Grandma and Susan B Anthony
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.”
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.
Posted on March 21, 2014, in feminism, sexism, women and tagged Elizabeth Cady Stanton, feminism, Laura Madeline Wiseman, Matilda Fletcher Wiseman, Queen of the Platform, sexism, Susan B Anthony, women, Women's History Month. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.