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Synopsis

Beginning in the pre-Christian era, where she finds more evidence of freedom for women than in subsequent eras, pioneering women's rights advocate Matilda Joslyn Gage traces the patterns of male domination in both church and state that kept women in virtual bondage. Among the topics of her research is the medieval exaltation of celibacy as an expression of the male belief that women were unclean and the cause of original sin, the gross discrimination against women in canon law, abuse of women in the feudal system, the persecution of women as witches, the virtual slave status of wives and their almost total legal subjugation to their husbands, toleration of polygamy, the debilitating drudgery of woman's daily work, and the widespread opposition to women's education by both church and state.

During the second wave of feminism in the 1960s and 70s a popular slogan was "not the church, not the state, women shall decide their fate". Matilda Joslyn Gage would have approved. Vehemently anti-clerical, Women, Church and State was one of the first books to draw the conclusion that Christianity is a primary impediment to the progress of women, as well as civilization. Then, as now, religious doctrine was used as a justification for the dehumanization of women, depriving them of civil, human, economic and political rights, even denying them the right to worship alongside men. Gage reviews extensive evidence of this complex. From a 21st Century perspective it is both astounding how far we have progressed, and dismaying how little has changed.

Gage was one of the first writers to emphasize the ancient Matriarchy and the witch trials as key episodes of women's history. Her statement that nine million people were killed during the witch trials has been widely quoted; more recent estimates range from 50 to 100 thousand, which does not lessen the horror.

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