Grandma and Susan B Anthony

Queen of the Platform by Laura Madeline Wiseman

Queen of the Platform by Laura Madeline Wiseman

Imagine having a great-great-great-grandmother who fought for “votes for women” alongside Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Poet, Laura Madeline Wiseman’s great-great-great-grandmother, Matilda Fletcher Wiseman did just that.

Collected letters and newspaper clippings inspired a book of poetry that Ms. Wiseman calls, Queen of the Platform.

What prompted Matilda Fletcher Wiseman to join the lecture circuit? Luck, opportunity, the death of her only child, and a need for income. Talent and hope for the future, too.

It’s interesting to see the portrait Matilda Fletcher Wiseman paints of Susan B Anthony in her up-close-and-personal brushes with the icon:

I paused for coffee, wrote missives and then walked

To Madison Square to Apollo Hall to see her possess

 

The platform at twilight. Below the ridges of her throat

A scarlet rose closed her neck line. With a waste cinched

 

By black dress, buttons descended from clavicle to navel.

The applause echoed from hands to balcony, to podium,

 

To her blush as she said, Go where we may in the land.

Her biblical cadence held us suspended in a trance.

She ended, Thank you for making me your standard bearer.

Men leapt atop chairs. Women waived their handkerchiefs.

And here we gain a more personal glimpse of “Aunt Susan”:

Yesterday at a fierce lecture I studied an orator–

The turn of her lips, the sharp part of hair,

The twist of bun, the red shawl, the black dress.

 

Afterward, I joined the women surrounding her

To shake her hand. She caught ours

With her own and held our eyes. I flushed

Crimson as I said what I dared, I want you

To have dinner with me, Aunt Susan.

Ms Anthony accepted and the two strolled to a hotel restaurant, where they sat near crushed velvet curtains and potted ferns. Ms. Fletcher procalimed, “I always have dessert first.”

Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton

With a fingertip, I traced the options,

Meringue pies, tarts, and chocolate “mouse”?

What type of “mouse” do you suppose?

She laughed, calling the waiter over to ask.

Her scarlet shawl slipped from her shoulders.

 

We chose cherries in creme.

But Ms. Fletcher’s life holds other revelations, too. Like seeing that other people’s opinions of us are not The Truth. Observe this sampling of contradictory critiques of the activist’s capabilities:

She is young.

She is an old gal.

 

She is blonde.

She is auburn.

 

She is the best and wittiest in the world.

She is tiresome.

 

The leading mind of her age, among the lecturers of Iowa, Matilda Fletcher is worthy of mention… her reputation will endure…

Though she is a sensible writer and an easy speaker, The sooner she subsides the better it will be for her reputation… she has mistaken her calling.

At other moments she sees that what appear as mountains may be mere hills — to tirelessly explore:

My first real mountains

Were hills, rolling land east

Of the Missouri

As I hiked the hills,

My landscape changed dimensions–

The creek, a bright line,

My legs never tired

To find more sites, people, world

I wanted to go.

That night John whispered,

You could do that, speak on stage.

I said, You read my mind.

Through it all a granddaughter yearns to draw her foremother closer.

A man named a silver mine after you. A man

Called you bifurcated. Many wanted to marry you.

You’re dead, but I’m alive. There is no known photo of you…

You patented a traveling trunk for women. You wrote bills

Passed into law…

You spoke on suffrage, education and civil service. You

Spoke with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony.

Though you’re dead 100 years, I write to you.

 

March is Women’s History Month.

Related Posts on BroadBlogs
Why Do Women Fight Against Their Own Interests?
Who’s Afraid of a Feminist? And Why?
Men, Women not from Mars, Venus

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on March 21, 2014, in feminism, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Great post! Thanks for such an unusual insight into history.

  2. Love how there is a personal view of the icon as a real woman and then Laura’s own depiction of her ancestor— how history and the personal can weave… one narrative into another like an unspooling thread. “The personal is political.”

  3. Reblogged this on Tiffany's Non-Blog and commented:
    Interesting poetic perspective into the life and activities of Susan B. Anthony.

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