Matilda Electa Josyln Gage (1826-1898)

Matilda Electa Josyln Gage (1826-1898)

As I head into to the final rounds of edits of The Witches of New York, I’ve been thinking of the bits and pieces that will, for lack of a better word, “bookend” the novel. I’ve had the dedication chosen for a little while as well as a list of people I want to thank in the acknowledgements, but I’ve just now settled on two quotes for the epigraph, and started writing my Author’s Note. Not surprisingly, there’s one woman’s name that will appear in both—Matilda Josyln Gage.

Who? 

Born in Cicero, New York in 1826, Matilda grew up in a home that was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Her father, Hezekiah Josyln was an early abolitionist, and Matilda would later say that she was “born with a hatred of oppression.” She would go on to become an abolitionist herself as well as a suffragist and a Native American rights activist.

A colleague of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, she was considered more radical than most of her sister suffragists in the US. She was president of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association and would later found the WNLU (Women’s National Liberal Union.) After years of writing suffragist commentary for various newspapers across America, she became editor and owner of The National Citizen and Ballot Box, a paper that included columns on women’s suffrage, women’ history and female scientists and inventors. Every issue bore the motto, “The Pen is Mightier than the Sword.”

As well as running a paper and raising her family, Matilda was a prolific writer of tracts, essays and books. Her largest work, Women, Church and State, tackled such issues as Native American rights, matriarchy in indigenous cultures, and the history of witchcraft (as related to the oppression of women’s rights.) She was initiated into the Iroquois Wolf Clan and given the name, Karonienhawi, “she who holds the sky.” She was also admitted to the Iroquois council of matrons.

Fun fact: 

In 1993, scientific historian Margaret W. Rossiter coined the term “Matilda Effect” to identify the social situation where women scientists inaccurately receive less credit for their scientific work than an objective examination of their actual efforts would reveal. —from Wikipedia

 

Glinda searches the great Book of Records

Matilda of Oz

I wish I could say that I learned about Matilda Gage as a child in school, but sadly she was never mentioned. I first stumbled across this great woman while researching the ties between spiritualism and the women’s suffrage movement in the U.S. The chapter in her book, Woman, Church and State that’s devoted to the history of witchcraft is an amazing, enlightening call to arms that among her other writings and achievements led Gloria Steinem to call Matilda “the woman who was ahead of the women who were ahead of their time.”

In her own time, she was a mother as well as an activist, and as such, raised her daughter Maud to be an independent-minded young woman. When Maud wished to marry L. Frank Baum, (who was then a travelling actor) Matilda was less than enthusiastic. At the time, Maud was one of a few young women attending Cornell University and had her sights set on becoming a lawyer or a doctor. When Maud insisted she’d marry Baum with or without her mother’s approval, Matilda finally relented and accepted Baum into the family. Over time they got to know one another quite well and her activist leanings (especially when it came to the women’s suffrage movement) became a great influence in L. Frank Baum’s life and work. When he began infusing tales he told to his young sons with strong female characters, Matilda encouraged him to publish the stories. A few years later, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Baum’s many subsequent Oz books were born.

As a child I loved the film version of The Wizard of Oz, but I loved the book and the many other books in the Oz series, more. The Dorothy Gale of the page was more plucky and tomboyish than the Dorothy of the silver screen. Glinda the Good Witch of the South was less glittery and far more wise and regal…she wasn’t there to save Dorothy but to help her see her own true inner strength. (She always reminded me a lot of my mom.) Best of all there was Ozma, a kick-ass girl who would become the rightful ruler of Oz.

Ozma!

Ozma!

In Oz there were wicked witches, but there were good witches too, and Ozma and Dorothy lived in a world where young girls were encouraged to act confidently, embrace their intelligence and engage with the magic that surrounded them. After reading many of Matilda Joslyn Gage’s works I can see her influence on the world of Oz at every turn. Far more inclined to shun conformity and celebrate the true meaning of the word witch, she was a force we’d do well not to forget.

A rebel! How glorious the name sounds when applied to a woman. Oh, rebellious woman, to you the world looks in hope. Upon you has fallen the glorious task of bringing liberty to the earth and all the inhabitants thereof. —Matilda Joslyn Gage

 

Further reading

The Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation

Witches, seances and suffragists, oh my!

Researchers find Disney princesses speak far less than male characters.

An Open Letter to Fanboys who object to Rogue One’s female leads

 

 

 

the Canadian cover of The Witches of New York

ta-da!

