By Sally Roesch Wagner
Stanton, for instance, sat across the dinner table from Oneida women during her frequent visits to her cousin, the radical social activist Gerrit Smith, in Peterboro. Smith's daughter, also named Elizabeth, was first to shed the 20 pounds of clothing that, fashion dictated, should hang from a white woman's waist, dangerously deformed from corseting. The reform costume Elizabeth Smith adopted (named the "Bloomer" after the newspaper editor who popularized it) bore an uncanny resemblance to the loose-fitting tunic and leggings worn by the two Elizabeths' Native American friends.
Gage, appointed by a women's rights convention in the 1850s, worked on a committee with New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley to document the woefully few jobs open to white women. Meanwhile she knew hardy, nearby Onondaga women who farmed corn, beans, and squash--nutritionally balanced and ecologically near-perfect crops called the Three Sisters by the Haudenosaunee (traditional Iroquois).
Lucretia Mott and her husband, James, were members of the Indian committee of the Philadelphia yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends. For years this committee of Quakers befriended the Seneca, setting up a school and model farm at Cattaraugus and helping them save some of their territory from unscrupulous land speculators. In the summer of 1848 Mott spent a month a Cattaraugus witnessing women share in discussion and decision-making as the Seneca nation reorganized their governmental structure. Her feminist vision fired by that experience, Mott traveled that July from the Seneca nation to nearby Seneca Falls, where she and Stanton held the world's first women's rights convention.
Stanton, Gage, and Mott regularly read newspaper accounts of everyday Iroquois activities--a recent condolence ceremony (to mourn a chief's death and to set in place a new one); the latest sports scores (a lacrosse match between the Mohawk and the Onondaga); a Quaker council called to ask Seneca women to leave their fields and work in the home (as the Friends said God commanded but as Mott opposed). Stanton, Gage, and Mott could also read that according to interviews with white teachers at various Indian nations, Indian men did not rape women. Front page stories admonished big-city dandies to learn a thing or two from Indian men's example, so that white women too could walk around any time of the day or night without fear.
For more on the role of Native women, see Ward Churchill's claims about no prejudice among Indians. For more on what Indians inspired, see Indians Gave Us Enlightenment.
Below: Elizabeth Cady Stanton.