiver, the maker, as it were, of the nation. His single vote may turn the destiny of the whole Republic for good or ill. There is no link in the chain of human possibilities that can add one single power to the "white male citizen" of America.

Now we ask that you shall put into the hands of every human soul this same power to go forward and do good works wherever it can. The country has rung within the last few days because one colored girl, with a little black blood in her veins, has been cast out of the Pittsburg Methodist College. It ought to ring until such a thing shall be impossible. But when Cambridge, and Yale, and Union, and Lansing, and all the other institutions of the country, West Point included, aided by national patronage, shut out every woman and every colored man in the land, who has anything to say? There is not a single college instituted by the original government patronage of lands to public schools and colleges, that allows a woman to set her foot inside of its walls as a student.

Is this no injustice? Is it no wrong? When men stand upon the public platform and deliver elaborate essays on women and their right of suffrage, they talk about their weakness, their devotion to fashion and idleness. What else have they given women to do? Almost every profession in the land is filled by men; every college sends forth the men to fill the highest places. When the law said that no married woman should do business in her own name, sue or be sued, own property, own herself or her earnings, what had she to do? That laid the foundation for precisely the state of things you see to-day.

But I deny that, as a class, the women of America, black or white, are idle. We are always busy. What have we done? Look over this audience, go out upon your streets, go through the world where you will, and every human soul you meet is the work of woman. She has given it life; she has educated it, whether for good or evil. She it is that must lie at the foundation of your country, because God gave her the holiest mission ever laid upon the heart of a human soul-the mission of the mother.

We are told that home is woman's sphere. So it is, and man's sphere, too; for I tell you that that is a poor home which has not in it a man to feel that it is the most sacred place he knows. If duty requires him to go out into the world and flight its battles, who blames him, or puts a ban upon him? Men complain that woman does not love home now, that she is not satisfied with her mission. I answer that this discontent arises out of the one fact, that you have attempted to mold seventeen millions of human souls in one shape, and make them all do one thing. Take away your restrictions, open all doors, leave women at liberty to go where they will.

As old Sojourner Truth said twenty years ago, at the first Women's Rights Convention in Ohio, "Leave them where God left them, with their inalienable rights," and they will adjust themselves to their convictions of their duties, their responsibilities, and their powers, and society will find harmony within itself. The caged bird forgets how to build its nest. The wing of the eagle is as strong to soar to the sun as that of her mate, who never says to her, "back, feeble one, to your nest, and there brood in dull inactivity until I give you permission to leave!" But when her duties called her there, who ever found her unfaithful to her trust? The foot of the wild roe is as strong and swift in the race as that of her antlered companion. She goes by his side, she feeds in the same pasture, drinks from the same running brook, but is ever true also to her maternal duties and cares.

If we are a nation of imbeciles, if womanhood is weak, it is the laws and customs of society which have made us what we are. If you want health, strength, energy, force, temperance, purity, honesty, deal justly with the mothers of this country; then they will give you nobler and stronger men than higgling politicians, or the grogshop emissaries that buy up the votes of your manhood.

Why is it that Republicans are so weak and wavering to-day? There is a law upon the statute book of every southern State that the child shall follow the condition of the mother. There is a law in the physical code of humanity, written by the finger of the Almighty, that never was and never will be repealed, that the child shall follow the condition of the mother. You have never taught the women of this country the sacredness of freedom. You have never called out the mother to generous action. You have never said to the motherhood of this country, "Upon you rests the responsibility of making the Republic what it should be. We invest you with the power; now assume that responsibility and act upon it, or we shall call you to account for your neglect of duty."

It has been charged upon woman that she does nothing well. What have you given us to do well? What freedom have you give us to act independently and earnestly? When I was in San Domingo, I found a little colony of American colored people that went over there in 1825. They retained their American customs, and especially their little American church, outside of the Catholic, which overspread the whole country. In an obscure room in an old ruin they sung the old hymns, and lived the old life of the United States. I asked how this thing was, and they answered that among those that went over so long ago were a few from Chester County, Penn., who were brought up among the Quakers, and had learned to read. Wherever a mother had learned to read, she had educated all her children so that they could read; but wherever there was a mother that could not read, that family had lapsed off from the old customs of the past.

Give us education. When we have a right to vote, there will not be a school-door in the United States shut to woman. When we have the right to vote, I believe that the womanhood that demanded that the dram-bottle should go out of the home, will demand that the dram-bottle shall be put away from among men. She will say, You have no right to take poison, and make my home a discomfort, or destroy the greenbacks, which should be the mutual possession of the household, by lighting your cigar. She will tell the world, under the new regime, that it is not the Saxon blood that demands a stimulant; but in the new morality it will be as wicked for a man to be drunken as for a woman to be drunken-as disreputable for a man to be licentious as for a woman to be licentious-as wicked and perverse for a man to go down to the lower depths of iniquity and folly as for a woman. And the great law uttered upon Sinai amid its thunders, will again be remembered, and will apply as much to man as to woman. Now, it is not so. One code of morality governs the voter, another the woman. As the slaveholder enacted laws that made his own vices crimes in the slave, so men enact laws that make their vices crimes in woman. And this is why we want suffrage for woman.

I ask the ballot, not because of its individual advantage to myself, but because I know and feel that individual rights, guaranteed to every citizen, must harmonize the world, if there is any power to do it this side of heaven. And so, not quite eighty years old, as old Sojourner said she was, but standing upon the brink of threescore, having looked this question in the face from my girlhood up-having labored in almost every vocation in life that falls to the lot of womanhood, as a worker on the farm, a worker in the household, a wife, a mother, a seamstress, a cook-and I tell you, my friends, that I can make better biscuit than I can lectures-as one who has tried to study what is for the best interest of society, I ask you candidly to survey this subject in all its bearings. Why may we not take our position as human beings enjoying all the privileges which the Creator bestowed, without restriction other than falls upon every other human being in the community?

