Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sisters in Spirit: The Iroquois Influence on Early American Feminists


A talk by Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner

Onondaga Historical Association
Syracuse, NY; March 8, 2009

A Vision of Social Justice

Jeanne Shenandoah, originally scheduled to participate in this talk, was unable to appear.

From the program compiled by the OHA:

The Onondaga Historical Association will host a collaborative talk between nationally recognized author, lecturer, performance interpreter of women’s rights history, and Executive Director of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation, Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner and Jeanne Shenandoah, a member of the Eel Clan of the Onondaga Nation, and a member of the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force on Sunday, March 8, 2009 at 2:00PM.

This presentation tells the history of the Iroquois Confederacy, whose practice of gender equality inspired the emerging women's rights movement in upstate New York over 100 years ago.

Imagine that women had the right to choose all political representatives and to remove from office anyone who didn't address the wishes and needs of the people. Haudenosaunee (traditional Iroquois) women have had that responsibility - and more - since long before Christopher Columbus came to these shores. Native American women generally had a pre-contact status, which would be the envy of United States women, even today.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage, the two major theoreticians of the early women's rights movement, had direct knowledge of the Haudenosaunee, writing about the superior social, political, religious and economic status of women in the Iroquois nations. Their work for women's rights, Wagner argues, was inspired by the vision they received from the Haudenosaunee of gender balance and harmony.

Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner
is the author of “Sisters in Spirit: The Iroquois Influence on Early American Feminists” for which Jeanne Shenandoah wrote the introduction. There will be a book signing immediately following the discussion.

This event is made possible through the Speakers in the Humanities, a program of the New York Council for the Humanities that creates opportunities for distinguished scholars to present free programs to the general public.

Speaker Biographical Information

Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner

Executive director of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation in Fayetteville, New York, is a nationally recognized lecturer, author and performance interpreter of woman’s rights history. One of the first women to receive a doctorate in the United States for work in women’s studies (UC Santa Cruz), and a founder of one of the country’s first college women’s studies programs, (CSU Sacramento). Dr. Wagner has taught in women’s studies for thirty-nine years. She currently serves as adjunct faculty in the Honors Program at Syracuse University.

Wagner appeared as a “talking head” in the Ken Burns PBS documentary, “Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony” for which she wrote the accompanying faculty guide for PBS. She was also an historian in the PBS special, “One Woman, One Vote” and has been interviewed several times on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” and “Democracy Now.”

The theme of her work has been telling the untold stories. Her monograph, She Who Holds the Sky: Matilda Joslyn Gage, (Sky Carrier Press, 2003), reveals a suffragist written out of history because of her stand against the religious right 100 years ago, while Sisters in Spirit: Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Influence on Early American Feminists (Native Voices, 2001), documents the influence of native women on early women's rights activists.

Jeanne Shenandoah

A member of Eel Clan of the Onondaga Nation, serves as a representative of the Onondaga Nation in Onondaga Lake Environmental Cleanup, is a member of Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force, founding Vice President of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation, and practiced as a homebirth midwife for 28 years.

Shenandoah has focused her work on educating the community about her traditional life as a member of the Eel Clan and bridging between the native and non-native nations and the impact it has had on our community over the past 30 years. In 2002, as a Haudenosaunce woman representing the spiritual tradition of indigenous women, Shenandoah attended The Global Peace Initiative of Women Religious and Spiritual Leaders at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Shenandoah has also shared her personal story in Syracuse Stage’s production, Tales from Salt City. In 2005, she received The Harriet Tubman Humanitarian Achievement Award.