“There is a word sweeter than Mother, Home or Heaven; that word is Liberty.” That is the epitaph on the headstone of Matilda Joslyn Gage.
Gage was an abolitionist who grew up in a home that was a stop on the Underground Railroad.
In addition fighting to end slavery, Gage became a leading figure in the women’s suffrage movement.
But while fellow suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are well known to history, Gage has largely been lost to it.
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However, a Highland native is looking to change that.
Susan (Fellhauer) Savion, a 1965 graduate of Highland High School, has written a book on Matilda Josyln Gage, Quoting Matilda. Quoting Matilda is currently available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and AuthorHouse websites.
“Matilda Joslyn Gage is an unsung heroine of the 19th century suffragist and women’s rights movements.” Savion said. “She also fought for the rights of Native Americans and enslaved persons and anyone else impacted by government control and challenged the economic disparity between the rich and poor.”
The “Matilda Effect,” as Savion calls it, occurred when Gage championed women.
“Gage lauded the great accomplishments of specific women throughout history for achievements in art, literature, poetry, music, science, math, astronomy and governing,” said Savion, who grew up on a farm near Highland and now lives in DeWitt, N.Y., which is near Syracuse.
She said Gage was also the inspiration behind her son-in-law, L. Frank Baum’s, 14 Wizard of Oz books.
Savion said Gage had a life-long desire for justice and equality for all.
“Readers will find her immensely quotable,” said Savion who was the guest speaker at last week’s Highland Rotary’s Club meeting.
She said Quoting Matilda is a compilation of wise and passionate words and biographical commentary Gage’s life.
Gage was involved in the women’s movement from 1852 until her death in 1898. Savion said she might be best known for her feminist and suffragist activities, but she was written out of history for many years, because she was considered by her peers to be too radical in all she proposed to accomplish.
“She also fought for the rights of Native Americans and enslaved persons and anyone else impacted by government control,” Savion added. “She championed women inventors,” Savion added.
Savion said Gage’s intellectual vigor made her one of woman’s rights most able philosophers but, fearing repercussions from her anti-church stand, the movement virtually wrote her out of its own history.
Gage and Stanton co-authored the Declaration of Rights presented at a women’s demonstration that disrupted the Philadelphia Centennial Celebration (1876), in which women could not participate. She also owned and edited National Citizen and Ballot Box, a monthly journal deeply involved in the roots of the American feminist movement. Believing that Church teachings on women’s inferiority were the greatest obstacle to women’s progress, she founded the radical Woman’s National Liberal Union, published a book, Woman, Church, and State in 1893 was a prominent force in the “revising committee” of Stanton’s shocking book, the Woman’s Bible.
But Gage was “written out of history” for many years, because she was considered by her peers to be too radical in all she proposed to accomplish, Savion said.
“She was inspired by the Haudenosaunee women who were her neighbors and who adopted her into their wolf clan,” she said. “She was determined to gain the rights of property ownership, governance and equality of power for her 19th century sisterhood.”
Savion said Gage also fought for the rights of Native Americans and enslaved persons and “anyone else impacted by government control.”
For more information, visit susansavionsstuff.com.
More about Susan Savion
Savion’s ancestors were some of Highland’s early immigrants from Switzerland.
“I grew up on our farm southeast of Highland, located on Rinderer Road. My sister and I still own the farm, though the houses and buildings have been sold,” she said.
Her grandfather was Arthur Fellhauer. Her father was Erwin “Mickey” Fellhauer, a long-time volunteer firemfighter in Highland and an employee at Highland Box Board and, later, at The Wall Street Journal.
Always a teacher
Savion taught locally in Highland, Grantfork and Mulberry Grove before moving to New York, teaching at every level from kindergarten through high school and adult.
Now retired, she continues to teach through her writing, videos and presentations.
Over the past 10 years she has traveled extensively. She has been all over the U.S., including Alaska an Hawaii, Europe, as well as Israel, Turkey and Thailand. Through her travels, she created videos, many are narrated, labeled and musically enhanced.
Besides being the author of “Quoting Matilda,” Savion is also the author of four teacher resource books: “Quotes to Start the Day,” “Quotes to Make History Come Alive,” “Quotes to Stretch Your Brain,” and “Quotes to Spark Discussion.” They consist of a quote and a brief bio of the author of the quote and interactive activities for students.