Karlyn Kohrs Campbell was born in Blomkest, Minnesota, on April 16, 1937. She became an academic who specialized in women's studies. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Macalester College in St. Paul, and in 1958 was awarded a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. She studied and lectured and chaired departments in many universities throughout the United States. In 1992, she became a fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.
The study of the women's liberation movement, feminism and rhetorical criticism would be incomplete without Campbell's works. She wrote a number of books about the rhetorical history of the suffrage movements from the 1830s until the 1920s. The word rhetorical, as used by Campbell, refers to the available means and symbols that can be employed to persuade somebody. Campbell restores the rhetoric used by the early women's rights movements and advocates, who employed rhetoric in their efforts to gain the equality they were seeking.
In her book Man Cannot Speak for Her (volume I), Campbell selected and consolidated the rhetoric used by the original organizers of the woman's suffrage movements. In volume II of the work, Campbell compiles a collection of that rhetoric and offered her comments and explanations for it. In the book, Campbell details not only the rhetorical approaches and their creativity, but points out the tensions that arose between feminists who disagreed about certain rhetorical strategies, ideals and goals and how they were to be achieved. The purpose of these two volumes is to preserve early feminist rhetoric as it was spoken in the United States in the early days of feminism, to canonize those feminists and their statements and to serve as a practical document by the modern feminist movement.
Campbell also tries to expand on the concept of rhetoric itself. She argues that many of those in the early feminist movement had to fight and struggle for the right to speak out, something that was seen as debasing and defeating the notion of "true womanhood." They dared to step into the public arena and onto the open rhetorical platform, "masculinizing" their words by confronting and denying known sexist axioms.
Campbell points outs different approaches to rhetoric used by early feminists. These women, including Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Grimke sisters, met with great resistance and the only way for them to be heard and noticed was to use creative rhetoric. They attempted to use a more forceful and less feminine approach to achieving their rights, as opposed to other feminists, such as Frances Willard, who took a gentler approach to attain her goals. Not only did the approaches to gaining equality of differ among the early feminists, but also their style and use of appeals.
In a 1973 critical essay entitled "The Rhetoric of Women's Liberation: An Oxymoron," Campbell concentrates on the rhetoric of the modern women's liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s. In the essay, Campbell analyzes the tactics and types of rhetoric employed by spokeswomen of the women's movement in order to reach out to the public on economic, political and social issues. She wrote that "women's liberation is a unified, separate genre of rhetoric with discursive substantive, stylistic features…rhetoric is usually defined as dealing with public issues, structural analysis and social action, yet women's liberation emphasizes acts concerned with personal exigencies and private, concrete experiences, and its goal is frequently limited to particular, autonomous actions by individuals."
The rhetorical styles of the leaders of the women's liberation movement of the 1980s do not differ that much from the rhetorical styles of the leaders in the 1800s. The rhetoric and techniques used during the early days of the movement are very similar. Campbell tracked these similarities and established a set of rules called feminine style to describe the phenomenon. Having been involved in the feminist movement and lectured on the subject, Campbell is in a unique position of authority to write about feminist theories of rhetoric.