The prominent female leaders of the Women’s Suffrage Movement—Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage and Lucretia Mott—were friends and neighbors of Native Americans in western New York State. Stanton, Gage and Mott followed everyday Native activities in western New York. Knowledge gained through their interaction led these women to form the Women’s Suffrage Movement.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton visited Oneida women with cousin and social activist Gerrit Smith. His daughter Elizabeth was the first to stop dressing in constraining and distorting undergarments and the layers of clothing as American society dictated. The clothes she were very similar to that of traditional Haudenosaunee women.
Matilda Joslyn Gage had Onondagas as neighbors. In 1875 Gage wrote articles for the New York Evening Post on the Iroquois, stressing equality of women. In 1893 she wrote “Women, Church and State,” quoting from Schoolcraft and other ethnologists of Native American culture. She compared and contrasted the treatment of women in American society and Native American society, especially the Haudenosaunee. She thought the Native Americans should be the inspiration for women in suffrage movement.
Lucretia Mott and husband James were members of the Indian committee of the Philadelphia yearly meeting of the Society of Friends. For many years they worked with Senecas to set up school and farm and save territory from land speculators. In 1848 Mott spent a month as a witness to the reorganization of the Seneca government and to the Seneca women’s participation. That July she and Stanton held the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York.
Alice Fletcher was the first anthropologist to live with Native Americans. In the Fall of 1881, she traveled out to stay with them in the Dakota Territory. Her experience prompted her to speak and compare the rights of Native women and American women at the 1888 International Council of Women. Unfortunately she did not believe that Native Americans as a group had equal rights and that they could not survive if they retained their own culture and influenced the infamous Native American boarding schools that continued into the 1970s.