Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1800-1925: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview

unusual women of achievement: "All honor to the Mary Carpenters, Florence Nightingales, Maria Mitchells, Harriet Hosmers, Louisa Alcotts, Rosa Bonheurs, Anna Dickinsons, Susan B. Anthonys, and the long line of geniuses, saints, and philanthropists, who have directed themselves to art, religion, and reform" (ECSP; Waggenspack, 1989:156). She took to the lyceum to earn money and to spread her message to a wider audience; seeing her in person may also have eroded some common stereotypes. For example, the Greenfield [Ohio] Transcript, January 24, 1880, wrote:

It has become so common however to look upon these reformers, and especially lady speakers, as being a set of semi-masculine viragoes with gaunt [?] figures, brazen faces, sharp visages, fiery eyes, shrill, cracked voices, and impudent over-bearing manner, that we were wont to expect something of the kind in Mrs. Stanton. It may be that those who found themselves unable to cope with them in argument may have resorted to the ready stratagem of deriding their personal appearance as a substitute. (ECSP Reel 5, Cont. 9)

However reassuring her demeanor, her speeches combined appeals for self-help with calls for institutional change. Her rhetorical skills enabled her successfully to mix her unconventional views of woman's rights and roles with the sorts of material that drew audiences to her lectures and gained her regular bookings.


CONCLUSION

Many of the causes Cady Stanton espoused were successful in her lifetime as a broad array of state statutes were enacted enlarging woman's rights. Full woman suffrage came only after her death; other goals she fought for have yet to be achieved. A statement she made before the U.S. Senate Committee on Woman Suffrage, April 2, 1888, provides a context for viewing her achievements and those of the early woman's rights/woman suffrage movement: "[ William Edward Hartpole] Lecky, the historian, has well said the success of a movement depends much less on the force of its arguments, or upon the ability of its advocates, than the predisposition of society to receive it" (13). Despite what she described as "the merciless storm of ridicule and persecution, . . . [being] ostracized in social life, scandalized by enemies, denounced by the pulpit, scarified and caricatured by the press" (13), she spoke where few or no women had spoken before, and she was honored in her lifetime as one of the greatest women the United States had produced.

Such an estimate is confirmed rhetorically. She produced one of the masterpieces of rhetorical literature, "The Solitude of Self," a speech she made to committees of the U.S. House and Senate and to the national NAWSA convention in 1892 ( MCSFH 2:371-384). The address is a manifesto for humanistic feminism and a lyric expression of the experience of human life. It remains an enduring rationale for individual rights based on our republican tradition, the Protestant concept of the priesthood of believers, and the American credo of individualism and self-reliance ( Campbell, 1980; MCSFH 1:133-144).

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