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56 Chapter 4 “OPULENTFRIENDSHIPS,”RHETORICAL EMULATION,ANDBELLETRISTIC INSTRUCTIONATLEACHE-WOODSEMINARY Pamela VanHaitsma Irene Kirke Leache (1839–1900) and Anna Cogswell Wood (1850–1940) met at the Valley Female Seminary in Winchester, Virginia, where Leache was a teacher and Wood a student.1 As Wood writes in The Story of a Friendship: A Memoir (1901), it was “a September day, of the year 1868, that my eye first lighted on that rare woman whose influence was thenceforward to dominate my life” (3). “Thus our acquaintance began,” Wood continues, “she as a teacher , I as pupil: but such is the catholicity of true friendship that it masters all other ties” (4). Indeed, what began as a student-teacher relationship soon became a professional tie for these Southern white women. In 1871 they moved to Norfolk, Virginia, to establish a boarding school for girls, the Leache-Wood Seminary. Together Leache and Wood administered the school, where they taught a belletristic form of rhetoric, for twenty years. The professional relationship that supported Leache and Wood’s rhetorical pedagogy was also romantic. As historian Jane Turner Censer writes, they were among those women for whom “the friendships they formed with other teachers were a fulfilling alterative to or substitute for marriage,” an alternative that “provided both love and intellectual stimulation” (175). Romantic friendships like Leache and Wood’s were not uncommon in the nineteenth century, and these relationships often enabled women’s professional careers. According to Lillian Faderman, same-sex relational “arrangements freed . . . women to pursue education, professions, and civil and social rights for themselves and others far more effectively than they could have if they had lived in traditional heterosexual arrangements” (To Believe 1–2). While Faderman considers a range of professions, I focus on the one most associated with women during the period: teaching. As Jacqueline Jones Royster explains, teaching was deemed “appropriate for women,” and especially following the Civil War, 57 “Opulent Friendships,” Rhetorical Emulation, and Belletristic Instruction more white as well as African American women were able to work as teachers (178). This “feminization of teaching” occurred over the course of the century , and by the latter half of the century, “women teachers . . . provided most of the basic education in most American states” (Clifford 19; see also Enoch, “Woman’s Place”). In 1900, the US census recorded that 80 percent of teachers in cities were women (Clifford 21). Among them were unmarried women who lived together as romantic friends. In practical terms, women’s romantic friendships enabled their public work as teachers in the context of nineteenth-century “marriage bars,” which required women to leave their careers if they married or became pregnant (Clifford; Oram 185–219). Geraldine J. Clifford cautions against simplistic accounts of marriage bars, underscoring how their presence and enforcement were uneven by region (128–34). Marriage bars were less common, for instance , in the South (130). Still, even in Virginia, one survey found that marriage bars remained in place into the early twentieth century in 33 percent of urban school districts (131). In contexts where sexist marriage-bar policies and practices existed, same-sex friendships could function as practical supports for women’s teaching careers. Some women who remained unmarried, instead forming romantic friendships with other women, were able to sustain both intimate relationships and professional careers as teachers. In addition to supporting women’s careers as teachers, some same-sex romantic relationships were fueled by an erotic charge. The potential for eros to enliven or impede learning is recognized throughout the history of Western rhetoric and within present-day conversations about pedagogy. For rhetoricians , references to eros most likely call to mind the pedagogical relationship between Plato’s Socrates and Phaedrus (or Aspasia and Pericles). But as classroom teachers, scholars are rightly concerned about the power dynamics of teacher-student relationships, the potential for abuse, and the risk that any conversations about eros will be misinterpreted as confusing the erotic with the sexual. As William P. Banks writes, the teaching of writing and rhetoric is always embodied and sometimes erotic—marked by “great emotion, great passion”—but teachers understandably fear engaging the erotic (27–28). Countering fears of the erotic, Audre Lorde urges that it provides “the power which comes from sharing deeply any pursuit with another person . . . whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual” (56). For those who bravely “risk sharing the erotic’s electrical charge without having to look away” (59), the erotic may function “as a considered source of power and information” (53). This chapter...


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