image credit: Engraving by J. C. Buttre, after photo by Napoleon Sarony [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Never was justice more perfect, never civilization higher than under the Matriarchate.”  Matilda Joslyn Gage, Woman, Church and State, p. 10.

“This model of indigenous women living in a world in which they had status, authority, and dignity, gave our feminist foremothers a vision of how they could transform their world, along with the sure knowledge that it could be done without upsetting either nature or God.”Sally Roesch Wagner, noted feminist scholar

Religious and secular laws coming from Europe did not recognize the rights of women.  Nineteenth century United States common law (based upon church law), perpetuated the idea that through marriage “the two shall become one and the one is the man,” demonstrating their perception of male dominance. Once married, women had no legal existence. Under the laws of the states, women could not vote, own property, control their own wages, or have any say over their bodies or their children.  This was not the case among the Haudenosaunee.

Matilda Joslyn Gage, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton provided the intellectual and philosophical foundations that became the National Woman Suffrage Association. They were directly influenced by their association with Haudenosaunee women. They came to believe that every existing institution of western “civilization”- family, capitalism, church, and state – rested on the oppression of women, and each would have to be destroyed in their existing form before women would be set free.

Gage was given the Wolf Clan name Ka-ron-ien-ha-wi (Sky Carrier) by the Mohawk Nation. She saw that Haudenosaunee women enjoyed equality and possessed freedoms far beyond those of their white sisters: decisive role in governance, control of their bodies, control of their own property, custody of their children, the power to initiate divorce, satisfying work, and a society generally free of rape and domestic violence.

In the summer of 1848 Quaker abolitionist Lucretia Mott witnessed Seneca women participating in the decision-making process of the Seneca Nation. This likely fired her imagination as she then went to nearby Seneca Falls where, along with Stanton, held the nation’s first women’s rights convention.