This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment which granted women the right to vote. When we study the women’s suffrage movement, the focus tends to be on the Seneca Falls Convention and three main activists: Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Matilda Joslyn Gage. However, history rarely discusses the women of the Haudenosaunee women who inspired these three incredible women. Since the creation of the United States of America, men have been the center of attention. They were given the right to vote, create laws, manage money, and had complete control over everything his wife and daughters “owned”. However, not all governmental systems were like this. The Haudenosaunee of New York, also known as the Iroquois Confederacy, was a democracy (possibly the world’s oldest still in existence) which was based on a matriarchal system. Women were not only included in conferences, had ownership of possessions, and could vote on matters, but they also had great authority and could even dismiss clan leaders.
Cady Stanton lived in Seneca, NY and had close contact with members of the Haudenosaunee and saw first-hand a better life for women. These interactions greatly impacted her view on the world, and she wrote many of her impressions of the Haudenosaunee women in the National Bulletin. Mott also spent time discussion politics and women’s roles in government
with these women. Gage admired the equality among men and women of the nation. To these three women, and the rest of the women who follow the very male-centered American cultural system, this way of life probably seems like heaven on Earth. Haudenosaunee women could divorce their husbands with ease and keep all their possessions and children. While in the event of an unlikely divorce, the American woman was left with nothing. American women did not have money, possessions, agency, or control over their physical being. They were little more than child baring objects for men to control. Wedding vows included a statement that the women would “obey” her husband, a statement which Cady Stanton omitted from her vows. Men were allowed to beat their wives, and rape or sexual assault did not exist within a marriage. Among all these problems, there was one overarching issue that needed to be addressed. In order to change or create laws to improve women’s lives, men had to take action. Not only were women forced to rely on men in their daily lives, but they also had to rely on them to better their stations. This was not so for the women of the Haudenosaunee. Clan mothers had the authority to take away male authority and change clan leadership. They were consulted at every conference, treaty meeting, and any other major political event. This female presence often made the American male representatives rather uncomfortable.
It is unfortunate that many of these First Nation women are nameless and not mentioned in history books. This nation had democracy and gender equality before the United States even existed. We as people who live under the US Constitution, owe our democracy to these democracy First Nations and we as women owe our rights and ability to vote to those women who through living their lives, inspired other women to make a change. Other cultures can offer so much information that can change the way someone looks at their own culture. Just like Cady Stanton, Gage, and Mott were inspired by the Haudenosaunee women, we can be inspired by many other cultures from around the world. It is important to consider other ways of life and view them not as an “other” but as something to seek new experiences from. Maybe we live better lives if we take a little outside inspiration.
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Sources: Yes Magazine and http://www.suffragettes2020.com/resources/native-american-and-american-indians