9. Frances Dana Gage and Northern Women's Reform Activities in the Nineteenth Century
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If as a woman to take the platform amidst the hissing and scorn, and newspaper vituperations, to maintain the rights of woman to the legitimate use of all the talents God invests her with, to maintain the rights of the slave in the very ears of the masters; to hurl anathemas at intemperance in the very camps of the dram sellers; if to continue for forty years, in spite of all opposing forces, to press the triune cause persistently, consistently, and unflinchingly, entitles me to a humble place among those noble ones who have gone about doing good, you can put me in that place as it suits you. RANCES DANA Gage, wife, mother of eight, public speaker, poet, novelist, and newspaper columnist, wrote these words about her life’s work, the “triune cause” of antislavery, women’s rights, and temperance. When Gage was born in 1808, slavery, although illegal in Ohio, was legal across the Ohio River in Kentucky, throughout the South, and still existed in some northern states such as New York and New Jersey. Even in states where slavery was illegal, free blacks did not have the same rights as whites. Women, black and white, were also second-class citizens. Higher education opportunities for women did not exist, and they were banned from professional occupations such as the law, the ministry, and medicine. Husbands controlled the wages, property, children, and bodies of their wives. Married women were deemed to be “dead” in the eyes of the law. Women could not vote, even single women who paid the same taxes as men. Women did not speak in public before audiences, certainly not mixed-sex audiences, no matter how moral the cause. 9 108 Frances Dana Gage and Northern Women’s Reform Activities in the Nineteenth Century BARBARA A. TERZIAN  F vantne_3rd_chap9.qxd 11/10/2003 3:29 PM Page 108 When Frances became a young adult, the message to middle-class women was that they should remain in their “proper sphere” within the home. The “Cult of Domesticity” taught women to be pious, pure, submissive, and domestic. Men inhabited the public world and were expected to be competitive, rational, secular, and dominant. Women should make their homes a sanctuary for their husbands—a haven from the competitive marketplace of the public sphere. Despite women’s exclusion from electoral politics, historians have found that many women in the nineteenth century, engaged in political activity nonetheless. They did so through organizations they created to generate social reform. Some women, inspired by the Second Great Awakening of the early nineteenth century, engaged in social reform as an extension of their religious beliefs—they had a moral and spiritual responsibility to perfect the world. The temperance movement attracted many women, while others, fewer in number, dedicated themselves to antislavery work or to women’s rights activism. These were not mutually exclusive endeavors, and so some women, 109 FRANCES DANA GAGE FIG. 5 Frances Dana Gage. From Frances Dana Gage, Poems (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1867), frontispiece. vantne_3rd_chap9.qxd 11/10/2003 3:29 PM Page 109 like Frances Dana Gage, devoted themselves to all three causes. Gage’s lifelong commitment to social reform and her talent for using her writing skills to further those causes had their origins in her childhood in southeastern Ohio. Frances Barker was the ninth of ten children born to Joseph Barker and Elizabeth Dana Barker. Her parents came to Ohio in 1789 from New England as part of the settlement sponsored by the Ohio Company . As a descendant of Puritans who had settled in New England in 1638, as the granddaughter of a Revolutionary War veteran, and as the daughter of settlers in what was then the American West, Gage was extremely proud of her “pioneer” ancestry. She was particularly proud of her parents’ accomplishments—her father as a builder, farmer, state legislator, and judge and her mother for raising her children in a frontier community. Frances relished her childhood on a farm where “she had ample opportunity for indulging her love of outdoor life.” She preferred milking the cows, feeding the stock, and gathering garden produce to the “dull monotonies of indoor life.” Although her rural childhood satisfied her love of the outdoors and taught her useful skills, it limited her formal schooling to a few weeks at a time in the local school where she learned “grammar and geography.” She supplemented this through self-education, taking advantage of her father’s library to read and...


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