Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner

“I grew up in a culturally deprived world.”

Interviewed by Judy Waxman, December 2021

JW:  Sally, I’d like you to introduce yourself, please. What is your full name and where and when were you were born?

SW:  Sally Roesch Wagner and I was born in Aberdeen, South Dakota, on July 11, 1942.

JW:  What was your childhood like? What kinds of things led you to where you wound up?

SW:  25,000 people, almost all white. As far as I knew, the world was white and the world was Protestant. There were a few Jewish people, but there was kind of an exotic quality to that. Everybody looked the same. Everybody believed the same. I grew up in a culturally deprived world and that created a hunger for cultural diversity and different experience that that created. I think it shaped a lot of my life. My father was a banker, but he was German-Russian, and in South Dakota, German-Russians were the second to the lowest in the social environment.

Native people were way far below and invisible at that time. I had one Lakota friend that I did not know was Lakota until well into my adulthood.

My mom was a brilliant, creative woman who was locked into the impossibility of actualizing herself in the 1950’s and suffered as women did during that time. Seeing her caged in that way and seeing the potential that she had when she could escape slightly from it, said to me I will never be that. But my mom had this sense of equality.

Her father was Mayor of Aberdeen for three terms. Socially, not quite up there with the 1% of Aberdeen, but socially prominent. My dad married up. My mom married down socially. She raised me with an egalitarian sense of the worth of human beings without putting price tags on them, which was an incredible gift. I didn’t realize it at the time. One memory I have, picking up the phone and the sound on the other end of the phone was [sound of raspberries] and I handed the phone to my mom saying, I don’t know what this is.

It was one of apparently many calls that came because of my mother’s involvement with the PTA – she probably was President, she was President of everything. She and a few other women had found out and exposed that the Superintendent was embezzling funds. And my mom came under some threats over the phone. There are these kinds of implicit threats if they didn’t back down. And apparently sometimes the threats were explicit. Now that said, my parents were high up in the Republican Party. I met Richard Nixon when I was in junior high and felt really excited about that. My mom was president of the State Republican Women.

But my dad, I remember having nightmares where my dad was being chased by Communists. And the worst nightmare was when he would turn around and join the Communists and walk off with them. Communists wore trench coats and fedoras down over their faces. There were TV shows at the time, I Led Three Lives and that sort of thing. What I realized after years of therapy never produced anything was that my father was saying things like Communism is just another economic form and in fact, it seems to be the best form for developing nations.

Now this is a Republican banker in South Dakota, and Karl Mundt was a close friend of my parents. Karl Mundt was a right-hand man to Joseph McCarthy. My father would say things like that, and my mother would weep and wail. My mother was pretty dramatically inclined, and she would say, “Fred, they’re going to put you in jail. Fred, you can’t say things like that.” And I thought, my mom’s crazy as batshit. Well, my mother was following what was going on with the McCarthy hearings and fearful for what would happen to my dad. Those things impacted me. Those are a few of the things.

JW:  When did you learn about the women’s movement?

SW:  I got pregnant right out of high school and had to get married. When we went to the doctor for the pregnancy test, my mother asked the doctor if he would give me an abortion. I remember being horrified because my mother had never talked to me about that. There had never been a conversation. I felt disempowered. The doctor was horrified. How could she even suggest that? Boy, what a different world. I had to get married. This was 1960. So right out of high school, pregnant, 17 years old, got pregnant, 18, gave birth for the first time, had another child two years later and then was divorced by 1965.

Nobody in my family had gotten divorced. My mother was very unhappy in her marriage. At one point thought about leaving, but never could. It was a haul. You do not divorce. The worst thing you can do is put yourself first. Think about the children. The children need a father, the children are in a broken family. All of that just sounds so passé. But at the time, that was the ruling ideology. For me to do that selfish act of saying I’m putting myself first, was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. After that, everything that I’ve done has been progressively easier and easier.

There were just moments where I was allowed into a different world and I was hungry. I was going to school while I was pregnant. I was actually supposed to go to Mills College, which was a girl’s school at the time, then got pregnant. So I ended up going to California State University, Sacramento, where my husband lived. We lived with his parents, then managed an apartment. But it’s like the world opened. I didn’t know about the Holocaust, learned about it in college. I didn’t know about the internment camps, learned about it in college.

