Born Criminal

Matilda Joslyn Gage, Radical Suffragist

Born Criminal


$19.95, Hardback
ISBN: 978-1-941813-18-8

"Carpenter’s book is a strong reminder that history is written by the victors. Born Criminal is an inspirational portrait of a woman who never gave up the fight for equality; her message could not be more timely or more necessary."—May Alexice, Foreword Reviews

"This impeccably researched narrative is often lively but also dense with detail, with many photos extending the text. Gage is a forgotten heroine, and those interested in women’s history will appreciate this restoration."—Ilene Cooper, Booklist

"An excellent book about a woman who was an abolitionist, suffragist, freethinker and radical. No wonder she was written out of women's history. I wish I had known about this remarkable woman years ago. I highly recommend this very readable book."—Goodreads reviewer

“All the crimes which I was not guilty of rushed through my mind. I failed to remember that I was a born criminal—a woman.”—Matilda Joslyn Gage

Before 1920, most women in the United States could not vote. They had no voice in who created the laws or who set their taxes, and they were arrested when they did attempt to cast their ballots. In this country, women had the same political rights as criminals, but the only crime they committed was being born female. For this reason, many women fought for suffrage—the right to vote. Born Criminal is about one of the many important people in the early suffrage movement, but you may not have heard of her. She was nearly erased from history.

Her name is Matilda Joslyn Gage (1826–1898), and she believed in liberty for all. Together with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, she founded the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869. She spoke to thousands of people, including presidents and congressmen, about women’s right to vote.

Growing up in a home on the Underground Railroad, Matilda’s early introduction to the movement to abolish slavery made her value all peoples. At the age of twenty-six, Matilda spoke at her first suffrage convention in Syracuse, New York, where over two thousand people packed the city hall. When three of her grown children moved to Dakota Territory, Matilda took the suffrage cause west, traveling from town to town on the frontier, promoting her ideals. At the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1886, she even helped stage a protest. She argued that a woman could not represent liberty in a country where women were not guaranteed the right to vote.

Matilda’s ideas were not always popular. Some suffragists saw her stance on religion and politics as too radical. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony both outlived Matilda Gage and eliminated her from their own histories of the women’s movement. By the time the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States’ Constitution granted women nationwide the right to vote, Matilda Gage was all but forgotten—until now.

In Born Criminal, Angelica Shirley Carpenter details Matilda’s life and recounts her contributions to the woman suffrage movement.

Share your stories of radical and overlooked women by using the hashtags #radicalwomen, #matildaeffect, and #borncriminal, on social media. 

Click here to listen to "In the Moment" host Lori Walsh speak with Angelica Shirley Carpenter talk about Matilda Joslyn Gage and her latest book.


"Although most tweens and teens will be unfamiliar with suffragist Matilda Joslyn Gage, they will breeze through this engaging biography due to the author’s charming writing style. Readers will feel they have gotten to know Gage by the end of the book and will also learn a great deal about the first century of the women’s rights movement in the United States, since Gage was just as involved as the better-known Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Susan B. Anthony. Carpenter, who began her research because Gage was the mother-in-law of Wizard of Oz creator L. Frank Baum, was drawn in by the fascinating story of how Stanton and Anthony basically erased Gage from the movement’s history. There are b&w photos every few pages to add interest, along with maps, extensive source notes, a lengthy bibliography, discussion questions and classroom activities, and an interview with the author. A great biography to add to Women’s History Month resources for middle and high school students, filled with lots of primary source material."—Penny Peck for BayViews

"This title was both an interesting and informative read. I suppose like most women of a certain age, I take my "women's rights" for granted and have never pondered "who" did the work of getting them for us, other than in the most general way. It is mind blowing to me all the work that this woman put in over the course of her lifetime. And then, in essence, she was written out of history because of another person's ego. This book provides insight into an otherwise unknown history. I feel Ms. Gage would have been a very interesting person to talk with, and very strong willed and opinionated. The author brings not only her "women's rights" side of the story, but also her personal side of the story. The book details not only how hard she worked for our freedoms and rights, but also the trials she faced in her family life as well. The information about the professor who actually worked hard to restore Ms. Gage's rightful place in history is also an interesting part of the book. It leads the reader to ponder not only how unfair this is because it was done by women to another woman, but also the question if this person has been overlooked from history, who else who has contributed significantly has been swept aside? Throughout, this book definitely stretches the thoughts and beliefs of the reader."—Librarything reviewer

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