This classic history of woman’s oppression is one of the first attempts to document the sad legacy of injustice and discrimination against women, which is unfortunately inseparable from the history of both Christianity and the evolution of the Western state. Beginning in the pre-Christian era, where she finds more evidence of freedom for women than in subsequent eras, pioneering women’s rights advocate Matilda Joslyn Gage traces the patterns of male domination in both church and state that kept women in virtual bondage. Among the topics of her research is the medieval exaltation of celibacy as an expression of the male belief that women were unclean and the cause of original sin, the gross discrimination against women in canon law, abuse of women in the feudal system, the persecution of women as witches, the virtual slave status of wives and their almost total legal subjugation to their husbands, toleration of polygamy, the debilitating drudgery of woman’s daily work, and the widespread opposition to women’s education by both church and state.
Perhaps the most farseeing and radical of the early feminists, Gage had the vision to realize that society’s fundamental institutions had to be drastically reformed before women would begin to enjoy equal rights. Many of her concerns sound very modern: she deplored the unequal treatment of the prostitute vs. her client, the practice of non-conviction or of pardoning in rape trials, unequal pay, wife battering, the sexual abuse of female children, and many other abuses that only today are being seriously addressed. Originally published in 1893, this work was the fruit of twenty years of research and should be read by everyone who supports equality between men and women.
This new edition is complemented by an introduction by renowned author, lecturer, and historical performer Sally Roesch Wagner, who helped found one of the country’s first programs in women’s studies. She is executive director of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation.