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Studies in Rhetorics and Feminisms

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Antebellum American Women's Poetry

A Rhetoric of Sentiment

Wendy Dasler Johnson

At a time when a woman speaking before a mixed-gender audience risked acquiring the label “promiscuous,” thousands of women presented their views about social or moral issues through sentimental poetry, a blend of affect with intellect that allowed their participation in public debate. Bridging literary and rhetorical histories, traditional and semiotic interpretations, Antebellum American Women's Poetry: A Rhetoric of Sentiment explores an often overlooked, yet significant and persuasive pre–Civil War American discourse.

Considering the logos, ethos, and pathos—aims, writing personae, and audience appeal—of poems by African American abolitionist Frances Watkins Harper, working-class prophet Lydia Huntley Sigourney, and feminist socialite Julia Ward Howe, Wendy Dasler Johnson demonstrates that sentimental poetry was an inportant component of antebellum social activism. She articulates the ethos of the poems of Harper, who presents herself as a properly domestic black woman, nevertheless stepping boldly into Northern pulpits to insist slavery be abolished; the poetry of Sigourney, whose speaker is a feisty, working-class, ambiguously gendered prophet; and the works of Howe, who juggles her fame as the reformist “Battle Hymn” lyricist and motherhood of five children with an erotic Continental sentimentalism.

Antebellum American Women's Poetry makes a strong case for restoration of a compelling system of persuasion through poetry usually dismissed from studies of rhetoric. This remarkable book will change the way we think about women’s rhetoric in the nineteenth century, inviting readers to hear and respond to urgent, muffled appeals for justice in our own day.

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Educating the New Southern Woman

Speech, Writing, and Race at the Public Women's Colleges, 1884-1945

David Gold and Catherine L. Hobbs

From the end of Reconstruction through World War II, a network of public colleges for white women flourished throughout the South. Founded primarily as vocational colleges to educate women of modest economic means for life in the emerging “new” South, these schools soon transformed themselves into comprehensive liberal arts–industrial institutions, proving so popular that they became among the largest women’s colleges in the nation. In this illuminating volume, David Gold and Catherine L. Hobbs examine rhetorical education at all eight of these colleges, providing a better understanding of not only how women learned to read, write, and speak in American colleges but also how they used their education in their lives beyond college.

With a collective enrollment and impact rivaling that of the Seven Sisters, the schools examined in this study—Mississippi State College for Women (1884), Georgia State College for Women (1889), North Carolina College for Women (1891), Winthrop College in South Carolina (1891), Alabama College for Women (1896), Texas State College for Women (1901), Florida State College for Women (1905), and Oklahoma College for Women (1908)—served as important centers of women’s education in their states, together educating over a hundred thousand students before World War II and contributing to an emerging professional class of women in the South. After tracing the establishment and evolution of these institutions, Gold and Hobbs explore education in speech arts and public speaking at the colleges and discuss writing instruction, setting faculty and departmental goals and methods against larger institutional, professional, and cultural contexts. In addition to covering the various ways the public women’s colleges prepared women to succeed in available occupations, the authors also consider how women’s education in rhetoric and writing affected their career choices, the role of race at these schools, and the legacy of public women’s colleges in relation to the history of women’s education and contemporary challenges in the teaching of rhetoric and writing.

The experiences of students and educators at these institutions speak to important conversations among scholars in rhetoric, education, women’s studies, and history. By examining these previously unexplored but important institutional sites, Educating the New Southern Woman provides a richer and more complex history of women’s rhetorical education and experiences.

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Evolutionary Rhetoric

Sex, Science, and Free Love in Nineteenth-Century Feminism

Wendy Hayden

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Feminist Rhetorical Practices

New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies

Jacqueline Jones Royster and Gesa E. Kirsch

From two leading scholars in the field comes this landmark assessment of the shifting terrain of feminist rhetorical practices in recent decades. Jacqueline Jones Royster and Gesa E. Kirsch contend the field of rhetorical studies is being transformed through the work of feminist rhetoricians who have brought about notable changes in who the subjects of rhetorical study can be, how their practices can be critiqued, and how the effectiveness and value of the inquiry frameworks can be articulated.

To contextualize a new and changed landscape for narratives in the history of rhetoric, Royster and Kirsch present four critical terms of engagement—critical imagination, strategic contemplation, social circulation, and globalization—as the foundation for a new analytical model for understanding, interpreting, and evaluating feminist rhetorical inquiry and the study and teaching of rhetoric in general. This model draws directly on the wealth of knowledge and understanding gained from feminist rhetorical practices, especially sensitivity toward meaningfully and respectfully rendering the work, lives, cultures, and traditions of historical and contemporary women in rhetorical scholarship.

Proposing ambitious new standards for viewing and valuing excellence in feminist rhetorical practice, Royster and Kirsch advocate an ethos of respect and humility in the analysis of communities and specific rhetorical performances neglected in rhetorical history, recasting rhetorical studies as a global phenomenon rather than a western one. They also reflect on their own personal and professional development as researchers as they highlight innovative feminist research over the past thirty years to articulate how feminist work is changing the field and pointing to the active participation of women in various discourse arenas and to the practices and genres they use.

Valuable to new and established scholars of rhetoric, Feminist Rhetorical Practice: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies is essential for understanding the theoretical, methodological, and ethical impacts of feminist rhetorical studies on the wider field.

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Rethinking Ethos

A Feminist Ecological Approach to Rhetoric

Edited by Kathleen J. Ryan, Nancy Myers, and Rebecca Jones

Labels traditionally ascribed to women—mother, angel of the house, whore, or bitch—suggest character traits that do not encompass the complexities of women’s identities or empower women’s public speaking. Rethinking Ethos: A Feminist Ecological Approach to Rhetoric redefines the concept of ethos—classically thought of as character or credibility—as ecological and feminist, negotiated and renegotiated, and implicated in shifting power dynamics. Building on previous feminist and rhetorical scholarship, this essay collection presents a sustained discussion of the unique methods by which women’s ethos is constructed and transformed.

Editors Kathleen J. Ryan, Nancy Myers, and Rebecca Jones identify three rhetorical maneuvers that characterize ethos in the feminist ecological imaginary: ethe as interruption/interrupting, ethe as advocacy/advocating, and ethe as relation/relating. Each section of the book explores one of these rhetorical maneuvers. An afterword gathers contributors’ thoughts on the collection’s potential impact and influence, possibilities for future scholarship, and the future of feminist rhetorical studies.

With its rich mix of historical examples and contemporary case studies, Rethinking Ethos offers a range of new perspectives, including queer theory, transnational approaches, radical feminism, Chicana feminism, and indigenous perspectives, from which to consider a feminist approach to ethos.  

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The Rhetoric of Rebel Women

Civil War Diaries and Confederate Persuasion

Kimberly Harrison

During the American Civil War, southern white women found themselves speaking and acting in unfamiliar and tumultuous circumstances. With the war at their doorstep, women who supported the war effort took part in defining what it meant to be, and to behave as, a Confederate through their verbal and nonverbal rhetorics. Though most did not speak from the podium, they viewed themselves as participants in the war effort, indicating that what they did or did not say could matter. Drawing on the rich evidence in women’s Civil War diaries, The Rhetoric of Rebel Women recognizes women’s persuasive activities as contributions to the creation and maintenance of Confederate identity and culture.

Informed by more than one hundred diaries, this study provides insight into how women cultivated rhetorical agency, challenging traditional gender expectations while also upholding a cultural status quo. Author Kimberly Harrison analyzes the rhetorical choices these women made and valued in wartime and postwar interactions with Union officers and soldiers, slaves and former slaves, local community members, and even their God. In their intimate accounts of everyday war, these diarists discussed rhetorical strategies that could impact their safety, their livelihoods, and those of their families. As they faced Union soldiers in attempts to protect their homes and property, diarists saw their actions as not only having local, immediate impact on their well-being but also as reflecting upon their cause and the character of the southern people as a whole. They instructed themselves through their personal writing, allowing insight into how southern women prepared themselves to speak and act in new and contested contexts.

The Rhetoric of Rebel Women highlights the contributions of privileged white southern women in the development of the Confederate national identity, presenting them not as passive observers but as active participants in the war effort.

 

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Vote and Voice

Women's Organizations and Political Literacy, 1915-1930

Wendy B. Sharer

Wendy B. Sharer explores the rhetorical and pedagogical practices through which two prominent postsuffrage organizations—the League of Women Voters and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom—challenged the conventions of male-dominated political discourse and trained women as powerful rhetors.
 
Vote and Voice is the first book-length study to address the writing and speaking practices of members of women’s political organizations in the decade after the suffrage movement. During those years, women still did not have power within deliberative and administrative organs of politics, despite their recent enfranchisement. Because they were largely absent from diplomatic circles and political parties, post-suffrage women’s organizations developed rhetorical practices of public discourse to push for reform within traditional politics.
 
Vote and Voice is historically significant as well as pedagogically beneficial for instructors who connect rhetorical education with public participation by integrating writing and speaking skills into a curriculum that aims to prepare educated students and active citizens.

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Women and Rhetoric between the Wars

Ann George, M. Elizabeth Weiser, and Janet Zepernick

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In Women and Rhetoric between the Wars, editors Ann George, M. Elizabeth Weiser, and Janet Zepernick have gathered together insightful essays from major scholars on women whose practices and theories helped shape the field of modern rhetoric. Examining the period between World War I and World War II, this volume sheds light on the forgotten rhetorical work done by the women of that time. It also goes beyond recovery to develop new methodologies for future research in the field.
Collected within are analyses of familiar figures such as Jane Addams, Amelia Earhart, Helen Keller, and Bessie Smith, as well as explorations of less well known, yet nevertheless influential, women such as Zitkala-Ša, Jovita González, and Florence Sabin. Contributors evaluate the forces in the civic, entertainment, and academic scenes that influenced the rhetorical praxis of these women. Each essay presents examples of women’s rhetoric that move us away from the “waves” model toward a more accurate understanding of women’s multiple, diverse rhetorical interventions in public discourse. The collection thus creates a new understanding of historiography, the rise of modern rhetorical theory, and the role of women professionals after suffrage. From celebrities to scientists, suffragettes to academics, the dynamic women of this volume speak eloquently to the field of rhetoric studies today.
 

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Women Physicians and Professional Ethos in Nineteenth-Century America

Carolyn Skinner

Women physicians in nineteenth-century America faced a unique challenge in gaining acceptance to the medical field as it began its transformation into a professional institution. The profession had begun to increasingly insist on masculine traits as signs of competency. Not only were these traits inaccessible to women according to nineteenth-century gender ideology, but showing competence as a medical professional was not enough. Whether women could or should be physicians hinged mostly on maintaining their femininity while displaying the newly established standard traits of successful practitioners of medicine.

Women Physicians and Professional Ethos provides a unique example of how women influenced both popular and medical discourse. This volume is especially notable because it considers the work of African American and American Indian women professionals. Drawing on a range of books, articles, and speeches, Carolyn Skinner analyzes the rhetorical practices of nineteenth-century American women physicians. She redefines ethos in a way that reflects the persuasive efforts of women who claimed the authority and expertise of the physician with great difficulty.

Descriptions of ethos have traditionally been based on masculine communication and behavior, leaving women’s rhetorical situations largely unaccounted for. Skinner’s feminist model considers the constraints imposed by material resources and social position, the reciprocity between speaker and audience, the effect of one rhetor’s choices on the options available to others, the connections between ethos and genre, the potential for ethos to be developed and used collectively by similarly situated people, and the role ethos plays in promoting social change. Extending recent theorizations of ethos as a spatial, ecological, and potentially communal concept, Skinner identifies nineteenth-century women physicians’ rhetorical strategies and outlines a feminist model of ethos that gives readers a more nuanced understanding of how this mode of persuasion operates for all speakers and writers.

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Women's Irony

Rewriting Feminist Rhetorical Histories

Tarez Samra Graban

In Women’s Irony: Rewriting Feminist Rhetorical Histories, author Tarez Samra Graban synthesizes three decades of feminist scholarship in rhetoric, linguistics, and philosophy to present irony as a critical paradigm for feminist rhetorical historiography that is not linked to humor, lying, or intention. Using irony as a form of ideological disruption, this innovative approach allows scholars to challenge simplistic narratives of who harmed, and who was harmed throughout rhetorical history.

Three case studies of women’s political discourse between 1600 and 1900—examining the work of Anne Askew, Anne Hutchinson, and Helen M. Gougar—demonstrate how reading historical texts ironically complicates the theoretical relationships between women and agency, language and history, and archival location and memory. Interwoven throughout are shorter case studies from twentieth-century performances, revealing irony’s consciousness-raising potential for the present and future.

Ultimately Women’s Irony suggests alternative ways to question women’s histories and consider how contemporary feminist discourse might be better historicized. Graban challenges critical methods in rhetoric, asking scholars in rhetoric and its related disciplines—composition, communication, and English studies—to rethink how they produce historical knowledge and use archives to recover women’s performances in political situations.

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