Academic journal article Nineteenth-Century Prose

Gertrude Buck: Revisioning Argumentation and the Role of Women in a Participatory Democracy

Academic journal article Nineteenth-Century Prose

Gertrude Buck: Revisioning Argumentation and the Role of Women in a Participatory Democracy

Article excerpt

In this essay, I examine Buck's A Course in Argumentative Writing (1899). More specifically, I show how Buck's textbook emphasizes a more democratic approach to argumentation and how this reflects her organic concept of language and society and her involvement in the woman suffrage movement. To provide a more textured understanding of Buck's approach to argumentation, I focus not only on her textbook but also on other primary sources including student correspondence, articles, yearbooks, and other related materials. Such an analysis is significant because it contributes to the history of a feminist rhetoric by showing how Buck challenges the dominant approach of the late nineteenth century.

**********

The real advantage of society involves ultimately the advantage of the individual member of society. And, conversely, the real betterment of the individual must inevitably tend toward the betterment of society. The two are no more separable in practice than are faith and works, thought and feeling, capital and labor, or any of those delusive apparent dualisms whose unity is the life of each part.

--Gertrude Buck (1)

This quotation captures a dominant theme evident in the works of Gertrude Buck--a focus on eliminating radical dualisms and hierarchies. What was distinct about Buck's ideas was a spirit of democratic reform, emphasizing inclusion and active participation. An English professor at Vassar College from 1897 to 1922, Buck argued, "If education is to be democratized, public interest in it must assuredly be increased" ("Commencement Opportunity" 496). She believed democracy was an achievable ideal and the goal of education. Thus, throughout her work, Buck resisted late-nineteenth-century mechanical approaches to rhetorical theory by presenting an alternate view of rhetoric and the individual. In so doing, Buck redefined argumentation and the role of women in a participatory democracy.

Like Jane Addams and other reform-minded individuals of her period, Buck was concerned with issues of social justice. Her approach to argumentation thus can be viewed as part of a larger effort to develop a social ethics responsive to the needs of citizens during the rapid industrialization of the 1890s and early 1900s. Buck introduced a democratic ethics to argumentation that broke down the claims of the domestic sphere by encouraging Vassar women to take a more active and public role in society.

In this essay, I examine Buck's A Course in Argumentative Writing (1899). More specifically, I show how Buck's textbook emphasizes a more democratic approach to argumentation and how this reflects her organic concept of language and society and her involvement in the woman suffrage movement. To provide a more textured understanding of Buck's approach to argumentation, I focus not only on her textbook but also on other primary sources including student correspondence, articles, yearbooks, and other related materials. Such an analysis is significant because it contributes to the history of a feminist rhetoric by showing how Buck challenges the dominant approach of the late nineteenth century. As Susan Kates notes, composition historians are just starting to discover other writings and teachings that resist the well-known theorists of this period (508). (2)

I. Buck: an Overview

Buck completed her Ph.D. in rhetoric and composition at the University of Michigan, where she worked with Fred Newton Scott. She then taught at Vassar College until her death in 1922. During her life, Buck authored or co-authored a dissertation, a manual for teachers, several writing textbooks, a book on literary criticism, and a posthumously-published collection of poems and plays. She also edited an edition of John Ruskin's Sesame and Lilies and wrote numerous scholarly journal articles, many of which emphasized a democratic ethics and applied insights from progressive education and the new field of psychology to rhetoric and pedagogy. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.