Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Romantic Correspondence as Queer Extracurriculum: The Self-Education for Racial Uplift of Addie Brown and Rebecca Primus

Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Romantic Correspondence as Queer Extracurriculum: The Self-Education for Racial Uplift of Addie Brown and Rebecca Primus

Article excerpt

I often think when people has a chance to have a Education why will they throw it away they have lost golden opportunities.

-Addie Brown to Rebecca Primus (June 20, 1866)

Addie Brown wrote to Rebecca Primus about the golden opportunities of education within what was a romantic letter.1 This 1866 letter is just one of well over a hundred extant letters from the women's same-sex, cross-class romantic correspondence, which they maintained before, during, and after the Civil War (1859-1868). The correspondence of these African American women was not merely romantic but explicitly erotic, as detailed by African American studies scholar Farah Jasmine Griffin and historical sociologist Karen Hansen. Yet as much as Addie and Rebecca's epistolary exchange was motivated by erotic desire, it was also fueled by desires for educational opportunity (Grasso 259). Addie worked primarily as a domestic, and in spite of having little access to formal education, she avidly pursued selfeducation whenever she had "a chance." Indeed, in this same letter, Addie references Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin and, across the letters, offers commentary on texts ranging from Grace Aguilar's domestic novel Women's Friendship to books such as Practical Christianity for Men, and on the work of figures from Frederick Douglass and Henry Highland Garnet to Henry Ward Beecher and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. Addie's letters to Rebecca offer a rich record of these educational pursuits. Just as significantly, the romantic correspondence itself played a key role in both women's learning and teaching. In contrast with Addie, Rebecca was from a family prominent in Hartford, Connecticut. Trained as a schoolteacher, she went south to Royal Oak, Maryland, following the war to help the Hartford Freedmen's Aid Society start a school for formerly enslaved children and adults. While her epistolary responses to Addie are unavailable, Rebecca's letters to family during this time suggest Addie was an important support for Rebeccas work to bring the "golden opportunities" of education to fellow African Americans.

In many ways, Addie and Rebecca participated in what Ann Ruggles Gere has characterized as the "extracurriculum" of rhetoric and composition ("Kitchen" 80). Borrowing the term from historian Frederick Rudolph, Gere lamented in 1994, "In concentrating upon establishing our position within the academy, we have neglected to recount the history of composition in other contexts" (79). We have come a long way, of course, in answering Geres call to historicize the extracurriculum "beyond the academy to encompass the multiple contexts in which persons seek to improve their own writing" (80). Historians have studied an impressive range of extracurricular sites: African American literary societies; white and black women's clubs; conduct, elocution, and letter-writing manuals for women; diaries and letters by female as well as male students; black periodicals and Spanish-language newspapers; and farm journals, grocery lists, and recipes.2 This scholarship is particularly attuned to the instruction of culturally marginalized learners, including women and African Americans, because of how they have been denied full access to the formal curriculum of higher education.

Yet our extensive histories of rhetorics extracurriculum have paid little attention to what Alexandra J. Cavallaro calls "queer rhetorical pedagogies in the extracurriculum" (n. pag.). As Cavallaro writes, there is "a long, rich history of rhetorical education in the LGBTQ community, a history that has its roots well before the Stonewall Rebellion. Historically, these sites of rhetorical education have taken many forms, ranging from clandestine bars to support groups, community centers, archives, websites, online discussion forms, and social media lists." Adding to Cavallaros list, but with a focus on sites that predate Stonewall as well as modern-day conceptions of LGBTQ identities, this essay turns to the queer extracurriculum of romantic correspondence. …

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