An Interview with Sue Boland, Docent at the Gage House, Maud Baum’s family home.

Sue, I’m so delighted you could join me today. I loved meeting you earlier this year and I’m excited to share your stories with my readers! Can you start by telling us a little bit about the Gage house museum.

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The Gage House. Did you know that in the original book by L. Frank Baum, the famous slippers were silver?

-Courtesy of Sue Boland

The Gage Home is many different things, all centering around the life and work of Matilda Joslyn Gage and the themes of equality and freedom.  We start a tour by describing how Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) women who lived in Upstate New York had more gender equality in their traditional society and inspired the suffragists to work for their rights.

Matilda Joslyn Gage and her husband Henry Gage were abolitionists and helped people escaping slavery by offering this stately Greek Revival house, built in 1854, as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Of course, the woman suffrage movement for full voting and civil rights is also explained, as well as Matilda Joslyn Gage’s role as a top suffrage leader alongside Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who often stayed at the home.  

The Baum Family Parlor gives us a glimpse of how the room looked when Gage’s daughter Maud married L. Frank Baum in that very room in 1882, and the many months that Baum stayed in the house, learning from his mother-in-law.  Perhaps the Gage Home is one of the places where Grandmother Gage heard Frank telling stories about a wizard in a land called Oz and said, “Frank, you must write those stories down!”

The final room on the tour explores freedom from religion, or separation of church and state, the cause to which Matilda Joslyn Gage devoted the final years of her life. A short stroll leads to the Fayetteville Cemetery where Gage is buried. The neighborhood is filled with buildings from the mid-to-late 1800s, allowing visitors to walk in the footsteps of the Gages and Baums across the village.  Maud and Frank placed a large stone on her mother’s grave with Gage’s motto carved on it:  There is a word sweeter than mother, home or heaven; that word is liberty.

Matilda-Joslyn-Gage-grave

What made you become interested in women’s history and in this time and place?

A dog named Sasha!  She was owned by the historian Sally Roesch Wagner, and a lovely picture of them was featured in the Syracuse newspaper in 1999 when Dr. Wagner moved into the Gage Home (at the time, it was rental property). Like most Toto fans, I’ve always had a soft spot for dogs!  Wagner started the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation and was instrumental in writing Gage back into history.  Watching and listening to Wagner perform as Gage or host teas in Gage’s parlor was a revelation–not only in how important this hidden history was in the past, but how relevant it still is in the present!  So when my youngest child was old enough, I started volunteering, learning about Gage, and petting Sasha. 

How did Frank Baum really feel about his mother-in-law, Matilda? Did they really get along?

Oh, yes!  Even though they had different personalities, I think Frank and Matilda bonded during some tough times early in Frank and Maud’s marriage.  When they met in 1881, Maud’s father Henry’s health was starting to fail and the Gages had severe money problems from closing his dry goods store.  Maud and Frank helped Matilda care for Henry until his death in September of 1884, and then Matilda assisted Maud when Frank was ill in 1885.  On Feb. 7, 1886, Maud survived the difficult birth of their second son, but almost died from peritonitis, needing total care for many months at her mother’s home. Life and death often bring people close together.

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Matilda Joslyn Gage: This is the favorite photograph of Sally Roesch Wagner, founder of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Home Museum

Thank you so much for joining me today! I have found so many new friends among the people who love Matilda, Maud, and Frank as much as I do, and I learn new things every single day from scholars who know the history so well. I’m so glad you could join me here today.

To find out more about the Matilda Joslyn Gage Home click here.

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Sue Boland and Elizabeth Letts at the Oconomowoc Library palling around with Dorothy and Toto!

Sue Boland is a woman suffrage historian, specializing in 19th century suffrage leader Matilda Joslyn Gage, who worked closely with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  She serves as Local Historian for the Matilda Joslyn Gage Center for Social Justice Dialogue in Fayetteville, New York. She is fortunate to have been mentored since 1998 by the Gage Center’s founding director and world’s authority on Gage, Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner.  Sue’s latest work is “The Power of Women: Matilda Joslyn Gage and the New York Women’s Vote of 1880,” published in New York History Journal of October 2019 and available digitally on Project Muse or in print from Cornell University Press.

Like millions of children (and adults) across the U.S., Sue eagerly anticipated the showing of “The Wizard of Oz” each year on TV while growing up, so she was thrilled to find out that L. Frank Baum had married Matilda Joslyn Gage’s daughter Maud in the parlor of the Gage Home, and that the 1854 Greek Revival is the only house where Baum spent time that is open to the public.

She was honored to catalogue the Fred Meyer Collection of Oz Memorabilia at the Gage Center.  She has led walking tours of Fayetteville as Gage and Baum knew it and created the first driving tour of Baum sites throughout Central New York for the International Wizard of Oz Club when their national convention was held in Fayetteville.  She also curated the first ever exhibit of L. Frank Baum photographs at the Fayetteville Free Library.

Sue has welcomed hundreds of visitors to the Gage Home, explaining Gage’s feminist influence on Baum, as well as the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) influence on the suffrage movement, and Gage’s work in the antislavery and Freethought movements. After years of researching and writing about Gage, and doing just about every job needed at a museum, Sue went back to school and received a Master’s of Public History from the University at Albany in 2017.  Her biography of Gage was published in 2008 by the Dictionary of Literary Biography:  American Radical and Reform Writers, 2nd Series, published by Gale/Cengage Learning.  Sue has also researched and written for three of the Gage Center’s Reader Series booklets:  Woman As Inventor; The Dangers of the Hour; and Fayetteville’s First Woman Voter.  She has presented at several academic conferences and recently wrote biographies of Kate Stoneman and Martha Wright for a woman suffrage database on the academic website “Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000,” published by Alexander Street Press.

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