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

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview

treatment for women in prisons, hospitals, and other state institutions. Finally, her run for office and her influential political career blazed the trail for many women to follow ( Fuller, 1975).

Clay's limited effectiveness on the national level, however, was also due to her political philosophy. Woman suffrage in the South was inextricably entwined with states' rights. The people of the South held strong views on states' rights, and she ably represented those views to the unreceptive national leadership of the movement. Unfortunately for her and her constituency, major movement leaders rejected her fears of federal power in favor of using that power to gain the ultimate goal of suffrage.

Finally, Clay's rhetoric reveals, more clearly than most, the racism of the woman suffrage movement. She adapted her arguments to her native South, but found that her views were welcome in most of the country. Her rhetoric of the 1890s anticipates the movement's gradual abandonment of any pretense of sympathy toward African-Americans in the early 1900s ( IWSM: 199-205). Her racism cannot be excused, but it was not especially rare among suffragists. However, she should not be remembered solely for these views. She was one of the "foot soldiers" that every movement needs; she spoke in virtually every state suffrage campaign whose leaders asked her to appear. She was an inexhaustible rhetor, even in her late seventies during the campaign for Al Smith. While she was not an Elizabeth Cady Stanton or a Susan B. Anthony, Laura Clay spoke simply, often, and well for her gender, for her party, and for her state.


SOURCES

Scholars of rhetoric must rely almost entirely on the Laura Clay Papers (LCP), University of Kentucky, Lexington. Her work occasionally appeared in the women's journals of the day, copies of which are found in her voluminous scrapbooks. The collection also contains a large number of letters between Clay and most of the major figures in the woman suffrage movement.


Selected Biographical Materials

Boyer Paul S. "Clay, Laura." NAW 1:346-348.

Fuller Paul E. "Laura Clay." Encyclopedia of Southern History. Eds. David C. Roller and Robert Tyman. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1979, p. 238.

Fuller Paul E. Laura Clay and the Woman's Rights Movement. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1975.

"Miss Laura Clay, Noted Suffragist." New York Times ( June 30, 1941):17.


Chronology of Major Works

"Miss Clay on Kentucky Law." [ 1890s]. LCP, Box 17.

"The Race Question Again." Kentucky Gazette, April 1890. LCP, Box 17, Scrapbook.

"Elections." December 12, 1890. Proceedings and Debates in the Convention Assembledat Frankfort, on the eighth day of September, 1890, to adopt, amend or change the Constitution of the State of Kentucky. 2

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