I didn’t know about socialism, took a class in economics and realized, oh, my God, I’m a socialist, and my husband was a raging capitalist, and the differences just became greater and greater. He died a couple of years ago, a total Trump supporter, an alcoholic and a non-viable parent, almost from the get go. Here’s the moment of transformation. I’m divorced. I’ve gone from the middle-class housewife lifestyle to welfare, and at that point [it] was a much kinder, gentler world, and it allowed me to go to college.

A “me” could not exist today, would not come around, because of the differences. I was attending the largest tuition free higher education system in the world. The whole California higher education system was tuition free at this time. Today, my grandkids couldn’t afford four years at the University system. I was a single mom on welfare, on work study, working on the campus, taking classes and raising two kids.

Once they got the flu or something. They were sick and they’re throwing up and I’m up with them all night for days and finally get them to the doctor. They get medication. I come home, I’m exhausted. I turn on the TV set, and there is a North Vietnamese mother holding her napalmed baby. And I thought, that baby will be dead by morning, and my children are okay. My government is doing that. My money is paying to murder that baby.

I joined Another Mother For Peace, and that led ultimately to anti-imperialism involvement. I fell into leadership positions, whatever I was doing. My involvement in the anti-war movement began very early. I was still living in the suburbs, raising these kids, going to college. And then my job was to plan events for the honors program, having discussions, bringing in speakers, that sort of thing. I read Betty Friedan’s book, and I did a discussion of it, through the Honors program, which is where I was working.

I planned this event, and I was totally blindsided by the male faculty and their reaction to it. And so were the women in the room. Out of that, we formed what became a consciousness raising group. These things just sprang up organically. I don’t know that we even knew other women were doing this. But in those groups, we developed our voices. We began to speak truth to each other, that we had never talked about. The stuff we felt so ashamed about. We thought it was our own individual problem.

I remember radical psychiatry. I think it was Judith Brown who came up with the phrase, “We women are not fucked up. We are fucked over.” It was the beginning of the institutional analysis that it’s systems that we have to change. One thing led to another. Cambodia and Kent State, we occupied the campus when Governor Reagan shut it down. We set up Strike City and we lived on campus. We started alternative education. We started these classes where we taught them. We would say, I want to teach this class. That was the initial Introduction to the Women’s Movement class; Billie Warden and I developed and co-taught it through alternative education in 1971.

I was a Psych major and before that in 1970, Jeannie Knofle and I proposed a class on Women In Psychology. We deconstructed Freud. Oh, man, did we deconstruct Freud. We had no word for deconstruct, but, man, we tore him to shit. The proposal went to the Psychology Department, and the Freudian in the Department literally had a hissy fit. He apparently went dancing around. He got up out of his chair and he was so angry and so upset he was dancing around the room in his fury. The Department said, “Oh, no, of course we can’t offer that class.”

Well, John Dolittle, who was a full professor, sat there thinking that would be kind of an interesting class and he offered it and Jeannie Knofle and I taught it. He came into class the first day and said, here’s your class and walked out the door and we taught the class. That male ally was significant. We had the detractors, but we need to remember those men who really stepped up, and John Doolittle was one. I had tea with him a couple of years ago, and he just remembered with delight having done that, not thinking it was anything that important. But he really enjoyed doing it.

JW:  That was the beginning of you teaching women’s classes on women’s issues.

SW:  I think it was the Women In Psychology class in 1970. Then in 1971 was the Introduction to the Women’s Movement. Incidentally, this is the 50th anniversary this year of the women’s studies program at California State University, Sacramento. We recently had a Zoom celebration of it. We had the first minor in women’s studies in the country.

Then I fell in love with a dead woman, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and my life changed. I was finishing up my master’s in Psych, and one of my friends, a colleague, was doing research on the South Dakota suffrage campaign in 1890. It was an important suffrage campaign.

She came across the name Matilda Gage in connection with Aberdeen, and she said, there’s an important suffragist whose got some connection with your hometown. I said, “My God, my mom has a friend named Matilda Gage.” I called my mom and I said, “What’s the deal? Matilda is not that old, is she?” My mom said, “Oh, no, that was her grandmother. She was this important suffragist that worked with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.” And my mom goes on and on. I said, “How the heck do you know all this?”

