The women’s suffrage movement began in 1848 in Seneca Falls, NY and Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton led the fight for the vote until 1920, when women received the right to vote with the 19th amendment.
Is this the story you learned about the women’s suffrage movement?
Unfortunately, every part of it is wrong.
1) Indigenous women have had political voice on this land for 1000 years, while 2020 marks 100 years since the constitution added women to legal voters in the United States.
2) Women voted in the colonies. They lost the right after the revolution when states made it illegal for women – and African American men – to vote.
3) Black and white women organized anti-slavery societies a decade before the Seneca Falls convention, where they learned the essentials of organizing they brought to the women’s rights movement.
4) Initially women created a women’s rights movement, demanding everything from equal pay to a woman’s right to control her body. After a merger of the conservative and progressive suffrage organizations in 1890 the focus narrowed to a push for the vote.
Imagine that women have the right to choose all political representatives, removing from office anyone who doesn’t make wise decisions for the future. Living in a world free from violence against them, women will not allow a man to hold office if he has violated a woman. Economically independent, they have the final say in matters of war and peace and the absolute right to their own bodies.
This is not a dream. Haudenosaunee (traditional Iroquois) women have had this authority – and more -- since long before Christopher Columbus.
While white women were the property of their husbands and considered dead in the law, Haudenosaunee women had more authority and status before Columbus than United States women have today.
Women of the Six Nation Iroquois Confederacy (the Haudenosaunee) had the responsibility for putting in place the male leaders. They had control of their own bodies and were economically independent. Rape and wife beating were rare and dealt with harshly; committing violence against a woman kept a man from becoming Chief in this egalitarian, gender-balanced society.
When women in New York State began to organize for their rights in 1848, they took their cue from the nearby Haudenosaunee communities, where women lived in the world that non-native women dreamed.
Amazingly, despite the assimilation policy of the United States, Haudenosaunee women still maintain much of this authority today.
CAN’T ATTEND THE LECTURE? READ HER BOOK: Sisters in Spirit: The Haudenosaunee Influence on Women’s Rights.
TO WATCH SALLY’S LECTURE AT THE ONONDAGA HISTORICAL SOCIETY:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3HoLpdHpQQ
Women are receiving “less pay than man for the same kind and quality of work,” suffragist Matilda Joslyn Gage charged in the 1850’s when feminists demanded “equal pay for equal work.”
170 years ago women made half the wages of men; today we make a little over 75%. Will it take us another 170 years to reach pay equity?
Conservative Christians aligned with the American Medical Association to pass laws in the 1870’s imprisoning anyone educating about birth control or giving abortions. Elizabeth Cady Stanton believed in a “woman's right to become a mother or not as her desire, judgment and conscience may dictate...to be absolute sovereign of herself”. Progressive suffragists Stanton and Gage believed in the rights of the unborn, and the most sacred right, the most important one, they said, is the right to be wanted and chosen. Only if the woman decides, they made clear, is that possible.
These struggles of women today –and more --were those of our feminist foremothers. Why has that herstory been stolen from us?
What inspired the suffragists to think they could create a world where women could be agents of their own being? The surprising answer may lie with the sovereign women of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Confederacy of six nations (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora) in upstate New York, who showed their settler neighbors how a society that empowered women worked.
Sally Roesch Wagner, the scholar who brought to light this historical narrative, and Mohawk Bear Clan Mother Louise Herne who embodies it. (“I’m not a feminist, I’m the law”) come together in this presentation to share their friendship journey to change the foundation of the established history of the women’s rights movement in the United States.
To provide an excellent foundation for this program, you are encouraged to provide participants access to the 27 minute PBS documentary, Without a Whisper – Konnón:kwe, featuring Dr. Wagner and Ms. Herne, with an appearance by Gloria Steinem.
This groundbreaking film, directed by acclaimed filmmaker, Katsitsionni Fox (Mohawk), will illuminate the complex indigenous model of freedom that sparked the revolutionary vision of early feminists.
You can rent the film through Women Make Movies (https://www.wmm.com/catalog/film/without-a-whisper/). Fox is also available to take part in this discussion with Wagner and Herne.
Wakerakatste Louise McDonald Herne is the condoled Bear Clan Mother for the Mohawk Nation Council. Through her work as a matrilineal leader and as a mother, she is a founding member of Konon:kwe (Goh-noon-gwe) Council, a circle of Mohawk women working to reconstruct the power of their origins through education, empowerment and trauma-informed approaches.
Louise champions the philosophy of Kahnistensera (Ga-nees-the-sa-lah), “Mother Law”—a natural law that binds Onkwehon:we (Uhn-gwe-hoo-weh), or Indigenous, kinship society. She is the lead conductor of the Moon Lodge Society, a convening women and girls on a monthly basis in line with the full moon cycle. Louise is the principal organizer and leader of Ohero:kon (Uh-ho-low-go), “Under the Husk”), a traditional Rite of Passage ceremony for Mohawk youth. Since 2005, she has guided hundreds of community families and volunteers through self-reflection and Haudenosaunee cultural instruction and ceremony.
Currently a Spirit Aligned Legacy Leader, Louise has presented at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and lectures regularly at universities throughout Canada and the United States on Haudenosaunee philosophies and self-determination regarding women. Louise, affectionately known as Mama Bear, is the Distinguished Scholar in Indigenous Learning at McMaster University Institute for Innovation and Excellence in Teaching and Learning (MIIETL).
To view their presentation: https://www.chautauqua.com/portfolio/the-iroquois-confederacy-and-u-s-womens-rights/
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