Women Voted in New York — Before Columbus

June 11, 2017 @ 2:00 pm

Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner will speak about the early history of women’s rights.

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 came to these shores.

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 New York State 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 of. Amazingly, despite the assimilation policy of the United States, Haudenosaunee women still maintain much of this authority today.

The 2017 centennial of women’s suffrage in New York State opens the opportunity for us to explore this new yet very old and unknown history of our region. The format of the talk is an informal, story-telling presentation followed by interaction with the audience designed to give you a platform to share knowledge, insights and experiences.

Sally Roesch Wagner is a Professor at Syracuse University and the Director of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Center for Social Justice Dialogue. Awarded one of the first doctorates in the country in women’s studies (UC Santa Cruz) and a founder of one of the first college-level women’s studies programs in the USA (CSU Sacramento) she currently serves as an adjunct faculty member at Syracuse University. A founding Director of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Center for Social Justice Dialogue, and author of articles on historic house museums, and she wrote Ken Burns’ documentary on Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.


The program is free and funded by a grant from Humanities New York.

The Morgan Opera House is handicapped accessible from the north entrance off of Cherry Avenue.