Pivotal Communication: Marion Talbot's Voice for Educational Equity

By Helvie-Mason, Lora | Vitae Scholasticae, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Pivotal Communication: Marion Talbot's Voice for Educational Equity


Helvie-Mason, Lora, Vitae Scholasticae


Marion Talbot (1858-1948) was an activist, a co-founder of the American Association of University Women, and the dean of women at the newly established University of Chicago (UC) from 1892 to 1925. She was influential in the domestic sciences discipline while serving as a leading voice for female faculty members and students. At the forefront of the coeducation movement, she held unprecedented power for a female as clean of women. (1) She was an avid communicator who utilized persuasive tactics and collective communication to advocate for women's equality in higher education.

This paper explores the professional communication of Marion Talbot as she navigated the male-dominated culture of American higher education during the late 1800s and early 1900s. It examines the communication strategies she used in her professional life. Combining communication analysis with biography expands existing scholarship on Talbot, which is confined primarily to her accomplishments as a dean of women. This paper shows how she used communication through her insider/outsider status in higher education. It also expands our historical knowledge about women's negotiation of place as faculty and administrators in higher education.

Nidiffer noted that the presence of female deans in higher education exemplified women's access and place in higher education. (2) In fact, Nidiffer noted, early deans of women "held very little authority and were usually outside the formal administrative structure of the institution." (3) Nidiffer goes on to say, "This situation changed precipitously in 1892 when Marion Talbot was hired at the brand-new University of Chicago." (4) Talbot's tenure as dean of women brought change for women in higher education. Through analysis of her communication during this time, we better understand women's place at the turn of the last century in higher education. (5) Talbot worked to include women faculty members as equal players with equal voices within faculty circles. By looking at the strategic communication choices Talbot made as she pushed for Academia's inclusion of women, we become more informed about her life and women's educational journey. The paper first describes Talbot's general collective communicative approach with a brief overview of her career. Secondly, content analysis and a framework of standpoint theory are described for this project. Next, the paper uncovers six persuasive tactics utilized by Talbot before examining her specific use of communication as a weapon against sex discrimination. It concludes with a brief note about the significance of communication within biographical work when examining women's presence in higher education.

The communication discipline offers a unique lens to examine Talbot's life and career. Communication is "a process during which a source (individual) initiates a message using verbal and nonverbal symbols and contextual cues to express meaning by transmitting information in such a way that similar or parallel understandings are constructed by the intended receivers." (6) Studying her life and work paints a picture of her communicative approach (or how she expressed meaning) and adds depth to biographical information about her life. How one creates verbal and nonverbal messages is just as important as the content of the message. Situating this study within a biographical context informs both the intent and purpose of Talbot's words. The tone in one's communication can drive the analysis of content. Tone, the vocal pitch and volume used to express meaning and emotion in oral communication, is a term used throughout this paper to describe Talbot's intended purpose for her communication. Lee and Peterson describe tone as a cognitive style that sheds light on how the subject thinks. (7) Content analysis was used to examine samples of verbal/textual materials situated in a historical context.

The Collective Communicator

Marion Talbot left a lasting imprint on the U. …

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Pivotal Communication: Marion Talbot's Voice for Educational Equity
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