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

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview

ANNE E. DICKINSON
(1842-1932), stump speaker, woman's rights advocate, lyceum star

KARLYN KOHRS CAMPBELL

Intense resistance to women's public speaking continued well into the 1860s, although a number of women had broken the sound barrier in their efforts to abolish slavery and in support of other reforms. Beginning in the 1860s, the speaking career of a singular woman, Anna E. Dickinson, eroded resistance and opened the doors for other women speakers.

Anna Dickinson was the youngest child of a devout Quaker and abolitionist family of Philadelphia. Her father, who died when she was a small child, was an able speaker. Moreover, both of her father's grandmothers had been eloquent Quaker preachers ( Chester, 1951:12). Dickinson's formal education in Quaker schools ended when she was fifteen, but she was exposed to literary classics by her mother.

On February 22, 1856, Dickinson first expressed her views publicly when the Liberator published her outraged response to reports of the ill treatment of an abolitionist schoolmaster in Kentucky. She first spoke briefly in 1860 at a Friends of Progress meeting at Clarkson Hall, Philadelphia, on "The Rights and Wrongs of Women." Her success at this and subsequent meetings led to invitations to speak in neighboring towns. In the fall, she was invited to the twenty-third anniversary meeting of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, which was attended by such leading abolitionists as James and LUCRETIA COFFIN MOTT. According to a Philadelphia Press reporter, she "made the speech of the occasion," stoutly defending her view that "If the word 'slave' is not in the Constitution, the idea is" ( Chester, 1951:19-20).

On February 27, 1861, after being introduced by Lucretia Coffin Mott, Dickinson delivered a two-hour lecture on "The Rights and Wrongs of Women" in Concert Hall, Philadelphia, before some 800 people ( Chester, 1951:23; Stanton, 1868:491). Later that year at the annual meeting of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, she analyzed the course of the war, and, in an emotional outburst, charged that the battle of Ball's Bluff had been lost "not through ignorance and incompetence, but through the treason of the commanding general, George B. McClellan" ( Chester, 1951:29; Stanton, 1868:492). When news of her speech reached the director of the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, he fired her from her job there, forcing her to seek other means of support. While visiting friends, she spoke on "The National Crisis" in Newport, Rhode Island, a speech repeated in Concert Hall, Philadelphia. At this point she appealed to William Lloyd Garrison, and with his help she was invited to address Theodore Parker's congregation in the immense Music Hall, Boston. Emerson and Wendell Phillips, among others, were also scheduled to speak from this platform ( Stanton, 1868:495). With a local anti-slavery committee, Garrison also arranged for her to lecture for a fee in Massachusetts towns three nights a week for four weeks.

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