“Well, Matilda and I did a skit”, she said, “for the Dakota Territorial Pioneers, and I played Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda played her grandmother and we got dressed up and did this sort of play.” And I said, “Well, how come you never told me about her?” There was a long pause on the phone and my mom said, “I don’t know. I guess you never asked.” That summer, I asked my mom to set up a meeting for me with Matilda when I went back to South Dakota. I hated women’s history, quite honestly. It was like this boring 72 years of women asking, “Please give us the vote. Please give us the vote.” That was the level of women’s history at that time.

We were not asking for anything, we were on the streets, we were demanding. We were kick-ass women, radical feminists, demanding an end to patriarchy, even though we didn’t have that word. I thought, well, maybe Matilda has a cool story, because I always felt like I needed to include history, but I would bring somebody else in to do the lecture. But if I could get a cool story, that’d be fun to share with my students. So I went on a hot July afternoon. I had to drive an hour from our family lake cottage into Aberdeen, and it was hot. I didn’t have air conditioning in my VW van, and I almost didn’t go. It’s like, “Oh, God, I don’t know.” Well, I walked into her house and she had her grandma’s furniture and photos and all this stuff I didn’t care about.

Give me a story. She took me into her dining room, and she had brought out her grandmother’s papers, and she had hundreds of documents, letters, photo albums, published manuscripts, unpublished manuscripts. And it was like, wow, this is cool. I opened up these letters that no one had read in over 100 years. They’d been sitting in her garage attic and one of the first ones, and I could read Gage’s handwriting, which was amazing because her handwriting is awful.

One of the first letters was something like, Mrs. Stanton is the Benedict Arnold of our movement. She is nothing compared to Susan B, who has destroyed our movement. I was hooked. This is a different story. My first thought was, oh, well, maybe she’s just some malcontent. But what I started realizing was that, no, she was equally important with Stanton and Anthony in the National Women’s Suffrage Association. What the hell is going on? And that became my life’s work.

JW:  And what was going on?

SW:  What was going on was that Susan B. Anthony had destroyed the movement, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the Benedict Arnold. Stanton and Gage, increasingly in the 1880’s came to think that they had to fight the Church. They had to fight the religious – boy on a day like today, is religion the enemy of women, the number one enemy of women? Organized conservative Christianity was the enemy, and Stanton and Gage were going to go after it. Anthony wanted the vote. It was like we got to just get the vote, that’s all. We get the vote, then we’ll deal with everything else. She didn’t even want there to be any changes.

She destroyed the legislative committee, which was doing all kinds of good work. Well, this is after the merger. She and Lucy Stone worked on a merger between the conservative American Woman Suffrage and the progressive National Woman Suffrage associations. It really was a takeover of the American. It brought in the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, which wanted to get the vote to create a Christian nation, put God in the Constitution, prayer in the public schools. Jesus Christ as the head of the government.

Gage said, “If we lose religious freedom, it doesn’t matter who votes…That is the big danger of the hour.” Frances Willard was the President of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Gage said she’s the most dangerous woman in America. She’s charismatic. She has a following that’s ten times as large as the suffrage movement. And she wants to destroy the wall of separation between Church and State. If Gage would have won, we might not be facing what we’re facing today.

Benedict Arnold and the movement – what happened was that Anthony effects this merger, and she moves the organization in the direction of working for the vote only and dropped all the other issues. By the time we get the vote, we don’t even remember what we were fighting for. All those other issues and everything had been erased.

Stanton and Gage were talking about the sacred rights of the unborn and what they meant by that was the most sacred right of all is the right to be wanted and chosen and welcomed into the world. The only way you can ensure that is if a woman is the only one who makes that decision. That was their reproductive rights argument at the time of Anthony Comstock, when all those reproductive rights laws were… Jesus, we’ve only had reproductive freedom since 1965 with the Griswold versus Connecticut Supreme Court case.

We had this small window beginning in 1965 and up to 1973, and now boom, it’s gone out the window. That is where my anger comes from, is that I hold these founding mothers accountable for making these decisions. They are very much alive to me. I have more in common with dead women that I do with live women.

JW:  I want to hear about your move to Syracuse and your accomplishments.

SW:  I went back to graduate school to learn how to speak to the dead and I fell in love with this dead woman. I got my PhD in History of Consciousness with my specialty in Women’s Studies. There were two of us, Karen Ryan and I; and one time over beer while commiserating about what we were doing, one of us said, do you think we are the first to do this work in women’s studies at the doctoral level? There were no Ph.D. programs in the country at the time (this was 1976). So we contacted the National Women’s Studies Association and they said “as far as we know you are the first two to receive doctorates for work in women’s studies.”

