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The Matilda Joslyn Gage Center

August 26, 2020 4:45 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

The Matilda Joslyn Gage Center honors her life by preserving and maintaining her home where people can learn about her values, her family and her life as a 19th century activist.

Visitors reflect on their own values when exploring Gage’s home in Fayetteville, NY. It is a place that values ideas, not artifacts. Visitors explore the house at their own pace, invited to interact with each room. Rather than focus on artifacts or spaces decorated as they would have been when Gage lived there, the Center concentrates on her ideas and commitments to freedom, justice, and equality.

Matilda Joslyn Gage is an important figure in the story of women’s suffrage in the United States. Gage did not ask for the vote, she criticized the federal government for not protecting women in their right as citizens from a state that made it illegal for women to vote. A staunch abolitionist, Gage offered her home to people escaping slavey. She admired and supported the people of the Haudenosaunee nations where she witnessed the liberties and equal status of Haudenosaunee women. Gage supported their efforts to remain independent nations and their right to self-rule. More radical than her suffragist colleagues Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Gage is referred to as “the woman who was ahead of the women who were ahead of their time.” 

Gage directed the women’s suffrage movement from her home in Central New York and lived there until 1898. In 2002, the house was purchased by Dr. Sally Rosech Wagner who renovated it from a multi-occupant building into a center for dialogue and exchange. 

Center Interpretation

Founded twenty years ago, the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation celebrates and promotes Gage’s legacy, her ideas, writings, and inspiration. The mission of the foundation is to continue to educate people about the goals that Gage had, including equality, not just for women but for all people. 

“As a foundation we want to continue to let people know Matilda’s views and encourage people to think for themselves,” said Melissa Almeyda, Deputy Director of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation. “The biggest thing we want people to take away and to continue to think about is to not accept everything at face value but to gather as much information as they can about a topic, to think through it and then decide how they feel,” said Almeyda. Part of this process includes a different form of interpretation at Gage’s home. Dr. Wagner was determined to create a different kind of museum. “We actually don’t use the term historic home when we talk about ourselves. We are not celebrating Matilda’s items and her life per say, but we are celebrating her ideas and we want people to feel welcomed.”

The Center invites visitors to touch artifacts, sit on furniture, take photographs, and to leave a note for Matilda at her actual desk in the Women’s Rights room. “We don’t hold that this place was so precious because Matilda used it and put it behind a chain and you can’t touch it. We have her actual writing desk where people can sit down and write a note to Matilda on how she’s inspired them. We want there to be a constant interaction and exchange of ideas.” 

The house is divided into eight public rooms: the Ruth Putter Welcome Center, the Women’s Rights  Room, the Family Parlor Oz Room, the Haudenosaunee Room, Local History Room, Underground Railroad Room, Religious Freedom Room, and the Teachers Room. Each room highlights a social justice issue that Gage supported. It is not a historic house museum where rooms are staged to reflect a certain moment in time, but are designed to teach one of Gage’s commitments to freedom, justice, and equality. The Museum includes a whiteboard for visitors to leave their thoughts.

Another important part of the interpretation is not to shy away from uncomfortable history. “We want to make sure that the less attractive stories get out. We don’t hide any of the negatives,” said Almeyda. The Family Parlor Oz Room shares the story of L Frank Baum and his relationship with his Mother in Law Matilda (her youngest daughter Maude married Baum in 1882) and her influence and encouragement to write The Wonderful World of Oz. Despite the spiritual and political female leadership that is illustrated in the book, the Museum also shares the fact that Baum wrote editorials calling for the genicide of native peoples in South Dakota. 

Engaging the Community

“Until recently, we didn’t have a huge interaction with the community,” said Almeyda. “It was strong in the beginning and then faded and now it is starting to come back.” Pre-COVID, this included regular potluck dinners where neighbors and supporters were invited and discussed the future. “We wanted to hear their ideas and for them to take an ownership position in the Center.”

Part of the resurgence in community engagement came from the Center’s willingness to try new things. The relevance of Matilda’s fight for social activism naturally increased in 2020 alongside the current political climate. “As an interactive space, we naturally increased our social activism which is something that we always wanted but never had as much of an opportunity.”

Fayetteville for Black Lives Matter at the Matilda Joslyn Gage Center. Photo by Michelle Gabel

During the recent Black Lives Matter protest, an intern working with Dr. Wagner was inspired by Matilda's views, especially in her 1862 flag presentation speech to the 122nd regiment before they went to fight in the Civil War. Gage said, “until liberty is attained—the broadest, deepest, highest liberty for all–there can be no permanent peace.” In her presentation, Gage opposed President Lincoln who said the war was being fought to preserve the Union. Gage told soldiers they were fighting for an end to slavery and freedom for all citizens.

“This intern believed that Matilda would really support and believe in the Black Lives Matter movement and so she asked us if she could make a sign in support and stand outside the Gage Center,” said Almeyda.

On the first day, the intern stood alone. The Museum contacted supporters and more people arrived the next day. Over the next three weeks, there were regularly between 20 and 40 people protesting. By the end of July, it culminated in a rally of 120 people. “And this was in the suburbs of Fayetteville where it is more conservative and less diverse. It was incredibly gratifying to see that number of people who were willing to come out and support our initiative,” said Almeyda. “It was continuing our ideas of social activism. A lot of the things that Matilda Joslyn Gage believed in are important ideas today.”

Fayetteville for Black Lives Matter at the Matilda Joslyn Gage Center. Photo by Michelle Gabel

Today’s Suffragette

“Matilda is the suffragette that people now can relate to. If you could pick her up from the 1880s and put her down in 2020, she is still talking about the same issues that we’re talking about then,” siad Almeyda. Gage was one of the first to discuss human trafficking, women’s property rights, equal rights for all, and more. “A lot of younger women look back at the early suffragettes and think, ‘yes, they got us the right to vote but that doesn’t apply to me now and they’re from a different world’ but Matilda was different. She was so far ahead of those women that she is with the forward thinkers of today and she is still relevant.”

Where to learn more 


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