Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Judge Hilton and the Women's Hotel: Matilda Lectures

Judge Hilton and the Women's Hotel: Matilda Lectures
New York, 1878
Laura Madeline Wiseman

Urged and sent by a committee of sixty women, Matilda
Dared to come to New York alone with certificates of her
Good character. She arrived at the Women’s Hotel
Early one rainy morning, sick. No one received her or took

Her luggage. She was told she could not be admitted. Out
In the rain she purchased her breakfast. She threatened a
Lawsuit. The clerk said she might come in. Days afterward
The judge called and apologized. He did not want
Out-of-town women, only working women. He said,
Now, see here. The press will be down on us if we make

A single mistake.
Matilda knew that Judge Hilton was
No worse than other men. Back in the Women’s Hotel, the
Doors were thrown open on Matilda with the remark

They were never to be closed. Lady physicians couldn’t
Have libraries in their rooms. Lady artists couldn’t have
Easels. The management turned pale when instruments

Were mentioned. Then, a Superintendent ordered Matilda
Out of the library because she brought in a dress to
Mend its ruffle. But I have seen ladies sewing in here,
Even crocheting, she answered. The Superintendent said,
No. That’s different. Those were small things. Though
She hated to kneel to one man for charity, the Women’s

Hotel professed to offer protection and yet had not really been
Open to women. Matilda thought the judge ought to know how
The hotel’s inmates were presided over like school girls.
Even if he thinks otherwise, he doesn’t rule this country. It isn’t
Like a kingdom. But if it was, he’d never be selected as King.


Laura Madeline Wiseman is a doctoral candidate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she teaches English. She is the author of Sprung, forthcoming from San Francisco Bay Press, as well as three chapbooks of poetry, My Imaginary (Dancing Girl Press, 2010), Ghost Girl (Pudding House, 2010), and Branding Girls (Finishing Line Press, 2011). Her work has appeared in Margie, Prairie Schooner, Arts & Letters, Blackbird, and 13th Moon. She notes this poem is based on the life of her ancestor, nineteenth century suffragist and lecturer, Matilda Fletcher (1842-1909).

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