story by Ryan Saylor
Individuals in attendance at Monday's (March 11) League of Women Voters lunch in Fort Smith learned about the women's suffrage movement from a fellow member who spent last September exploring upstate New York and the historically significant events that lead to a more equal nation for women.
LWV nominating committee member Sheryl Flanagan spoke about visiting Fayetteville, N.Y., along with Rochester, Syracuse and Seneca Falls, and learning more about the life of Matilda Joslyn Gage, who worked with Susan B. Anthony and others, in the march toward equality for all women.
"(She) played such a significant role in why we did eventually achieve the right to vote," Flanagan said of Gage.
The work that Gage did, along with Anthony, was important, Flanagan said, because "women didn't really have any rights."
While full freedom was not enjoyed by women during the 1800s, she learned married women actually lost what little rights they had, according to Flanagan.
"I think married women had fewer rights than single women, which is why Susan B. Anthony never did marry even though she was asked many times but she was not willing to give that up," she said.
Flanagan said many other rights were withheld from women, among them:
• The right to own property;
• The right to control one's own wages (Flanagan said wages were controlled by a woman's husband, father or brother);
• The right to vote;
• The ability to serve on a jury; and,
• The right to have parental control over their own children.
The trip opened Flanagan's eyes to the injustices suffered by women, even in modern times, she said.
"It was a time when women's rights were nonexistent. We may think, 'Gee, how can that be?' but a little thing I learned in doing some research (is that) it was not until 1979 that Louisiana became the last state to give both spouses the legal right to management (of) community property," she said. "That's not that long ago."
During a tour of Gage's home near Syracuse, the museum gift shop highlighted the modern struggle for women still striving for equal rights in terms of pay.
Some pamphlets for sale in the museum's gift shop were 77 cents for women while men were charged one dollar, according to Flanagan. The figures represented the difference in pay between men and women reported in an April 2011 study by the Institute for Women's Policy Research, which stated for every dollar a man made, women only earned 77 cents.
During the tour of the home, Flanagan said she learned about the prolific amount of writing done by Gage as well as other political activity the "forgotten" crusader of women's rights was involved in.
"Her house was a station on the underground railroad, so many of these early suffragists were involved in other causes," she said, adding that while women were not allowed to have much of a voice in the movement, women like Gage were involved in it.
In order to take part in the activities in which she was involved, Flanagan said Gage was at risk of both prison time and a large fine.
"The fine was $2,000 if it was discovered that she had harbored any freedom takers, (that) is what they were called as rightly they should have been. Of course that would be over $57,000 today, so she certainly did this at risk," she said.
As part of her fight for both equality of African Americans and women, Gage was also involved in preventing human trafficking of teen girls.
Flanagan said some of Gage's writing from the period from the Civil War period through the women's suffrage movement focused on preventing trafficking of girls ranging in age from 13-years-old to 16-years old across northern states situated on the Great Lakes.
The trip, Flanagan said, opened her eyes to someone largely excluded from the history books who had a deep impact on fighting human trafficking, freeing slaves in the South and working with women such as Susan B. Anthony to ensure the right to vote.
"She was a remarkable woman," Flanagan said.
March is Women’s History Month.