I’m thrilled to reveal the cover art for the Knopf Canada edition of The Witches of New York. The wonderful Kelly Hill at Penguin Random House Canada has done a spectacular job with the design and I couldn’t be happier with it! It’s a perfect marriage of history, magic, mystery and the obscure. When we get closer to the publication date (November 1st, 2016) I’ll explain more about the cover’s details, but for now I’ll just say that it holds a few clues and secrets that are tied to the plot. (I can’t tell you how hard it is for me not to spill the beans!)

For now, here’s the official description of the novel from the publisher…

The year is 1880. Two hundred years after the trials in Salem, Adelaide Thom (Moth from The Virgin Cure) has left her life in the sideshow to open a tea shop with another young woman who feels it’s finally safe enough to describe herself as a witch: a former medical student and gardien de sorts (keeper of spells), Eleanor St. Clair. Together they cater to Manhattan’s high society ladies, specializing in cures, palmistry and potions–and in guarding the secrets of their clients. All is well until one bright September afternoon, when an enchanting young woman named Beatrice Dunn arrives at their door seeking employment.
Beatrice soon becomes indispensable as Eleanor’s apprentice, but her new life with the witches is marred by strange occurrences. She sees things no one else can see. She hears voices no one else can hear. Objects appear out of thin air, as if gifts from the dead. Has she been touched by magic or is she simply losing her mind? Eleanor wants to tread lightly and respect the magic manifest in the girl, but Adelaide sees a business opportunity. Working with Dr. Quinn Brody, a talented alienist, she submits Beatrice to a series of tests to see if she truly can talk to spirits. Amidst the witches’ tug-of-war over what’s best for her, Beatrice disappears, leaving them to wonder whether it was by choice or by force.
As Adelaide and Eleanor begin the desperate search for Beatrice, they’re confronted by accusations and spectres from their own pasts. In a time when women were corseted, confined and committed for merely speaking their minds, were any of them safe?

 

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a writer’s desk

Those are a few items on the shelf above my desk…cherished things that’ve kept me company while I worked to finish the book. (The gorgeous raven was painted on silk by my dear friend, Holly Carr.) As I wrapped up the last chapters of my year-long rewrite of The Witches of New York, lyrics from Sondhiem’s “Finishing the Hat” played on repeat through my head.

Finishing the hat,
How you have to finish the hat.
How you watch the rest of the world
From a window
While you finish the hat.

It’s from the musical Sunday in the Park with George, (which is lovely meditation/fantasy about the painter Georges Seurat) and to me, the song’s lyrics brilliantly capture the melancholy nature of making art. In the final stages of writing this novel I had to become more attached to the world of the book than to my life, hold more conversations with my characters than with my loved ones. (I thank my lucky stars every day for the amazing Mr. McKay who makes tea for me and brings bouquets to my witches. *swoon*)

You’d think that finishing the heavy lifting portion of the writing would bring joy, elation, a sense of relief…and it does…but then it doesn’t. As the last sentences got transcribed from my handwritten notes to my laptop, and I got closer and closer to “The End,” I was overcome with feelings so bittersweet they’re hard to describe. It was as if the characters came, one by one, to the front of the stage of my imagination to take their final bows. Who knows if I’ll ever get to keep company with them again. All I know is that for a little while I got to spend a good part of each day communing with three wonderful witches…and I can’t wait for you to meet them.

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“An Evening of Clairvoyance” by Stephen Mackey. (She bears an uncanny resemblance to one of my witches.)

 

People, places and things mentioned in today’s post:

Holly Carr – artist

Stephen Mackey – painter

Penguin Random House Canada

Ian McKay – Creative Technician

 

The golden glow of the Bay.

It’s been a lovely summer here in Nova Scotia, filled with blossoms, bees, visits with friends, and the occasional cat nap. It was also a summer of tearing apart a leggy draft of a novel so I can build a better one.

Now it’s time to settle in for the hopeful, nose-to-the-grindstone stretch of days required to finish the book. I won’t be on social media much (if it all,) the next couple of months, but when I check in later this fall, I should have lots of new to share! Until then, I leave you with a few summery images from around the Bay.

Keep calm and keep bees...

Keep calm and keep bees…

 

cat in a basket.

cat in a basket.

 

early morning lilies

early morning lilies

 

a bird in the hand...

a bird in the hand…

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