Please welcome guest blogger Kristen J. Sollee, founder of Slutist.com and author of Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive. This is part II in a IV series of excerpts from Kristen’s book. Read last week’s post on The Midwife: Bestial Bodies and Reproductive Rights.
Witches, Sluts, Feminists illustration by Coz Conover
“The history of witchcraft is primarily a history of women”
Which Suffragette Is Witch?
Even those with a cursory knowledge of feminism are familiar with the nineteenth-century suffragettes. We know their stern, proper countenances from the pages of grade school textbooks. We know that many began in the anti-slavery movement as abolitionists and were then inspired to begin advocating for women’s rights. But what we don’t often learn is just how witchy they were.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a key organizer of the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, the first convention on the rights of women. Stanton composed the “Declaration of Sentiments”—a feminist manifesto signed by one hundred men and women at Seneca Falls—at a table normally used for séances.
image via Biography.com
Sojourner Truth was born into slavery but escaped to become a renowned abolitionist and women’s rights activist. Although Truth did not take kindly to the term at the time, historian Nell Irvin Painter argues that Truth’s syncretic spiritual practice, which blended West African animistic beliefs, American folk magic, and Dutch Calvinism and Methodism does makes her a witch in the contemporary sense of the word. Long before the dawn of intersectional feminism, Truth’s impassioned “Ain’t I a Woman” speech at the Ohio Women’s Convention in 1851 declared that the fight for women’s rights must take women of color into account.
Matilda Joslyn Gage embraced a reclamation of the divine feminine as her spiritual practice, and is the first known suffragist to reclaim the word “witch.” An abolitionist who purportedly opened up her home as part of the Underground Railroad, Gage was also a dedicated campaigner for women’s rights. In 1893, she wrote Woman, Church and State, a searing indictment of patriarchal religion and the collusion of church and state. In its pages, Gage discusses Christian misogyny as it relates to the European witch trials and humanizes the persecuted witch, while providing inspiration for L. Frank Baum’s characterization of Glinda in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.