A friend of mine, writing from Charleston the other day, just after the ballot went down there, says that he was told by a colored man, "I met my old master, and he bowed so low to me I didn't hardly know which was the negro and which was the white man." When we hold the ballot, we shall stand just there. Men will forget to tell us that politics are degrading. They will bow low, and actually respect the women to whom they now talk platitudes; and silly flatteries, sparkling eyes, rosy cheeks, pearly teeth, ruby lips, the soft and delicate hands of refinement and beauty, will not be the burden of their song; but the strength, the power, the energy, the force, the intellect and the nerve, which the womanhood of this country will bring to bear, and which will infuse itself through all the ranks of society, must make all its men and women wiser and better".

(Mrs. Frances Dana Gage died in Greenwich, Connecticut on November 10, 1884.)

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 Sojourner Truth

 

   Sojourner Truth was born in 1797, in a Dutch community in New York.  She was born a slave.  Her original name was Isabella Baumfree.  In 1808, Truth was sold away from her parents.  She eventually became the property of John Dumont.  While Dumont's slave she married a man named Thomas and eventually gave birth to five children.  Dumont promised Truth that she would have her freedom in 1827, but he reneged on his promise.  Truth shortly thereafter ran away, taking only her infant son to freedom.

Truth first went to New York City, where she worked as a domestic servant for several different religious groups.  In 1843, Truth believed that she had received a revelation from God.  It was at this point that she changed her name from Baumfree to Truth.  She embarked upon a lecture tour across New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, hoping to educate others about God's plan for salvation.  In her sermons, she condemned slavery and encouraged men to grant women of all races the same rights as white men.

Truth eventually arrived at Northampton, Massachusetts, where she joined a religious commune known as the Northampton Association for Education and Industry.  Her involvement in abolitionism quickly grew, as she became close friends of Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, people affiliated with the association.  She continued to give lectures about her experiences as a slave woman, and in 1850, she published an account of her life, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave.

   Truth is perhaps most famous for a speech she gave at a women's rights convention in Akron, Ohio, in 1851.  Members of the community shouted down other speakers at the meeting.  Truth rose from her seat and silenced the hecklers with a speech titled, “Ain't I a Woman.”  The point of this speech was to illustrate for the participants that fighting for equal rights for women with men was not enough.  Other women, including African Americans, faced additional obstacles.  Truth wanted the participants to not only dedicate their lives to ending sexism but also to assisting all people, no matter what their race or gender was, achieve equality.

During the American Civil War, Truth helped gather supplies for African-American units.  In 1864, she became a member of the National Freedman's Relief Association, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of African Americans. Following the war, Truth continued to lobby the federal government for rights for African Americans.  One of her more controversial proposals involved the federal government giving now free African Americans land in the West.  She died in 1883, in Battle Creek, Michigan.

 

Ohio Historical Society, 2005, "Sojourner Truth",

 Ohio History Central: An Online Encyclopedia of Ohio History.

 

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   Francis Dana Gage’s account of the "Ain’t I a Woman?" speech given by Sojourner Truth in Akron, Ohio in 1851:

"Wall, chilern, whar dar is so much racket dar must be somethin' out o' kilter. I tink dat 'twixt de niggers of de Souf and de womin at de Nork, all talkin''bout rights, de white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all dis here talkin''bout?

   Dat man ober dar say dat womin needs to be helped into carriages, and lifted ober ditches, and to hab de best place everywhar. Nobody eber helps me into carriages, or ober mud-puddles, or gibs me any best place!" And raising herself to her full height, and her voice to a pitch like rolling thunders, she asked "And a'n't I a woman? Look at me! Look at me! Look at my arm! (and she bared her right arm to the shoulder, showing her tremendous muscular power). I have ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And a'n't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear de lash a well! And a'n't I a woman? I have borne thirteen chilern, and seen 'em mos' all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And a'n't I a woman?

   "Den dey talks 'bout dis ting in de head; what dis dey call it?" ("Intellect," whispered some one near.) "Dat's it, honey. What's dat got to do wid womin's rights or nigger's rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yourn holds a quart, wouldn't ye be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full?" And she pointed her significant finger, and sent a keen glance at the minister who had made the argument. The cheering was long and loud.

"Den dat little man in black dar, he say women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wan't a woman! Whar did your Christ come from?" Rolling thunder couldn't have stilled that crowd, as did those deep, wonderful tones, as she stood there with outstretched arms and eyes of fire. Raising her voice still louder, she repeated, "Whar did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothin' to do wid Him." Oh, what a rebuke that was to that little man.

   Turning again to another objector, she took up the defense of Mother Eve. I can not follow her through it all. It was pointed, and witty, and solemn; eliciting at almost every sentence deafening applause; and she ended by asserting: "If de fust woman God ever made was strong enough to turn de world upside down all alone, dese women togedder (and she glanced her eye over the platform) ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now dey is asking to do it, de men better let 'em." Long-continued cheering greeted this. "Bleeged to ye for hearin' on me, and now old Sojourner han't got nothin' more to say."

   Amid roars of applause, she returned to her corner, leaving more than one of us with streaming eyes, and hearts beating with gratitude. She had taken us up in her strong arms and carried us safely over the slough of difficulty turning the whole tide in our favor. I have never in my life seen anything like the magical influence that subdued the mobbish spirit of the day, and turned the sneers and jeers of an excited crowd into notes of respect and admiration. Hundreds rushed up to shake hands with her, and congratulate the glorious old mother, and bid her God-speed on her mission of "testifyin' agin concerning the wickedness of this 'ere people."

Edited by Henry Robert Burke

 

 

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