National Citizen and Ballot Box
The National Citizen and Ballot Box was a monthly journal deeply involved in the roots of the American feminist movement. It was owned and edited by Matilda Joslyn Gage, American women’s rights advocate, who helped to lead and publicize the suffrage movement in the United States. Gage bought The Ballot Box, a publication of a Toledo, Ohio suffrage association, in 1878 when its editor, Sarah R.L. Williams, decided to retire. Gage renamed it the National Citizen and Ballot Box, and included her intentions for the paper in a prospectus: “Its especial object will be to secure national protection to women citizens in the exercise of their rights to vote…it will oppose Class Legislation of whatever form…Women of every class, condition, rank and name will find this paper their friend.”
Gage became the National Citizen and Ballot Box’s primary editor for the next three years (until 1881), producing and publishing essays on a wide range of issues. Each edition bore the motto “The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword”, and included regular columns about prominent women in history and female inventors. Gage wrote clearly, logically, and often with a dry wit and a well-honed sense of irony. Writing about laws which allowed a man to will his children to a guardian unrelated to their mother, Gage observed: “It is sometimes better to be a dead man than a live woman.”
Matilda Joslyn Gage, a women’s rights advocate who helped to lead and publicize the suffrage movement in the United States, was born in Cicero, New York, an eastern suburb of Syracuse, in 1826. Raised in an Abolitionist home that was a station on the Underground Railroad she was well-educated and a prolific writer — the most gifted and educated woman of her age, claimed her devoted son-in-law, L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, who had married Gage’s daughter, Maud.
Gage, along with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was a founding member of the National Woman Suffrage Association and served in various offices of that organization for twenty years. She co-authored with Stanton and Anthony the first three volumes of A History of Woman Suffrage. In 1879 The National Citizen and Ballot Box published the early sections of this work, including Stanton’s account of the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls in 1848, of which she was believed to have been the driving force. The newspaper was used prior to printing in book form in order to provide an opportunity for comment.
Gage also worked with Stanton on The Woman’s Bible, and in 1893 she published Woman, Church and State, her most widely known solo publication. In 1880 Gage became the first woman to vote in Fayetteville, New York, her home town, under a newly-passed state law permitting women to vote in school board elections.
Gage was an avid opponent of the various Christian churches, and she strongly supported the separation of church and state, believing “that the greatest injury to the world has arisen from theological laws — from a union of Church and State”. In October 1881 she wrote: “Believing this country to be a political and not a religious organization … the editor of the National Citizen will use all her influence of voice and pen against ‘Sabbath Laws’, the uses of the ‘Bible in School’, and pre-eminently against an amendment which shall introduce ‘God in the Constitution’.”
Gage spent six months of every year with Maud and Frank, and died in the Baum home in Chicago, Illinois in 1898. Though Gage was cremated there is a memorial stone at Fayetteville Cemetery that bears her slogan “There is a word sweeter than Mother, Home or Heaven. That word is Liberty.”