I went back to Sacramento. We were doing such progressive stuff and the administration hated us from the get-go and tried to get rid of us. I’m back and I’m a popular faculty member and they made my life miserable. They actually hired a conservative woman to chair the women’s studies program to take it over. At one point we got into a screaming fight, and she said, “Why do you think they gave me three extra units? They did it to get rid of you.”

I represented the old connection with the women’s movement, and women’s studies was getting sucked into the academy which we knew was going to happen. I knew it was time to leave. I applied to different programs and was hired at Mankato State in Minnesota. It was a little tiny community with the largest women’s studies program in the country.

This would have been in the early ’80s, and they had three full-time faculty in women’s studies. Women’s studies programs around the country at that point were faculty from other departments teaching women’s studies classes. But this was actually the largest women’s studies program in the country. The Dean absolutely loved me. I finally became the chair of the department, and the Dean loved what we were doing. I had five research assistants at one point, was going way over the budget, which the Dean was encouraging me to do, so that then the next year, I could ask for more money, and we were kicking butt.

We created a graduate program for activists. What was happening was that the rape crisis centers and the battered women’s shelters were having to become documented and sanctioned by the State. That meant that they had to have directors that had some academic training. We looked at that and thought, okay, the academic training we want them to get is understanding that rape crisis centers are band-aid measures. What we have to do is end rape. We have to end battering. We need people to understand that these band-aid measures need to have behind them the push to end the institution of rape and the institution of wife beating.

We created this graduate program, which I feel proud of. Then, I became more and more disillusioned with the University. I was the only female chair. I would sit in these meetings of the Arts and Sciences faculty chairs, and I’m looking around at these guys, and I’m thinking, damn, I would not party with a single one of these guys. My colleagues are, in my estimation, a bunch of assholes. There was one ally, the head of African American Studies. But the rest of these are all white guys and they were really from the old school.

So, I got a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship to study why Matilda Joslyn Gage got such a transformational vision. She didn’t go to equality; she went to ending patriarchy. “We’re in the midst of a revolution,” she writes. “The result will be the end of every existing institution. The result will be a transformed world.” Where did this come from? And that’s when I made the connection with her. She’s talking about her vision. The way she saw beyond equality was seeing a world in balance and harmony.

She saw her nearby neighbors, the Iroquois Confederacy and she ends up getting honorarily adopted into the Wolf clan of the Mohawk nation, which is recognized today. And that became a whole other work that I’ve done, the Indigenous influence on the women’s rights movement. I’m proud to say that I’m the only non-Native woman who has done that work; I brought that into the world. In 2020, that was not marginalized. That became an important part of the rethinking of the history of the suffrage movement.

Then I was Distinguished Visiting Professor at Syracuse University in 1997, and I drove by the Gage house all the time. And one day I drove by and there was an original door that was out on the sidewalk to be picked up as garbage. And I thought the house needed painting. It was rental property and you don’t take good care of rental property or put a lot of money into it. I found out it was a school teacher who had bought it for an investment. She had no idea what the house was.

I started thinking that house needs to be a public space and I had meetings with people trying to get them interested. I had no intention of doing it, but I thought, somebody needs to do this. Somebody in the Syracuse community. It ended up, it had to be me. I had moved back to South Dakota. I resigned a tenure track position. I decided I wanted to join the world of free thought. I became an independent scholar. I was touring, performing as Matilda Joslyn Gage and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and doing book signings and loving the life of traveling around, became a humanities scholar with a number of the humanities programs around the country and really became a public scholar, which I loved much more than chairing a department.

I was free in that way to be able to move where I wanted. And 1998 was the 75th anniversary of the 1848 Seneca Falls women’s rights convention. I was a scholar in residence there. I did a Gage exhibit and a Haudenosaunee influence on the Women’s Rights Movement exhibit and did a whole lot of media work and again pushing for the Gage house to become public. Finally, by 1999, it became clear if it was going to happen, I’d have to do it. I sold my five-bedroom house in South Dakota. I had moved back to Aberdeen to take care of my dad after my mom was killed in a car accident and my dad had Alzheimer’s. I moved back to take care of him.

