Frances Dana Gage

Feminist and Abolitionist Lecturer

Frances Dana Barker Gage
Frances Dana Barker Gage. Kean Collection / Getty Images

Known for: lecturer and writer for women’s rights, abolition, rights and welfare of former slaves

Dates: October 12, 1808 – November 10, 1884

Frances Dana Gage Biography

Frances Gage grew up in an Ohio farm family. Her father had been one of the original settlers of Marietta, Ohio. Her mother was from a Massachusetts family, and her mother had also moved nearby.  Frances, her mother and maternal grandmother all actively helped escaping slaves.

Frances in her later years wrote of going in a canoe with food for those in hiding.  She also developed an impatience and longing for women’s equal treatment in her childhood.

In 1929, at twenty, she married James Gage, and they raised 8 children.  James Gage, a Universalist in religion and abolitionist as well, supported Frances in her many ventures during their marriage. Frances read while at home raising the children, educating herself far beyond the rudimentary education she’d had at home, and began to write as well.  She developed strong interest in three issues which attracted many of the women reformers of her day: women’s rights, temperance, and abolition.  She wrote letters about these issues to newspapers.

She also began to write poetry and submit it for publication. By the time she was in her early 40s, she was writing for the Ladies’ Repository. She began a column in the Ladies Department of a farm newspaper, in the form of letters from “Aunt Fanny” on many topics, both practical and public.

Women’s Rights

By 1849, she was lecturing on women’s rights, abolition, and temperance. In 1850, when the first Ohio women’s rights convention was held, she wanted to attend, but could only send a letter of support. In May 1850, she began a petition to the Ohio legislature advocating that the new state constitution omit the words male and white.

When the second Ohio women’s rights convention was held in Akron in 1851, Gage was asked to be the presider. When a minister denounced women’s rights, and Sojourner Truth got up to respond, Gage ignored the protests from the audience and allowed Truth to speak.  She later (in 1881) recorded her memory of the speech, usually remembered with the title “Ain’t I a Woman?” in a dialect form.

Gage was asked to speak more and more often for women’s rights. She presided at the 1853 national women’s rights convention when it was held in Cleveland, Ohio.

Missouri

From 1853 to 1860, the Gage family lived in St. Louis, Missouri.  There, Frances Dana Gage didn’t find a warm reception from the newspapers for her letters.  She instead wrote for national women’s rights publications, including Amelia Bloomer’s Lily.

She corresponded with other women in America interested in the same issues she was attracted to, and even corresponded with the English feminist Harriet Martineau. She was supported not only by women in the woman suffrage movement, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, Antoinette Brown Blackwell, and Amelia Bloomer, but also by abolitionist male leaders including William Lloyd Garrison, Horace Greeley, and Frederick Douglass.

She later wrote, "From 1849 to 1855 I lectured on [woman’s rights] in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New York….”

The family found themselves ostracized in St. Louis for their radical views. After three fires, and James Gage’s failing health and failing business venture, the family returned to Ohio.

Civil War

The Gages moved to Columbus, Ohio, in 1850, and Frances Dana Gage became the associate editor of an Ohio newspaper and a farm journal. Her husband was now ill, so she traveled only in Ohio, speaking on women’s rights.

When the Civil War began, the newspaper’s circulation dropped, and the newspaper died. Frances Dana Gage focused on volunteer work to support the Union effort. Her four sons served in the Union forces.  Frances and her daughter Mary sailed in 1862 for the Sea Islands, captured territory held by the Union.

She was put in charge of relief efforts on Parris Island where 500 formerly enslaved people lived.  The next year, she briefly returned to Columbus to care for her husband, then returned to her work in the Sea Islands.

In late 1863 Frances Dana Gage began a lecture tour to support relief efforts for soldiers’ aid and for relief for those newly freed.  She worked without salary for the Western Sanitary Commission. She had to end her tour in September of 1864 when she was injured in a carriage accident on her tour, and was disabled for a year.

Later Life

After she recovered, Gage returned to lecturing. In 1866 she appeared at the New York chapter of the Equal Rights Association, advocating rights for both women and for African American women and men. As “Aunt Fanny” she published stories for children. She published a book of poetry and several novels, before being limited from lecturing by a stroke. She continued to write until her death in 1884 in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Also known as: Fanny Gage, Frances Dana Barker Gage, Aunt Fanny

Family:

  • Parents: Joseph Barker and Elizabeth Dana Barker, farmers in Ohio
  • Husband: James L. Gage, lawyer
  • Children: four sons and four daughters
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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Frances Dana Gage." ThoughtCo, Apr. 13, 2017, thoughtco.com/frances-dana-gage-feminist-and-abolitionist-lecturer-4108567. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2017, April 13). Frances Dana Gage. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/frances-dana-gage-feminist-and-abolitionist-lecturer-4108567 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Frances Dana Gage." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/frances-dana-gage-feminist-and-abolitionist-lecturer-4108567 (accessed November 22, 2017).