Practical Spirituality and the Transformation of Political Power: The Great Law of Peace and the Influence of Iroquois Women and Policies on U.S. Women Suffragists

  • Julie Mazzarella Geredien


The Great Law of Peace, or Kaianeraserakowa, served as the living structure uniting the Haudenosaunee Nation, or what is sometimes called the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. In this chapter, I consider how the Iroquois people, culture and governing structures that embody the social and spiritual meanings of the Great Law inspired vision in Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage. Personal experiences with the Iroquois, and proximity to Iroquois nations, influenced the US women’s development as feminists, both critically and creatively: on the one hand, the policies and internal habits of being supporting Iroquois life brought to light the inequities and injustices in restrictive US laws and institutions; and on the other, they provided a positive vision of an alternative way of living. Through their reflection on the ethos and social traditions that daily guided the Iroquois people, Stanton and Gage gained rare insight into the egalitarian and participatory nature of a republican democracy; they perceived the importance of the republican ideal of dignity and recognized the need for social structures that countered human tendencies toward hierarchy, exclusion and rigid assumption of social role. While Iroquois native culture proved to the suffragists that equality and rights for women were possible, it was not so much the minute particularities of Iroquois life that directed their attention. Instead, Gage especially observed that a concrete transcendental dimension could be found within genuinely democratic culture. This flexible and broad set of internal practices, beliefs and principles helped to bring about the political conditions and theological understandings through which a world free from oppression and tyranny could eventually be realized. When this shelter of shared understanding or symbolic “longhouse” for human development and relations was properly erected and respected, then people could abide together creatively as members of one common human family, and the particular beauties within any authentic cultural life world could shine forth without impediment. Stanton and Gage advocated in the nineteenth century for far more than voting rights within the established social structures of their society. They struggled for and cared deeply about the rightful protection of people of color, indigenous people, women, children, the disabled and disenfranchised. Today, their writings and speeches, that integrate concepts related to human creative potential, democratic culture, law and governance, can be viewed within the larger context of a global movement for a dynamic and coherent realization of ethics, that protects all, including people from poor nations, the environment and future generations. The last section of this chapter looks in particular at how the greater political, theological and philosophical messages brought forward through nineteenth century woman’s suffrage were carried forward in twentieth century movements in the United States, pertaining to the promulgation of peace, the moral and spiritual expansion of human identity, the extension of citizenship beyond nation-state boundaries, and the affirmation of civil rights and racial equality.


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© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julie Mazzarella Geredien
    • 1
  1. 1.AnnapolisUSA

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