He passed, and I told the owner of the Gage house, let me know when an apartment comes free. It was three apartments, and in the fall of 1999, she said, if you want to move here, there’s an apartment vacant. I moved from a five-bedroom house, pulled my U-Haul containing mostly just my research materials because I didn’t think I’d stay very long – I’d just get this thing started. And [I] moved into a one-bedroom apartment in the Gage house and started holding meetings, meeting the neighbors, inviting people in and talking about Gage.

The smartest thing I did was to realize how dumb I was. I had never sat on a board. I had no idea how nonprofits work, but I knew that I had to form a nonprofit in order to create the house as a public house. So quick study, I surrounded myself with people who could be the smarts to make it happen. We incorporated in 2000 and got our 501(c)(3) nonprofit designation in 2001. I wanted to have us get really clear on what our mission was, because one of the things I learned was mission drift is a problem, that if you don’t know what you’re about, you just go after this grant or that grant. You don’t have any focus.

The board spent a year figuring out who we were, and then applied for the 501(c)(3). I could not ask for money. I mean, how do you do such a thing? But you learn when you have to. And I raised a million dollars to purchase and restore the house. And in 2010, we opened as the Matilda Joslyn Gage Center for Social Justice Dialogue. We broke every rule of museums. That was the goal. Quite honestly, I hated historic houses.

It was like you visit a Robber Baron house, and you learn: here’s where they went to the bathroom, here’s where they went to bed, here’s where they ate. Historic houses in my experience were tributes to capitalism. They were emulating the rich and the famous. It was like, jeez, that’s not what we’re going to do. I proposed to the Board that each of the rooms in the house be a community room, and it be focused on one of Gage’s social justice issues. And that the community of interest own that room or feel an ownership in that room.

The first room in the house is the Haudenosaunee, and the Haudenosaunee feel ownership in that room. We did not hire a professional consultant. We hired an activist from the Onondaga Nation as the consultant in that. We did that with all the rooms. The Underground Railroad room, two African American activists. It was like breaking all the rules. We had a museum committee made up of museum professionals. They resigned in protest over this idea and now we’re written up in museum studies textbooks because we were on the cutting edge of the new relevant, interactive, the new world of the historic home.

We’re still going. We’re actually stronger now than we’ve ever been. We walk the talk. Summer of 2020, after the George Floyd murder, we had 14 days of Black Lives Matter demonstrations in front of the Gage house. And if you think about it, we are in a lily-white community. It’s back to Aberdeen, South Dakota. Fayetteville New York: it’s Republican. It’s conservative. It’s white. And it was volunteers who came up with this. It was like the ownership of that house is a community ownership of progressive people.

They understand that the house is a vehicle for them to do what they need to do. A volunteer said, I want to stand in front with a Black Lives Matter sign. Do it – wonderful. Within a week, she had 50 people with her. It drew the progressive community from Fayetteville who never had a voice. 14 days. Then two African American women, young women in the community took over leadership. And they did two rallies at the Gage home, outside. All this had to be outside, social distance. And I had nothing to do with it. It was wonderful. It’s like I’m just the cheerleader saying, do it, do it.

We did the museum world’s first dialogue on reproductive justice and we just got a grant to redo that now. We’ll bring it up to date with what’s going on. We’ll do it this spring, and we’ll create a model for museums.

JW:  Speaking of reproductive justice, I did want to dig a little deeper on what you said about the founding mothers and their view on abortion. I’m sure you know about the Susan B. Anthony group, and they claim that she was anti-choice. I’d love for you to talk about that a little.

SW:  I call bullshit on that. As does every responsible scholar. There is one letter in which she vaguely refers to the possibility that I think a sister-in-law may have had an abortion and that’s it. I’m going to tell you something that I really want to say so that it becomes part of the history. When we were ready to buy the Gage house, I was really afraid of it going on the market because Feminists for Life are in Rochester, which is an hour and a half away, that’s the anti-choice organization that’s doing all this fake history. And I was worried they would buy the Gage house or try to buy it out from under us. They try to claim Gage was anti-abortion.

The house never went on the market. We did it all just working in friendship with the woman who owned it. She sold it to us for fair market value. She could have asked the moon for it, but she was on board and we bought the house. How many years later it was like, am I crazy? But I’m worried about this. I don’t know how many years later it was, maybe 20 years later. Susan B. Anthony’s birthplace in Massachusetts went up for sale. You know who bought it? Feminists for Life. And they turned it into their anti-choice headquarters, where they do that fake knowledge, that fake news.

