Native Contributions To American Society
“No one has ever really asked where the idea came from when the early suffragettes organized the First Women’s Rights Convention in 1848 at Seneca Falls, New York and demanded the right to vote.”
Keeler states there was a nation right in their community that gave women - and only women – the right to vote. A mere stone’s throw from the Wesleyan Chapel where the conference was being held, women of the Iroquois Nation had been electing leaders for centuries before the White man ever stepped foot on their shores.
The women of Seneca Falls were aware of this practice as in the days before the reservation system Indian and European-American communities were in daily contact with one another. The Seneca was one of the six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.
The well-known abolitionist, Lucretia Mott spent the summer of 1848 with Seneca women in the small community of Cattaragus near Seneca Falls where she saw women reorganize their nation’s government structure. Mott then went to Seneca Falls and inspired Elizabeth Cady Stanton, her close friend, to organize and put on the Convention.
Stanton was impressed with the matrilineal society of the Iroquois Confederacy where Indian women “ruled the home and the right of ownership of property and the descent of children were under the female line”. The Seneca women had rights that did not exist under American law.
Stanton, following the advice of her mentor, read her
”Declaration of Sentiments” which stated that a married woman In the U.S. was deprived of her rights, property, wages she earns, was compelled to promise obedience to her husband and had no rights to her children in the case of divorce.
According to ethnographer, Alice Fletcher Indian women were aware that women’s rights were curtailed under Christianity and American law. She told the 1888 International Council of Women that an Indian woman was free, owned her own home, the work of her hands, that her children would never forget her and that she was better off as an Indian woman than under white law.
Mott and Stanton had paved the way for women’s suffrage. When in 1893, Matilda Joslyn Gates was arrested for the criminal act of trying to vote in a school board election, the Iroquois stepped in to support her and upon her release, adopted her into the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk nation with the Indian name, “Karonienhawi”, Sky Carrier.
“American Indian egalitarian societies not only inspired democracy,’ wrote Keeler, “but also inspired Marx, John Locke, and Rousseau as well as Mott, Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.”