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130 Chapter 9 BODIESOFPRAISE EPIDEICTICFIGURESINTHE INDEPENDENTWOMAN Risa Applegarth The burgeoning presence of white women in professional workplaces in the early twentieth century garnered significant public commentary. Because professional spaces (such as offices, laboratories, boardrooms, and a growing range of spaces newly coded as “professional”) were viewed as gender-free and neutrally impersonal before women’s incursions, the power of women’s bodies to disrupt the neutrality and impersonality of such workplaces prompted intense public scrutiny and concern, particularly during the political and economic upheavals of the 1920s and 1930s (Applegarth, “Bodily Scripts”; Kessler-Harris; Marcellus, Business Girls). This chapter contributes to feminist investigations of the mutual constitution of women and work by analyzing textual evidence of the embodied negotiations women professional workers undertook in order to navigate the complexities of this transformational era— from roughly 1920, after the passage of suffrage, to roughly 1940, when World War II again upended gendered norms governing workplace behavior. To pursue this investigation, I focus scholarly attention on a rhetorical figure I identify as embodied epideictic: textual depictions of embodied behavior that invite or articulate an attitude of praise or blame. Combining the traditional understanding of epideictic—as discourse concerned with reinforcing communal values—with a feminist focus on embodied performances, the framework of embodied epideictic orients scholarly attention toward the communal articulation of values surrounding bodily performances. In this case, it orients my analysis toward discursive portrayals of praiseworthy and blameworthy performances by women professional workers, to shed light on the figure of the ideal professional woman as that ideal was formed, negotiated , and consolidated during the 1920s and 1930s in the United States. These two decades form the focus of my investigation because symbolic associations and material arrangements surrounding women and work underwent considerable renovation. Far from being an era of steady progress, 131 Bodies of Praise the interwar period witnessed numerous, sometimes contradictory upheavals. For instance, long before the figure of “Rosie the Riveter” emerged, World War I expanded opportunities for both working-class and professional women; significant numbers of women already working in industrial jobs—including women of color and immigrant women—moved into more highly paid and skilled factory positions, while the War Work Council allocated $65,000 in 1918, just before the end of the war, to create a national organization to mobilize the country’s growing ranks of professional women for the war effort. Although the armistice was signed before the organization formed, this effort resulted in the creation of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs (NFBPWC), which published the periodical I examine below (Brown; History of the National Federation). While the 1920s saw increased opportunities for professional work for white women in particular, and for women of color to a significant though lesser degree, the Depression prompted a backlash against women’s employment and renewed negotiation over the appropriateness of women working (Applegarth, “Personal Writing”; Marcellus, “These Working Wives”). Prodded by factors such as economic necessity, the affirmation of full citizenship that the passage of suffrage promised in 1920, and women’s increasing access to higher education, working women met Depression -era antagonism with vigorous argumentation. This response is particularly pronounced in the pages of the Independent Woman, the long-running national periodical published by the NFBPWC, where women’s right to work was strongly defended.1 Media historian Jane Marcellus, for instance, has argued that while mainstream periodicals for women and men, such as the Ladies’ Home Journal, Forbes, and the American, espoused attitudes toward women’s work that were ambivalent if not openly hostile, the Independent Woman was unusual among national periodicals during the period for its progressive defense of women workers, as its writers and editors insisted on women’s right to inhabit professional spaces and pursue careers (“These Working Wives,” 57–58, 70). Embodied epideictic fills the pages of the Independent Woman. For instance , a 1921 issue featured an interview with Sophie Boellert, a departmentstore director in Boise, Idaho, titled “The Girl behind the Counter.” Boellert addresses the occupational status of saleswomen in language focused largely on embodied performance, and in particular on saleswomen’s decisions regarding dress and appearance: When some of my girls objected to the ruling as to the dark gowns . . . I called them together and pointed out the reason why the department store manager must stress the point of the uniform idea. . . . You see, the saleswoman must not 132 Risa Applegarth intrude her personality upon the store background. If she persists in garbing herself...


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