JW:  You are saying they’ve pretty much taken this one letter and decided this was the way to market themselves.

SW:  And I’ve published in my woman’s suffrage anthology. I’m proud of this – Penguin Classics. I teach the class on the women’s suffrage movement at SU. I got this email in 2018 and it was from an editor at Penguin. She said, what do you use for your class as a textbook? If you don’t have something you like, what would you like to see? Oh, boy, did she hit a note. Because I never had found a book. I said, “First of all, I want something that doesn’t begin with white women.” It begins with the Haudenosaunee. It begins with the Indigenous women who had authority and political voice and equality long before white people stumbled up here. That’s where I want the story to start. And I want it to really call out the racism of the movement.

This was not expediency. They played to white supremacy, and it was policy. They said, give women the vote because it’s a way to maintain white supremacy. There are more white women than there are Negroes and immigrants. Wink, wink, dog whistle. It’s a way to maintain white, native-born supremacy. That was their policy. It’s in print. I want it not just to be about the vote, because they raised every single issue.

I sent off this email thinking, Penguin Classics would never print anything like that. They do Shakespeare. I get this note back saying that’s exactly what we want. Will you do it? And it was like, whoa, somebody should do it. I had to really think long and hard about whether I would be able to. But anyway, I feel really proud of it. Gloria Steinem did the forward to it.

In this book, for example, is a suicide note that was written in 1902. It was a woman who was facing the judge the next day under the Comstock Act for writing a birth control manual. Comstock had said he was going to throw the book at her. She’d be in prison for years, and when she came out, he was going to re-arrest her for her second book. She killed herself the night before, and she left a suicide note calling for us to remember the need for reproductive justice. First time it’s been published.

JW:  As we come to the end of the interview, do you have any final words?

SW:  I would be hard pressed to find a single part of my life that has not been transformed by the woman’s movement. The thing for me that’s most important and that I write and teach about is to understand it as a movement, that the current wave of academic feminists is saying that the 60’s group that we were part of was racist. Now that static, stupid analysis really pisses me off.

Were we racist? Of course. I’m a recovering racist. It’s like you acknowledge it, you recognize it, and then you work against it. And that’s exactly what happened with the woman’s movement. But to discredit all the women of color that were there from the beginning is first of all, beyond a disservice. Gloria never would speak without Flo Kennedy. We brought Gloria and Flo to speak in Sacramento in 1970. The other thing is, in a movement, you constantly are perfecting. You confront the different, and now we have the word intersectional.

We understood that in 1969, at least. We were teaching that in women’s studies by ’71. The different levels of oppression, the different forms of oppression and not levels. Because really, it wasn’t. You don’t put one against the other. But it was like you recognize and acknowledge that there are different forms of oppression and that you can be an oppressor in one dimension, and you can be oppressed in another. The complexity of that was understood very early by radical feminists and to discredit our knowledge, to discredit the contributions that we made in terms of race, in terms of class, in terms of the LGBTQ movement which grew out of the woman’s movement in many ways.

I have a whole series of photos where we were doing gender-fuck. These are from the middle to late 70’s, and it was me and a gay friend and we transformed our bodies from totally female to totally male. There’s a photo circulating somewhere. It actually won a prize somewhere. I can’t find the original of it, but it’s me with hair on my chest and a penis, and it’s in the naked Maja pose. And then my friend has two penises.

It’s like we were challenging gender as a construct in the 70’s. The transgender movement grew organically out of our work. I think the thing I feel really passionate about is when I was arrested as Matilda Joslyn Gage at the Seneca Women’s Peace encampment, as a birthing gift for my grandson in 1984. I remember being handcuffed. I was dressed as Matilda Joslyn Gage and I had to do civil disobedience alone because I was just there for a day and nobody else was ready to do it.

I spent a couple of hours in a holding facility by myself, handcuffed, standing, because there was no place to sit, and it was mildly discomforting. You have your hands behind your back for a couple of hours, tied up. It’s a little uncomfortable. I had the kind of fear of what’s going to happen to me here. There’s nobody around. I don’t have any support, and I’m vulnerable. But I remember at one point thinking that my right hand behind my back was reaching back to Matilda Joslyn Gage, and my left hand behind my back was reaching forward to my grandson Michael, and that I was simply the conduit in this historic moment between the two of them. I understood who I was, and I understood my work in that moment with the clarity that I have never had before or since.