Imagine that women have the right to choose all political representatives, removing from office anyone who doesn’t make wise decisions for the future. Living in a world free from violence against them, women will not allow a man to hold office if he has violated a woman. Economically independent, they have the final say in matters of war and peace and the absolute right to their own bodies.
This is not a dream. Haudenosaunee (traditional Iroquois) women have had this authority – and more -- since long before Christopher Columbus.
While white women were the property of their husbands and considered dead in the law, Haudenosaunee women had more authority and status before Columbus than United States women have today.
Women of the Six Nation Iroquois Confederacy (the Haudenosaunee) had the responsibility for putting in place the male leaders. They had control of their own bodies and were economically independent. Rape and wife beating were rare and dealt with harshly; committing violence against a woman kept a man from becoming Chief in this egalitarian, gender-balanced society.
When women in New York State began to organize for their rights in 1848, they took their cue from the nearby Haudenosaunee communities, where women lived in the world that non-native women dreamed.
Amazingly, despite the assimilation policy of the United States, Haudenosaunee women still maintain much of this authority today.
Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner received one of the first doctorates awarded in the country for work in women's studies and is a founder of one of the nation's first college women's studies programs. An Adjunct Professor in the Syracuse University Honors Program, she has taught and written about women’s history for 50 years. The Executive Director of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation, she edited The Women’s Suffrage Movement anthology for Penguin Classics, (2019). Selected as one of “21 Leaders for the 21st Century” by Women’s E-News in 2015, Dr. Wagner serves on the New York Suffrage Centennial Commission.
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This program was funded in part by Humanities New York with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.